This guy, Tucker, is one of the 4-legged loves of my life. In previous posts I’ve written about how through our daily romps in the woods around my land and walks around the neighborhood he reminds me about what’s most important in life, especially as I veer off into thoughts about my unanswered emails, calls, bills needing attention, etc. (Refer to “Its’ All About the Ball!”)
I share him with our next door neighbors Peggy and Dave who inherited him, not having had an agenda or a wish for such a demanding, messy creature. They love Tucker but Dave isn’t a dog guy. So our arrangement works. I don’t have a dog of my own, so Tucker is it. He lives at Peggy and Dave’s, but his heart lives with me.
Here’s the thing: Tucker at 7 years old has terminal cancer. Six months after surgery to remove a huge malignant mass on his thyroid the cancer is back. After a subsequent evaluation, the vet gave him about 7 months to live. My challenge is how to manage the pain of witnessing his imminent suffering and probably losing him not long from now, without wasting precious time we have together today – time for joy and much fun. It’s a mind screw and a heartbreak – right now he has minor symptoms – some weakness in his legs and some coughing, but other than that he still acts like an exuberant toddler, full of sweetness, innocence and life.
“Staying present” means being in the moment without preoccupation about the past or the future. Some Eastern spiritual practices say that when you’re anxious you’re not here now, but in some possible or anticipated future, and when you’re sad you’re living in the past, grieving some loss or disappointment. So, the challenge is to be here for the present moment, savoring and amplifying it. The present moment is usually just fine if we don’t mess it up with our thoughts. For me with Tucker the present moment is about enjoying his current vitality and playfulness, savoring the shared sights and smells of Autumn without obsessing about it probably being his last one. (And by the way, research has indicated that people who practice savoring and amplifying positive experiences have more happy neural pathways which show up on brain scans)!
If you are in a situation like this with a similar challenge, make room for your sadness and honor it when it visits you. But, so your sadness doesn’t drown out all else, when you’ve given your sadness its’ due, change the channel in your brain through the practice of noticing the specialness of this present moment, take a mental snapshot, then save it as a treasure to place in your treasure box of memories for the future. Pay attention to what is right in front of you and appreciate its meaning to you. You will be present for your life which will feel much fuller, and in the future you’ll be thankful for that!
I’ve been making lots of lemonade in the last few days. On Friday I had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, (which happened on the second day of a two week trip to Slovenia and Croatia – another lemonade story)! So here you see me trapped in an easy chair with the big, swollen knee, with only trips to the bathroom labelled as “walks.” The highlight of my day was watching our shared Lab, Tucker, chewing on a Kong on the blanket in front of me a few hours ago. Big doin’s!
So what do you do when you get a bunch of lemons? Make lemonade! – in my case, finding a way to reframe my entrapment into something meaningful, productive and hopefully fun. I spent a whole day tending to my “Google Business” site, beefing up my Psychology Today listing, at last funding my EasyPark USA account, watching the White House debacle of sociopaths and narcissists in action, cleaning out my email box, watching more criminals on TV, and reading my new “What Dogs Think” magazine. Not working out, not doing dishes, not Christmas shopping, not cooking or cleaning, not trimming garden beds, etc., etc. Just relaxing!
In psych lingo we’d call this very good “reframing.” Taking a less than stellar situation and “finding the silver lining”, “making lemonade out of lemons”, “looking through rose colored glasses,” to rattle off just a few metaphors for finding optimism and advantage in a negative situation. It’s an important skill all of us must hone to not let life make us crazy. In Buddhist ideology it would be related to the challenge of “letting go of expectation,” “acceptance,” and “cultivating stillness” as we strive to experience more peace of mind and presence in the moment. In Western thinking it would be about resilience and dealing more effectively with disappointments and mishaps, not becoming bitter and dark when life deals us difficult or aggravating blows.
So, whenever lemons have been dumped on you, find a way to make some really sweet lemonade, and you’ll get through it more peaceably with some learning and grace.
Now, back to all the criminals running the government……
So, here’s a pretty gruesome picture of my poor thumb almost severed. Before you vomit or faint, please read on, so you can avoid creating a similar mess. (This is less of a story about blood and pain and more about how it happened).
My husband and I live in a lovely 40 year old home which has needed some window work for about the last 15 years. The windows are beautiful, all wooden framed and large, but all are what’s called “guillotine” windows. Guillotines used to be used for chopping off people’s heads, mostly during the French Revolution. When you’re referring to a window that way it unfortunately functions in the same manner – if you don’t hold onto the top window while opening the bottom one, whatever is underneath gets chopped off, in this case almost my whole thumb, as per the nasty picture above. Fortunately, I got to the ER in time for the docs to sew the laceration back together, and now, three weeks later it’s all in one piece again.
The moral of this little story, however, is that my husband and I used avoidance and denial about the window problem for many years rather than doing our research and finding out if, in fact, they all needed to be replaced (to the tune of about $30,000.) or if we could have them repaired (cost: $3000. and one intact thumb). We just pretended the problem wasn’t really one, as we routinely positioned blocks of wood to keep windows open, or hammered top windows shut. It felt like one of those totally un-fun expenses, like getting a new septic tank or a new well, so we avoided it. The irony is that I pulled this little stunt at the beginning of the evening of my husband’s birthday, so we “celebrated” him in the ER this year.
If you too have any issues which you’ve been coping with through avoidance and denial, it might be time to ask yourself what the ultimate price may be for your “problem solving” strategy. How might you be victimizing yourself in the long run? Who else might be negatively effected if you keep pretending the problem isn’t really such a big deal? Might you be making a mountain out of a mole hill the way we did? Do you too have any body parts which might ultimately be compromised if you keep putting things off?
Think about it, and figure out some real solution to the problem…
(Well, the lying-down position of this image you may be getting tells it all). Sometimes, despite your best efforts and highest expectations things just don’t turn out the way you’d hoped they would. In this case, I (once again), unwittingly took the shot sideways in the middle of aiming, and couldn’t get it to stand up straight afterward on my computer. It came out right side up for my husband on his laptop. Who knows what you’ll get…
(Am I the only one using an iPhone who does this with some frequency, or are there other directionally impaired picture-takers out there)???
The real subject of this post ironically, had to do with the the non-fit between the weather and the activity. Every Autumn I look so forward to cozy rituals with family and friends, like apple picking amidst the crisp air and gorgeous New England foliage. I DON’T look forward to roaming the orchards in humid 74 degrees with almost no foliage display in mid October. (Nor did my husband, wearing his lovely new flannel shirt!)
But here’s the point: Expectation, as per Buddhist teaching, can really set us up for problems. You want a rose, but get a marigold, then feel dejected, as though it wasn’t still a lovely flower! You want the whole New England leaf-peeping experience, then feel cheated when the temperature and foliage is more like an August day. Yet, you still get the apples and a day in the country with your loved one(s). So, I recommend that you learn to go with the flow, whether it’s a sideways photo or an apple picking event, take it for what it’s worth, have a good laugh, and enjoy being alive! (As my sister Marge says, “It’s certainly better than the alternative.”)………..
So, here I am on our boat celebrating the end of Winter, a missing Spring, and now…. Summer! But wait – today we’re all hiding out indoors escaping the scorching 94 degree temps outside! This is a classic case of “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” or “Be flexible! Regroup!”
When weather dishes out doozies like it has been here in New England, sometimes the best you can do is “reframe”:
– On another rainy day in June: Great opportunity to do book work and seasonal clothing hauls.
– On another 50 degree day in June: Great time to do the mulching and other backbreaking yard work you’d never do in the heat. Also great time to do all the cooking and baking which calls to you.
– On a 94 degree Monday when you’re “off” work: Great time to write blog posts, post radio shows and catch up on emails, not to mention play your guitar and read a book before midnight. Who’d want to be indoors doing that when it’s glorious outside?
So, as the old adage goes, “When nature gives you lemons, make LOADS of lemonade!”