Marv, at 3 months old
The beautiful thing about animals is that they run on pure instinct. When was the last time you used your human instinct? Think on this one for a minute.
As humans, we rarely tap into our instincts. We’re too busy worried about shuttling kids around, making dinner, paying bills, and getting to work on time. The closest we come to using our instincts is feeling the pang of hunger, or “when nature calls” and we have to use the restroom.
My dog is almost 8 months old now, yet sometimes seems to have more wisdom than me, and I am decades older than him. And well, you know, a human.
Marv’s Life Lesson #1: Love to Sleep
My dog can sleep anywhere, at any time. He gets close to 12 hours of sleep per night, and 2-3 naps in during the day. Granted, he is still a puppy, and puppies sleep more, but he’s listening to his body. Even if we want him to play, he will sleep if he needs it. Think about the last time you put something off that you wanted to do in order to sleep instead.
Sleep is more important than you think. Did you know there is a disease called “fatal familial insomnia” whereby sufferers experience insomnia that progressively gets worse until they literally can not sleep a wink? Their life expectancy after diagnosis is less than two years. Less severe forms of sleep deprivation have been shown to inhibit all kinds of bodily functions, including healing, immune response, mental capacity (short- and long-term memory, reasoning skills, basic problem solving, hand-eye coordination), stress response, and metabolic processes (1). Chronic sleep deprivation is correlated with the development of type II diabetes, fibromyalgia, weight gain, hypertension, and neurological disruptions (irritability, increased pain, phantom sensations, temperature sensitivities) (2, 3). Stop making sleep a luxury; make it as important as eating.
Marv’s Life Lesson #2: Don’t Dwell on Failure
Does he look like he cares that he catches barely 20% of my frisbee throws?
No. He doesn’t.
See Marv run. See Marv jump. See Marv slip on wet grass when he makes a jump for a high frisbee throw. It’s a non-issue, he pulls himself up, gets the frisbee, and brings it back to me, ready for the next throw. He doesn’t sulk because he missed the throw. He doesn’t even show any inkling of embarrassment or disappointment in his performance, he’s up and ready for his next throw without even missing a beat.
Imagine if we did this more in life. So you slipped up and had that piece of cake at your best friends’ birthday party–the whole day, sorry, whole week is shot now, right? Isn’t that how it usually happens? You beat yourself up for slipping up, then throw your hands up and say, “well forget it then.” Might as well go home and eat that box of cookies that’s been sitting in your pantry, and hey, why not pick up McDonald’s on the way, if you’re gonna fail at your dietary changes, why not go out with a bang?
Or, like my dog does, you can act like it never happened, learn from the mistake, and vow to do better next time. For a dog, that whole process doesn’t even enter his consciousness. He just does it right next time. Period.
Marv’s Life Lesson #3: Live In The Moment
Oftentimes in my practice when I’m taking a history with a patient, I get the sense that they can’t let go of a previous health or mental state they were once in–whether it be good or bad. They tell me they didn’t always have that pain until they had that bad car accident, or that they used to be a star athlete and constantly lament their spiral into being overweight–that’s all important information to know about a person’s health history. But when it reoccurs at each follow-up visit, and you tell me your goal is to become the person that you used to be, that is an unhealthy frame of mind. We can’t go backwards, we can only go forwards, and only one day at a time.
Marv lives in the moment. Marv doesn’t care that five minutes ago when we were on our walk I reprimanded him for being disobedient. Marv learns from his past experience, doesn’t hold a grudge, and moves on. He doesn’t worry about what kind of mistakes he’s going to make in the future, he doesn’t even worry about the mistakes he’s made in the past. He functions in the moment that he currently lives in, and makes the most of it.
We as humans need to take a lesson–it’s not about where you’ve been, it’s not even completely about where you’re going, it’s about where you are. Sometimes we need to just sit down, without a phone to dabble on, without talking to anybody, and just take in the day. I will sometimes, especially after a nice long walk or run with Marv, sit down in the grass and think something like this to myself “What a beautiful day it is today. I’m conscious, I’m breathing, I’m healthy, the sun is shining, and the birds are singing. I am content with this.” My past is behind me, my future is inevitable, and I’m living each day anew. The beautiful thing about animals is they don’t have to consciously think and do that, they just do it automatically. And I strive to be more like that.
1. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm Accessed Sept. 4, 2013.
2. Yoo S.S., Gujar N., Hu P. , Jolesz F.A., Walker M.P.. (2007) The human emotional brain without sleep — a prefrontal amygdala disconnect. Current Biology; 17(20): R877-R878. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.08.007
3. Patel S. R. and Hu F. B. (2008), Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review. Obesity, 16: 643–653. doi: 10.1038/oby.2007.118