Learning Mindfulness Meditation with Max


Jolene Baney

By Jolene Baney


Zen: /zen/ adjective

  1. A total state of focus that incorporates a togetherness of body and mind.
  2. Zen is a way of being. It’s a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.
  3. Having or showing qualities such as meditative calmness and an attitude of acceptance.
  4. A relaxed feeling and not worrying about things that you cannot change.

Dog: /dog/ noun

  1. A domesticated canine, which has been selectively bred over millennia for various behaviors, sensory capabilities, and physical attributes.
  2. The most wonderful, kindhearted creatures to ever walk this earth.
  3. Is not a cat.

For 10 years, I had a ritual of going out for my morning run, hitting that sweet spot of mind, body, and soul coming into focus. The rhythm of my heart and breathing in perfect harmony, my feet pounding the earth, my eyes and ears focused on the beautiful sunrise, and the sound of the desert waking up to a new day. I could always predict that moment when I would shift into that illusive “runner’s high,” right around 47 minutes into the run. Ahhh… bliss!

Jolene and Max the Zen Dog

And then, I got a dog.

“A dog!” I thought. A buddy who would share my love of nature, who would run obediently by my side, his stride in perfect harmony with mine, a faithful companion who would jump out of bed with me and motivate me to get out of the door.

Turns out, only one of these things is true.

Max is the sweetest dog on the planet. He’s a JackChi: half Jack Russell, half Chihuahua. He was a rescue, and from the moment my family and I met him, we knew this little bundle of energy and cuddly, trusting love was our forever dog. He’s a great mix. The Jack Russell tempers the neurosis of the Chihuahua; the Chihuahua calms the hyperactivity of the Jack Russell. We love him, and he’s been a big part of our family for almost 11 years now.

But for all of that, Max is not anyone’s idea of a perfect runner’s dog. He pulls at the leash. He darts back and forth. He stops to sniff everything. He marks his territory every chance he gets. He darts after rabbits, lizards, and ground squirrels. He longs to stop and commune with every. single. dog. we meet. He does everything except run obediently by my side.

But he does force me to get up and hit the road in the morning. If I don’t, there’s a very persistent paw on my face and an immovable 20-pound hulk that has taken over my pillow, staring at me two inches away from my face. So good-bye Zen, hello running with my not-so-Zen dog.

One morning, as Max was darting and distracted by every little thing, it occurred to me: He was just the out-picturing of my own busy mind. If you have a practice of meditation, you know there’s a considerable amount of time spent corralling your errant thoughts as you settle into present-moment awareness. Thoughts that are pulling at your mind, darting back and forth, stopping to sniff every negative idea, chasing after those useless thoughts as if they’re the reality of your existence.


It’s really the biggest challenge to an ongoing meditation practice, making friends with those mostly pathetic thoughts. Even the most enlightened Zen Master struggles with the human ego fighting to be heard, desperate to remain in control. Sometimes, mindfulness meditation is just observing what is, whatever that “is” is in the moment. Breathe. Be in the moment. Get distracted. Start again.

Research shows that a full 50 percent of our time is spent mind wandering, and up to 80 percent of those thoughts are unpleasant, negative, or fear-based. So, for much of our waking hours (and probably most of our sleeping hours as well), we are distracted and feeling sad, lonely, or fearful. We are, basically, terrorizing ourselves with our thoughts. Meditation and mindfulness takes us out of that unproductive place and trains our brain to live in a more creative, joyous, and loving place. Training our brain to be hopeful, positive, and focused helps us to be at the top of our game when we are called upon to bring our best into any given situation.

Military personnel are now being trained in mindfulness meditation before being deployed into combat zones. It’s been shown that meditation helps them focus in the most stressful and dangerous situations. Meditation training is spreading to police, fire fighters, as well as other first-responders. If it works for them, imagine what it can do for you!

So here’s Max, teaching me to be patient with my thoughts, to not judge or get frustrated that “I’m not doing this right.” To allow my mind to slow down and just be with what is. The funny thing is, if I allow him to have just a few minutes of darting and sniffing and being generally a pain in my side, he settles in. And magically, so do I! We do eventually hit our stride and he does become Zen Dog, just slightly ahead of me, running in sync with my pace. It’s a beautiful thing. We’ve had a lot of adventures together. When I’m traveling without him, I even miss my little buddy. He’s getting a little long in the tooth now; we’re entering our “senior years” together, so we’re not looking to break any personal records. It’s just a woman and her dog, exploring our inner and outer worlds together.

So, the next time you are tempted to judge yourself for not being able to relax and find a meditation practice that works for you, remember Max the Zen Dog.

Allow yourself to observe where your thoughts are taking you. Don’t judge them as “good” or “bad.”  Some days you may achieve your Zen, other days you’re just a distracted bundle of neuroses. It’s all OK. Remember, they’re just thoughts, sniffing around to see what they can find. The very exercise of observing your thoughts diffuses any energy around them and helps to create awareness of the work you are invited to do. Awareness, the first step in creating change, one squirrel at a time. Wishing you happy trails as you find your little piece of Zen in this world!

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