Wisdom has gone to the dogs: Other Voices

I recently attended the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, described as “4 Days, 2,000 People, 1 Question: How Can We Live with Wisdom, Awareness and Compassion in the Digital Age?”

The answer is simple: dogs.

That sounds like a biased answer coming from the president of Humane Society Silicon Valley. Except it didn’t come from me.

During the opening session, Wisdom 2.0 founder Soren Gordhamer highlighted how individual attendees answered the question “What Most Inspires You?” When the words “my dog” popped up on the big screen, more than a few knowing chuckles came from the audience.

And the evidence kept mounting.

• Facebook Director of Engineering Arturo Behar launched his presentation, “Putting Wisdom into Practice,” by showing a picture of Churro, his Siberian Husky puppy. The 2,000 people in attendance responded with a collective “awwwww.”

• Instagram Director of Product Peter Deng discussed “Applied Mindfulness,” saying, “If you want to insert mindfulness into your busy life, the best way to start the day is with a cute dog.”

• Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wanted to deliver more happiness to employees at the new Zappos campus, so he solicited employees for their input during construction. Some asked for an onsite gym, others an onsite library. But the biggest request, by far, was onsite “Doggy Day Care.”

• Google Vice President of People Karen May interviewed Eckhart Tolle, one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time. She originally met Tolle a few years ago. She figured that because Tolle is so spiritually lofty, he couldn’t possibly carry a technology device like the rest of us. Then he whipped out his iPhone to show her a picture of his dog. “That’s when I knew he was human,” she said.

Tolle continued to discuss why being overly absorbed in our minds keeps us from enjoying life. We get so wrapped up in our thoughts that we miss the moment. He warned that if we allow our connection to technology to take over, we could become completely disconnected to the life within us and around us. If we keep our minds so preoccupied with the next Facebook post, then we will never be present for one another or ourselves.

That would be such a tragedy. Being present is a wonderful gift. When we give pure attention without any intention, it creates true relationship, because intuitively we know that we are not being judged. That’s where dogs (and cats) come into the picture.

Tolle also discussed why so many of us love animals, and how it’s not necessarily the reason most of us think – the unconditional love they provide. When you look into the eyes of a dog or cat, you feel really alert. For a moment, it frees you from your mind. You not only sense the beingness, you recognize it.

The real reason we love dogs and cats is that we love the consciousness that shines through. And when we acknowledge that consciousness, it arises in us. And we become present.

Which brings me back to the original question posed at the conference. How do we live with wisdom, compassion and awareness in the digital age? From the sessions I’ve highlighted, I think it’s fair to say that for many people, having animals in our lives is part of the answer.

I couldn’t agree more. Animals are an entry point to living in the moment. And in the face of technology pulling us out of the present – and out of our lives – dogs (and cats) are one of the few ways we can easily be pulled back in.

Los Altos resident Carol Novello is president of Humane Society Silicon Valley.

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