Sophia Loren had my heart from the moment she rolled onto her back and vulnerably exposed her belly for a scratch.  She had been a “lifer” at the humane society and was scheduled for euthanasia on Valentine’s Day.  The good folks at the Greenville Humane Society collaborated with Astro Kennels who had recently started a last chance adoption program.  Upon relocating Sophia to Astro Kennels, her trainer, Sandy Bayne, schooled her in the art of “good dog.” She was now ready to pass on to a forever home.  I naively believed I would use my training as a psychotherapist and knowledge of behavioral strategies to expand her education.  As is often the case when we set out on a single path with a clear agenda, the universe giggles.

After a month of life with Sophia, I realized that paradoxically, SHE was training me in the art of “good human.” Sophia exemplifies the life I help both my clients and myself lead.  Although she had a difficult start in life, she does not appear limited or resentful due to unhelpful thoughts or beliefs about her past.  Additionally she does not show signs of worry or distress over what might happen tomorrow. Sophia exists “mindfully in the moment.”  She focuses on what is important RIGHT NOW and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Below are some of my observations on Sophia’s most evident mindfulness skills.

LOVE:  Sophia loves unconditionally. She doesn’t judge based on a bad hair day, icky morning breath or a harsh statement uttered last week in anger. She loves us for who we are to her. We are her humans, her peeps, her posse, the givers of belly rubs, chew toys, walks, a comfortable bed, breakfast, dinner and the providers of the nastiest stinky treats on the face of the earth, (dehydrated lamb lung…ugh!)

FOOD: Sophie girl loves to eat. She eats with a gusto that I have not witnessed in any other creature. She is not conditioned or distracted by self-judgments regarding body image. She is totally engaged with her lamb and yam mix.  She emits grunts and snorts while gobbling up her meal and blesses us with hearty burps and farts upon completion of the feast.  Typically after her meal she revels in a nice cold drink of toilet water.  She both eats to live and lives to eat.

PLAY: Everyone is a potential playmate and friend to Sophia, dog, cat, human, turtle, bee, yucky millipede and once a dead copperhead.  She is deliberately submissive with other dogs, as a strategy to let them know she can be trusted. She is the master of focusing on what works. Her goal is to play. She doesn’t engage in petty posturing or aggressive tactics to be top dog.  After a few seconds of indulgent sniffing, typically the other canine is convinced she has no ulterior motives and they spend the rest of the time in enthusiastic games of chase and raucous doggie tumbling.

REST: Sophia is aware of the need for rest as a means of recharging. She adheres to her own variation on the adage “early to bed, LATE to rise.”  She snores like a chainsaw, drools voraciously and has doggie dreams that involve yips, growls, appendage twitches and facial grimaces. Throughout the day she naps when tired. She doesn’t have another cup of coffee or diet coke to keep going, or push herself beyond her capacity. She is tuned in to her body’s need for rest. Consequently, she is open and eager to engage in any new activity when she is awake.  “A ride in the car….ohhhh, my favorite thing!” “Chew a section of siding off the house…..yes, my favorite thing!” “A cat to chase……..heck yeah, my favorite thing!”

Everyday I recommit to live a more mindful, Sophia-esque life.  Her way of being in the world has taught me to love more with less judgment, to acknowledge and appreciate the little things I find enjoyable, to incorporate play into my day as often as humanly possible and most importantly to cut myself slack when I need a break or even a nap.