In my previous blog about loneliness, I wrote about some of the things that we could do to ensure that we have new and better people in our lives.
However, it is not a secret that loneliness is a product of our minds and our thinking. While we can do things on the outside to ensure that we are no longer alone, the feeling of loneliness requires a recalibration of our internal mental and emotional attitudes.
This is where mindfulness, and pets, can be of great help.
I have spoken about mindfulness before, and it is something I teach my students and include in my children’s books. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of one’s mind and thoughts. Not forcing them to change, necessarily, but just knowing what they are and what they are doing to one’s mental and emotional health.
It is also the practice of being aware of our surroundings using our senses. Focusing on birdsong and the gentle breeze on one’s face is a reminder that there is a whole world happening outside of our minds, and we are losing some of the quality of our lives when we don’t take time to notice a beautiful sunset, or the laughter of a child chasing bubbles and butterflies.
Research shows that no matter how happy an event makes us, marriage or buying a new car for example, the elation never lasts more than six months. After which we return to the state of happiness (or lack of it) that we feel most of the time. So getting that dream job or losing those last few pounds is not going to ensure your happiness forever.
Mindfulness has a direct correlation to happiness, contentment and warding off depression. Anyone would say that these are the opposite of feeling lonely – definitely good reasons to cultivate this habit. It takes some time to master it but the effort is well worth it. It makes us take responsibility for our thoughts and shows us how ridiculously repetitive and unhelpful they can sometimes be.
But what, you might now ask, is the connection between mindfulness and pets? Good question. Research has shown that, especially in the elderly, having a pet can ward off feelings of loneliness. Well, this is something any pet lover can tell you is true. However, pets have another benefit. They can help you practice mindfulness.
I have a dog, a lovely little French bulldog. I have to say that he is one of the best companions. When I am feeling down or lonely, he gives me love and makes me laugh. In taking care of him, I find that I am also taking care of myself.
Of course, you might not have a pet or may not be allowed to, because of building regulations or your lifestyle. You can always borrow a pet, or volunteer at the animal shelter, or just try out mindfulness by yourself, if you are not very fond of animals.
One of the best ways to practice mindfulness is by being in the NOW. We spend so much time in our minds and with our thoughts, brooding over the past or worrying about the future. However, the present moment is when life is happening. The past and future are just mental constructs. We can no more live in the past than we can live in the future. We can only live in the present.
Taking deep breaths are the best way to reconnect with this present moment. Just concentrating on your breathing and coming back to it again and again as your mind wanders (because it will) is a time honoured way to live in the NOW. Focusing on your senses is another great way to be mindful.
Pets remind us how to live in the present all the time. When a dog chases its tail in excitement of being taken for a walk or a cat pounces on a ball of string, they are only interested in what is happening in the present moment. Going for a walk with your dog or playing with your cat are great ways to stay in the NOW and combat loneliness at the same time.