Living in the Moment

Lessons from my dogs

Living in the moment

As I get older, I realize I am losing certain memories and forgetting past experiences, my life rolling up behind me like a carpet. Yet instead of fretting, I’m deciding it’s a good thing. If there is no past to remember, then one can only live in the present. Animals do this without being reminded or without seventeen self-help books instructing them how not to dwell on events that have passed or worry about things that may never come to pass.

My dogs are all the self-help books I ever need, and what they tell me is this: “There is no past. There is no future. There is now.” I watch them. They’re in no hurry; they throw themselves into the task at hand with great joy and enthusiasm: walking, hunting, chewing a bone. Even their sleep is earnest. I watch them make the best of what the day brings. If no extra cookies fall from the sky, they lie by the window looking out. If no walk is forthcoming, they sleep and they dream, soft sunlight falling across their backs. They rarely complain, and accept each offering as if bestowed for the first time, their enthusiasm for the moment they’re in genuine, and I do not find them seeking to waste the present by looking beyond.

Their way of being is just that…being. Not doing. They don’t try, they just are.

Daily they try to nudge me to do the same, yet never with force, just by example. I think to the many times out on walks when one of them would sniff for longer than I thought necessary, my mind on all the work I had to finish back home, and I would tug at a leash or call sharply, regretting it later. For who was I to judge the importance of one sniff over another? I was as well-equipped to assign the proper sniff length as an illiterate to decide the English canon. Never do they try to prevent me from reading my news in the paper…unless they’re hungry. And were I to die then be miraculously offered one day or even one hour of life back on earth, you would not find me typing before my computer screen, but out where the gentle breeze touches my face, filled with gratitude to be beside my dogs, watching them, being with them in whatever form that took.

I now use the prolonged sniffing stops to become quiet and behold the world around me, to look not only to the beauty of freshly fallen snow or a trickling stream, but also to something that is invisible to the eye, and can only be felt—the pulse of life all around. In Le Petit Prince Antoine de St-Exupéry wrote, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

While my mind still drifts when walking, thinking often of work, I try gently to bring it back to where we are and what lies unspoken: a short afternoon in January darkened further by gray clouds above, yet beneath melting snow damp mud hints at spring to come and the low, slanted light speaks of long evenings ahead. Sometimes we sit listening in a quiet woods surrounded by the whispered wisdom of ancient trees, and in those moments I live in my heart not in my head. I remember of Yeats who said, “the practically lost art of listening is the nearest of all arts to Eternity.”

Winter is a perfect time for looking inward, becoming reflective—for in the darkness of silence there are answers. My dogs speak to me silently in a language inaudible to my ears, one I must listen for with my heart. There is a saying, “The longest journey you will ever travel is the journey from your head to your heart.” When I really listen to my dogs, I hear what they are asking me to hear: the rustle of birds in winter’s dried leaves; the whistled-snort of a white-tailed deer mirroring the sharp cold air; bare branches who dance with the wind, scraping against my window panes; or the tat, tat, tat of the woodpecker in hushed stillness, pierced now and again by the peal of a hawk. When I listen I hear the voice of existence which knows no time or space, no past or future—only now.

With my dogs as my teachers, I’m trying to live no where else but in this moment. Sometimes I even try sniffing the air.

Kay Pfaltz is a writer and animal activist. Visit her website at to order copies of Lauren’s Story: An American Dog in Paris, the true story of a sick and abandoned beagle whose zest for life triumphs throughout adversary. Kay donates 100% of profits to animal organizations as listed on her website.