Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Barking At Ghosts And Worrying About The Future

     My roommate is a dog sitter in addition to his 9-5 job.  As a result, there is a small but steady flow of dogs running through our house at any given time.  Some of them are quiet, and I barely know they're here.  Others are obnoxious, and I can't wait for them to leave.  Some of them are house-trained.  Others leave "presents" all over the carpet. 

     As a result, I get many opportunities to observe dog behavior.  For example, I've noticed that they spend a good amount of time barking for no reason.  That is to say, one of them will run to the window and start sounding the alarm, and the others will start barking as a result.  But when I go to the window and look outside... there's no one there.  It happens often enough that I'll actually joke sometimes that the dogs are, "barking at ghosts" as they stare out the window and fend off imaginary intruders.  This can be more than a little annoying.

     However, as I sit and reflect on this strange course of events, I'm starting to feel differently.  Maybe there's something to be learned from their behavior.  After all, a dog's sense of hearing and smell is much more powerful than my own.  So there must be something out there.  Whether it's a trash can rolling down the street or a squirrel climbing a tree, I don't know.  I just know that the dogs are perceiving something outside that they mistakenly view as a threat.  It scares them, and they respond by barking incessantly.  The dogs mean well, but they're getting all riled up for nothing.  My mind acts in much the same way.

     That is to say, my mind is constantly on the lookout for threats, and it "barks" a steady stream of disaster scenarios at me throughout the day.  Even as I write this, it keeps asking questions like:

·        What if I lose my job? 
·        What if America gets invaded? 
·        What if I can't pay off my student loans?  

.    Thankfully, my practice reminds me that none of these threats are real… in the present moment.  Yes, there may come a day when I can't pay my student loans, but that's not happening in this moment. Yes, there may come a day when I'm unemployed, but that's also not happening in this moment.  What is happening, however, is that my belly is full, I have a safe place to sleep, and my roommate’s dog is resting quietly at my feet.  In this moment, the world is a beautiful place.  

     There are times in life when I worry so much about the "ghosts" of potential future events that I forget how lovely the world can be.   And that's sad.  Because I can't enjoy my weekend if I'm focused on going to work on Monday.  And I can't see the beauty of a snowflake if I'm thinking about shoveling the walk.  When I worry about the future, I rob the present of its joy.  It's like I'm living without being alive.

     To be clear, I'm not saying that planning for the future is a bad thing.  I set aside a window of time each week to plan for bills, travel, and basic emergency prep.  But outside of that window, I force myself to just live in the moment as much as possible.  Yes, bad things will happen.  And I'll deal with them when they come.  But for the time being, I'm officially done barking at ghosts.  May they rest in peace.


  1. This is an excellent way of putting it. Thank you very much.

  2. Thank you for this. It sounds so simple and easy. Exactly the way it should be.