This blog is dedicated to our beloved dog, Ralphie Roo, who died earlier this year after complications with cancer. People would often describe Ralphie as an ‘old soul.’ He had a look in his eyes of inner calm and timeless wisdom. Behind those soulful eyes, you could tell that there was an aware, conscious being. Ralphie was more than just a good boy who loved hiking, adventures and cuddles- he was also a Zen master. Here are six lessons that my dog taught me about conscious living:
1. Be in the moment. Ralphie’s conscious awareness was grounded in the here and now. He innately understood that the present moment is all there is, and all there ever will be. His mind was free from the trappings of the ego, enabling him to fully immerse his senses in the world around him. He didn’t waste his mental energy regretting the past or worrying about what the future might hold. He lived his life in a peaceful, Zenlike state- fully alive and present to what is. He calmly witnessed life with his eyes and ears open and his heart and mind at rest.
2. Connect with nature. Ralphie went on a walk outside every single day of his life. For him, being out in nature was pretty much the whole point of existence. He loved being outside because, if you think about it, dogs are a part nature. They are not separate from it because they essentially are it. We humans are also part of nature, a natural expression of life. We are also ‘it,’ although we mistakenly believe that we are separate from the environment that we live in. The illusion of separation from the natural world is all too common these days. A walk in the woods not only reinforces your connection with nature but, in a way, it reinforces your connection with yourself.
3. Express yourself. The ability to express your emotional energy, rather than keeping it bottled up inside, is key to psychological health. Tragically, too many of us will pass away with our ‘song’ still in our hearts. Not Ralphie Roo though. Part of his daily ritual was to throw back his head and let out a heart-rending howl. He sang with passion from the very depths of his soul, expressing all the joys and sorrows of the world. He howled for no apparent reason, other than it made him feel really good inside. When he howled, he felt alive and free- resonating with the howls of the wild dogs in his ancestral lineage. He sang proudly and at full volume, without a hint of self-consciousness. And then, having shared his heart-song with the world, he would lapse back into contemplative silence until the spirit moved him again.
4. Appreciate existence. Life is not supposed to be a chore, it’s supposed to be a celebration! Ralphie woke up with the sun every morning excited to start a new day. He was never bored or dissatisfied with his lot in life. As long as he had his breakfast and his morning walk, he was good to go. For Ralphie, daily existence meant unbridled joy, followed by food, followed by deep relaxation and blissful sleep. If we could emulate this pattern in our own lives, we’d all be better off.
5. Find happiness within. Ralphie only had one possession: his collar. He didn’t need anything else to be happy in life. We waste so much time believing that happiness comes from owning certain things. Furthermore, we believe that we won’t be happy until we obtain these things. But, you really don’t need anything to be happy because happiness starts on the inside. If you want to be happy in life, then start today. Start right now. Happiness is not some imaginary time in the future that you will arrive at one day when you finally have all the things that you need. Happiness is the realization that you are already there, that your emotional state does not depend on anything or anyone else. Don’t wait a lifetime to be happy, only to discover that happiness was available to you all along. As the Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu put it, “Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.”
6. Reach total oneness. Ralphie was a really good meditator. He would always find the coziest place in the room, assume the most comfortable position- moving cushions and pillows into place if necessary- then he would let out a deep sigh and settle in. His eyelids would eventually close, and he would drift off into another dimension. He spent the majority of his time in this superconscious mental state that I can only describe as “Samadhi”- defined here as “the highest state of mental concentration that one can achieve while still bound to the body, which unites them with the highest reality… a state of profound and utterly absorptive contemplation of the Absolute that is undisturbed by desire, anger, or any other ego-generated thought or emotion. It is a state of joyful calm, or even of rapture and beatitude.”
Although Ralphie is not physically with us anymore, there is no doubt that Ralphie’s consciousness is once again united with the highest reality- merged with the absolute. We miss his steady, calming presence, but the most powerful emotion we have these days is gratitude. Thank you, Ralphie, for coming into our lives and showing us what it means to embody peace, joy and unconditional love. Thank you for the reminder that life is short, and that our time here is precious. Above all, thank you for your loyal companionship. Rest in peace, Ralphie Roo. We love you.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being. Influenced by the ideas of Alan Watts, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra, Nick presents his unique take on human existence with the goal of helping others live a happier life.