Staying Present: Lessons from Labrador Retrievers
Earlier today my sister called me to go over some plans for the week. I had an installer arrive at my house during the conversation and everything past that point, I can’t recall any details. Earlier this week, I was trying to draft an email while listening to a podcast. Good thing I proofed the email before I sent it! In both cases, and in many others in my life, I was and am not present. I know I am not alone and that many of you can resonate. We live in a busy world full of things that vie for our attention. Some of those things are regrets of the past. Some are worries about the future. Some are just too much stimuli in our environments. However, I find that some of my issue in being present stems from a lack of gratitude and a perspective of scarcity.
A few weeks ago I started a six-week expressive writing challenge (Pennebaker & Evans, 2014). This past week, my challenge was to write about mindfulness. I had to write a poem titled It Might Have Been Otherwise based on my activities during the day. I began by chronicling my activities and as many details about those activities as I could remember. Do you know what I realized?
First, I absolutely love brushing my teeth in the morning. It is one of the most satisfying things I do every day. Second, and more importantly here, my black labs Blue and Tex have me beat in the “being present” category, hands down. Each morning I take Blue and Tex down to the river for a few fetches and a morning walk. That particular morning, not only did we have dew on the grass, but an extra splash of moisture from an early morning rain. Because of the rain, it was muggy at 8:00 am and the dogs got warm quickly. Do you know what they did? They ran like crazy, tongues wagging, jumping and leaping through the tall grass, full of joy and gratitude for the cool relief that tiny bit of moisture brought to their heated bodies. Watching them I couldn’t help but smile and I couldn’t help but let go of my angst over being muddy and sweaty so early in the day. In that tiny act of joyous gratitude shown by my labs I was reminded of the verses in Matthew 6:25-34, where even the birds of the air never fret over yesterday or tomorrow, they are present, trusting, and full of gratitude and joy in the moment.
Blue and Tex don’t have to worry about being present because they are full of gratitude over the smallest of things. They live deeply in every moment trusting their purpose and their maker, enjoying what is, not what could or should be. We should hope for the future (Romans 8:18-15), but not at the expense of gratitude for the present moment (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
The truth is I could have handled both of my examples better. I could have asked my sister if I could call her back after I got the installer settled or paused the conversation a moment. I would have rejoiced in gratitude that my sister loves me and would understand. And, that podcast certainly wasn’t going anywhere. I could have trusted that if God truly wanted me to hear that podcast, he would want me to hear it fully. I would have been grateful for recording and playback technology. Instead, I experienced shame for having to call my sister back and ask for clarification and was frustrated and angry for wasted time having to listen to the podcast twice. I often feel the pressure of not enough time and instead of focusing, I multi-task, badly. If I had chosen to be focused on a single task and to be present, it might have been otherwise.
I learned a lot in doing the mindfulness writing exercise. I’m planning to regularly do that exercise. My hope is that by forcing myself to reflect on how grateful I am for the little things, I might just learn to be more present in my life and catch those things in the moment rather than in reflection.
Today on my walk with Blue and Text it had rained again and the path was a bit muddy. I took my sandals off and walked in the mud. The soil was warm and in some places on the path, it gushed between my toes. It felt amazing. And, after last year’s drought, I was so grateful for the damp earth and all that it means for my friends and family who farm. God has provided! Had I not chosen to be present and get my feet dirty, I wouldn’t have experienced the overwhelming gratitude of recognizing the impact of wet soil in my life and the lives of others. I would not have recognized and praised God for his provision. It might have been otherwise.
Contributed by Liz Hunt
Pennebaker, J.W., & Evans, J.F. (2014). Expressive writing: Words that Heal. Idyll Arbor, Inc. ISBN: 9781611580464