As humans living in modern society, it’s very easy to become preoccupied and forget where and what we are. We probably see this — or do it ourselves — all the time, whether it’s walking down the street texting, continuing that phone conversation while checking out in a store, or spacing out while listening to music on our headphones.
It’s very easy to blame all of this on our technology, but humans were like this long before cell phones, the Walkman, television, or radio even existed. It’s because we’re always having that ongoing conversation in our mind, what’s called our “inner monolog,” and when it’s not distracting us from the world around us, we’re trying to distract ourselves from it.
The end result is that we become distracted from the truth about ourselves, and the truth is the answer to asking yourself this question: “What am I?”
Before you read further, take a moment to think of or write down five answers to the question. When you have those five, keep reading.
You probably answered with human, and possibly things like your gender, race, nationality, profession, religion or other belief system, and family role. So you may have answered 39 years old, American, white, woman, executive; or 20, French, university student, Catholic, skateboarder; or Mexican, male, father, American citizen, dog behaviorist.
Chances are you probably didn’t include the single most important answer: Animal.
Unfortunately, in a lot of advanced societies, “animal,” when used to describe a human, is considered an insult. We might refer to a murderer as just an animal, or describe a hoarder as living like an animal. A parent might tell their child at dinner, “Don’t eat like an animal.” In doing this, we have alienated ourselves from what we really are.
But if we’re going to get in touch with Nature and have a balanced relationship with our dogs, we have to acknowledge our animal sides, and learn to listen to our instincts. Luckily, our dogs are here to teach us how to do that.
The third of my Five Natural Dog Laws is that dogs see themselves in this order: Animal, species, breed, name — animal, dog, pit bull, Junior. Humans tend to see themselves the opposite way: Cesar, Mexican, human, animal. You can fill in that list for yourself, replacing “breed” with whatever trait you most identify with.
If you want to get in touch with Nature, you have to learn how to think like your dog. Or, rather, you have to learn how to “not think” like your dog, and listen to your instincts. When you go on a walk together, your dog is constantly searching the environment with her nose, eyes, and ears, for scents, sights, and sounds that might be important — but she isn’t doing it consciously. When she detects something that could indicate food or a threat, then she reacts.
It’s a little hard for humans to just do that, so here’s an exercise to try. Next time you take your dog for a walk, I want you to pick a color — preferably one that doesn’t occur a lot in nature, so try to avoid blue or green. Then, as you walk, you have to find everything in the environment that is that color.
You may spot a few obvious objects at first, but as you focus on the task, you’ll be surprised at all the little things you normally wouldn’t notice that start popping out — and how aware you’ve suddenly become of everything around you. Doing this exercise will help you learn how to not distract yourself from the world around you and focus on the moment.
Humans used to do this naturally all the time, back when we were more in touch with our animal origins and had to hunt or forage to survive. We were experts at noticing certain things that could lead us to prey, or help us avoid predators, or spot the berries we could eat and avoid the ones that could kill us. But in order to do it, we had to have our senses tuned in to Nature without being distracted by our species, breed, and name.
Once upon a time, for humans, “to live like an animal” meant “to survive.” Nowadays, we survive in completely different ways, but we also live lives that can be unbalanced. If we want to restore that balance, then we only have to look as far as our dogs and learn how to experience the world the way that they do.
Stay calm, and think like an animal!