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I sat down to meditate recently and my dog Willow wasn’t having it.

First, she restlessly paced the room, stopping to lick my hand and dig her nose into my leg. Then she positioned herself in front of me and started woofing under her breath. It’s a noncommittal bark that can go on and on unless I tell her to stop.

It took every fiber of my being not to open my eyes, move my arms or tell her to be quiet. This is a common struggle in my house because I have one talkative dog.

But this time when she revved up her bark, I simply said “yes” in my mind and dropped back into paying attention to my breath. I learned this “yes” technique through Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach in a recording about committing to a joyful life.

And the yeses worked. Although part of me wanted to jump out of my skin, I started to recognize that my dog was actually teaching me patience.

Still, it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to stand much more of it.

As if on cue, Willow started to really ramp up before the bells on my Insight Timer went off. I opened my eyes and looked at her looking at me, lying on the ground with one of her paws tucked underneath her.

I raised my hands in prayer to my forehead and bowed to her.

She trotted over, wagging her tail, and gave me a kiss.

Distractions are your teachers

We often don’t recognize the greatest teachers in our lives, let alone the role those teachers play. Instead, we tend to regard our monkey minds (or our monkey dogs, or friends, or family) as distractions from the joyful life we desperately crave.

Thoughts distract us from sleep, from enjoyment, from being present. We often manufacture in our mind an entirely different life than the one we are living, perhaps because we think peace exists outside of our distractions.

When thoughts distract us, it’s a mistake to bury them. This is your opportunity to get clear about what’s really going on with that thought. You know the ones, because they come up often and usually share the same roots, like a grove of Aspen trees.

This doesn’t mean you have to launch an assault on your mind as you meditate (try a simple 10-minute meditation here), but you should remain curious and open. Why these thoughts? Why now? And then, after you pay attention to them say, “Yes, there you are again. I see you. Now, I’m letting you go.”

Getting to the root of your thoughts, rather than shoving them aside, helps us recognize the beauty, goodness and Divine in all of life — even the parts we’d like to ignore.

Welcome the distractions

The idea that Divinity is all around and within us is the essence of Tantra. The Tantric yogic worldview considers the mess, the triumph, the mundane and the fantastic, and finds the Divine Consciousness inherent in it all.

That means my chatty dog and the stranger walking in the middle of the street who recently flipped me off for driving on said street, are both manifestations of the Divine.

Go figure.

I did the same thing to both: sent them love because the barking is not about me and the anger of someone telling me off is not about me (However: It’s called a sidewalk, dude! was my first thought).

What is about me is how I react to the situations. And anymore, I’m a kill-them-with-kindness kind of girl.

Except that’s not even it. It’s not about dousing someone with so much love that they feel bad for what they’ve done and beg your forgiveness.

Instead, by showing up with love — with yeses — I am refusing to accept anything less than happiness for myself.

I think it’s time we all got a little more selfish about safeguarding our happy.

Find joy in the now — distracted, busy and all

This summer, a New York Times opinion piece called “The Busy Trap” circulated among my friends. It’s the idea that we self-impose busyness to the point where we pencil in our closest friends for dinner and drinks, thereby alienating the people who are most important to us.

Add to this the “Fear of Missing Out,” which causes many of us to obsessively check our Facebook walls and inboxes for the latest news from our social circle.

Both ways of living lead to unhappiness with the present moment.

“We’re not content with where we are now, [we] always want to get to something else,” says Tara Brach. In our moments of joy, we feel like we should be doing something else. We rush from one thing to the next, and it blocks us, she says. We think that this — right here as you read this — isn’t the moment that really counts.

But the attitude that goes along with joy is that this is it.

Joy doesn’t happen when dogs stop barking or when our lives get less busy.

Joy happens when we say “yes” to life’s distractions. (Click to tweet that.)

Your emotional ups and downs, the rude pedestrians and your over-scheduled life. Say “yes” to it all.

“In this choiceless
of life,
there is an infinite array
of choices.
One alone
brings happiness –
to love
what is.”

To Love What Is by Dorothy Hunt

Realizing that our greatest teachers are in our lives right now is liberating. It means that our joyful lives don’t exist “out there” somewhere; joy is with us all along, if only we remember to say yes.

What do you commit to say “yes” to more often? Add your intention below and help it become a reality.