This is Tucker, my morning cup of joy. Every day at 9 AM he arrives at my breezeway door, sent by my next door neighbor, ball in mouth, ready for action. (Some days I wonder why I’m voluntarily getting out of a warm bed an hour early and heading into the “arctic” outdoors with this rambunctious canine)!
We traipse around our land playing Fetch or Tug of War for awhile, then we head onto the adjoining trails leading to either the bog or the nature path which goes through miles of farmland and woods. Tucker runs ahead, then waits at every turn for me to show up and cheer him on. When he’s naughty he drops the ball and eats deer droppings or grabs onto giant five foot logs which he swings around, intending to haul back home. Once in awhile he obeys when I tell him to drop either the poop or the log. I’m persistent, so he’s minding me more often lately. It’s a work in progress…
For about four months here in Maine, any doubt I may have felt earlier in the morning about the effort to get up and out disappears completely once we’re immersed in this winter wonderland. After the walk I take Tucker downstairs into my gym where he works at the peanut butter inside his Kong while I’m working out. When he’s done he thanks me profusely with sloppy kisses, and I remind him how much I adore him. I then take him home next door, and return to the rest of my day feeling loved, useful, grateful, and filled with joy.
This is my happy place, communing with nature and a big, sweet, loving creature who enjoys the experience as much as I do. It’s a morning ritual which sets the tone for good energy and connection with clients, family and friends. I start each day “in the moment” with intention and gratitude.
So, if you have a dog and can’t roam the woods like I do in the morning, you can still make their walk a ritual of immersion in nature and love by just being present. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one as I do, so you can also borrow their capacity for spontaneity and pleasure. Chances are, your friend or neighbor who loans him to you will appreciate the help, and you and the dog will benefit immensely from your special time together. Any affectionate touch will ramp up the happy bonding hormone Oxytocin in both of you. You’ll begin the day with great self care and a full heart, and you’ll be readier for whatever comes your way!
*PS. If you need help with the whole issue of self care and practices which promote positivity and joy, feel free to call me at 603-431-7131 to set up an appointment. I’d be glad to help!
BlogTalk Radio Podcast Wed., 12/13/17 8:30 PM EST: “5 Ways to Build Couple Connection During the Holidays”
In this 20 minute episode I’ll share some connection tools from my many years of working with couples. In this brief podcast you’ll get ideas for how you can, with minimal time and energy, amidst what is often a whirlwind of busyness, build in a fun sense of “we-ness” with your spouse or partner.
Join in live at 8:30 PM EST with your questions, comments, or your own ideas at 877-497-9046. If you can’t make the live podcast you can hear the recording anytime afterward at: www.BlogTalkRado.com/SusanLager.
I hope that one way or another you can join me!
My husband and I recently went to beautiful Portugal for a long awaited vacation. We rented a car, and drove all around the country, excluding the far northern Douro region, so we’d have sufficient time to really see places. I can’t say enough about what this does, not only for one’s joy and learning levels, but also for a marriage.
Getting away from your everyday routines and responsibilities allows you to reset an appreciation level, not only for other people and places, but also for each other. A self-guided road trip is especially useful in ramping up teamwork and trust. In our case, I was the Navigator, and my husband Thom was the Fearless Driver, negotiating hairpin turns on sky-high mountain roads, and well marked highways with signs somehow not illuminated at night! I guided us through ancient towns with tiny cobblestoned streets barely big enough to fit a car, (let alone two!), while Thom plowed forward in our tiny Citroen.
We sampled wines, cheeses, and exotic fish dishes we’d never experienced before. We had to be a well oiled machine, hauling our overloaded suitcases up dark staircases in remote Air B&B’s. We walked through orchards and vineyards, went to dinner in medieval towns late at night, and toured ancient castles and cities on foot for hours and hours, (something I’d usually love, but an act of generosity by Thom, who’s not so crazy about walking all day and night). Together, we had to communicate with the Portuguese, many of whom don’t speak other languages clearly. We had to negotiate where to go, and what to forego, given our time constraints.
We returned home with a much greater appreciation for the sensual European way of life, but also thankful for American conveniences, and vastly more thankful for each other!
If you haven’t gotten away in awhile together, either to an exotic place like Portugal for a vacation, or to somewhere in your home state for a weekend, I’d recommend that you begin doing it again whenever you can. Your marriage will thank you for it!
I work with several couples who love each other and want their relationships to thrive and grow, but they don’t put much effort into planning quality time together. “Busyness” has become a major rationale for many couples, as they balance the multiple roles of employee or business owner, parent, friend, relative, self-care, and partner.
I find myself telling couples with some frequency that wanted time together won’t just happen on its own when you have a lot on your plate. Wishing for it isn’t enough – you need to be more intentional about making it happen by putting it near the top of your priority list and individually and together planning.
If you’re a bit wary about whether your ideas for meaningful, fun time together will be a hit with your partner then ask them about the kinds of activities indoors and outdoors they’d enjoy. You can each make a list, put the ideas in a jar, and pick from each other’s jars, taking turns. (My “Jar Exercise” I refer to in one of my free articles you can receive by signing up). Don’t allow quality time together to become a one-person job. It’s best to share the labor of connection. You’ll also get more “bang for your buck” by introducing novel places and activities. Neuroscience points out the benefit of novelty to the bonding experience between couples, so try to avoid doing the same old thing every time you’re together. Try to balance tried and true rituals you both enjoy with new experiences and places. You’ll be enriching your relationship in a major way. You’ll be avoiding the big pit of “busyness” and disconnection in your relationship, and you’ll feel better about being proactive about this issue.
This past weekend it was a balmy 24 degrees for the high on most of Saturday and Sunday here in the Northeast. Many of you might grimace at this information, especially if you live in Maine or New Hampshire and routinely experience a six month winter. You’re even more likely to look at this photo of me on the Lincoln Woods trail, deep in the heart of the mountains, and think I’m crazy, right? What you may not realize is that, along with some good friends and my husband I was practicing the art of making peace with the cold, given the fact that we can’t change it and would certainly get very depressed hanging around inside all winter. (What you can’t see in this particular photo is the fact that all four of us had just driven two hours North to see the Ice Castles, basically, an ambitious bunch of ice towers near Loon Mountain – all freezing stuff)!
But, there’s method to the madness: Get out in nature after you’ve sufficiently bundled up, experience it’s beauty, yield to it, and you’ll be taking a natural anti-depressant! So, whatever feels most comfortable to you – downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating, or just plain trail walking with your dog, if you have one – any of these activities will help you not only get through the very long New England winter, but will give you exercise, social contact, a happy dog and communion with nature. All very good things….
I could never sit “Indian Style,” so when I spent two weeks in Girl Scout camp at age nine I felt like a total failure next to all the other little scouts sitting like perfect Yogis around the campfire, inhaling their gooey Smores. Imagine my later dismay whenever I attended a cozy, casual group event, or God forbid, a Yoga class and attempted to achieve a Namaste frame of mind in lotus position! So, sadly to say, my attempts at “regular” meditation haven’t been stellar with the posture all convoluted. I also sit in my work as a psychotherapist more than most elders do when they’re confined to wheelchairs, so more sitting as a form of meditative practice is generally out.
I relax and even meditate through movement, often focusing on my breath and gait during speed walks, no matter where I am. But the real deal happens when everything is quiet and shut down, my cat and husband are asleep, the horrible news is off, my laptop has been put to bed, the dishwasher is humming, and I’m in the zone making popsicles. I am the newest member of a bizarre club of mostly young Moms who need some peace and quiet, and find it late at night, concocting all sorts of decadent popsicles, then posting them on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. I call them the Midnight Madness Poppers, and I guess I’m one of them, invited, young and tired, Pinterest addicted – or not. I’ve decided that even though nobody has nominated me yet, that I have an even more exclusive membership in this club, because anyone can invent delicious pops loaded with gobs of sugar, but mine are healthy, untainted by that sweet poison.
I’ve also decided that most anyone can sit in perfect Lotus position, still and silent, noting their breath and invasive thoughts as a path to enlightenment. How many people can go into a total meditative trance at midnight whipping up things with names like “Banana Maple Coconut Rum Pecan” or “Russian Cappucino Walnut Kahlua Chip”? Huh?
Meet Barley (Lager) – our new “Grandson.” He may be the youngest member of our family, but we think he’s wiser than all the rest of us combined. He knows how to live and love and get his way when he wants to do his thing. You can’t walk with him ten feet in public without his universal fan club, (mostly older, very fancy, done up ladies), stopping, shrieking, cuddling him and kissing him on the mouth – even though he may have just eaten some fresh deer poop. Like most puppies, he loves everyone and everyone loves him. Of course, it helps that he’s soft and fuzzy, full of kisses and clumsy like a baby. But, he knows a few things about how to live with joy that the rest of us could learn from, probably saving us thousands in therapists fees like mine, and thousands of hours of searching through self help books. If we all just emulated the Barleys of the world we’d probably also spare ourselves loads of angst, and mountains of emptiness and stress.
So, here’s what Barley has already taught me about how to live happier:
- Be present in the moment, whatever that is
- Be curious – it’s an amazing, big world out there!
- Eat heartily when you’re hungry and nap when you’re tired
- Play a lot with gusto and abandon
- Be loyal, but also love the one you’re with – unless they’re mean
- Forgive and forget – today’s a new day
- Cuddle and kiss your family whenever you can, especially when you greet them
- Ask for what you want without shame
- Enjoy your own body – it’s full of wonderful parts!
- Give everyone the benefit of the doubt – maybe they’ll be a new friend!
- Back off when someone says “No” – and don’t bite!
- Be determined about getting your rewards
- Listen very carefully, trust your nose and tune in
- Be silly and unselfconscious – who gets hurt if you’re having fun?
(Feel free to add to this list in the name of helping all of us “grown ups” learn to live with more joy and exuberance). Right now, with Barley’s modeling, I need a nap…..
I haven’t been blogging for more than a month, not only because of the holiday busyness, but because I have an overactive brain which got hijacked by an obsession for grain-free, low carb cooking and baking. I’ve discovered several websites which tout tons of recipes for healthy, wheat-free, sugar-free breads, cakes, soups, muffins, appetizers, candy, etc., all part of the “Wheatbelly” crusade. I’m hooked. I’m like a junkie on crack. I’m often up till 1:00 AM immersed in a world of other “junkies” who spend every kid-free, husband-free, (I’m not being sexist, it’s mostly women), moment making these healthy treats, and blogging about it on their sites. I call one bunch the “Mad Midnight Popsicle Mavens.” (They really started me on this mania, with their mouthwatering pictures of their mostly sugar-free creations).
This obsession actually started for a logical reason. I’d been suffering with acid reflux and asthma for several years, often rudely injecting itself into sessions with clients, with me either wheezing or choking for a period of time, on their dime. Clients were always very understanding, but I couldn’t tolerate feeling like an old coot, so I did my homework and found out about grain-free eating as an antidote in the Wheatbelly research. Thankfully, this way of life has helped enormously, but with the mixed outcome of creating a new “mania,” as I like to think of it – not a mental illness, but a happy passion. So happy, in fact, that I could forget to sleep, if I allowed myself, but I generally don’t.
So, what’s the point of this tale? To let anyone out there know that if you too are prone to fixations, preoccupations and manias, to be aware of how and when you allow them to rule your world. Do you forget to pick up your kids at daycare because you’re in a happy shopping trance? Does your obsession with learning an instrument trump paying the bills? Do you neglect your spouse because you’re fixated on a new puzzle? It’s all a consciousness and balance game.
Anyway, I gotta go. The grain-free cookies are calling….
As the seasons change, many people I know are bemoaning the loss of “time off” they’ve had in the summer. There’s an obvious feeling of ambivalence about the upcoming season of busyness and social obligations dovetailing with work and family responsibilities. People tend to dread being over scheduled and deprived of personal time to self-nurture or play. The myth we seem to have bought into in the American culture is that one needs to be on vacation to fully experience joy, spontaneity, discovery and meaningful connection.
I invite you instead, to explore the experience of what I call “time on,” or living your everyday life with more wonder, appreciation and joy. Start by regularly taking a “snapshot” of the present moment – notice your breathing, the air on your skin, the color of the sky, the sound of the wind in the leaves. Notice the quality of the conversation and connection with the person facing you. Take a “snapshot” of this sharing as it is unfolding. Savor it. Drive more slowly and take in the tones of the changing season. Take a “snapshot” of that field of hay, or the person trying to get somewhere in the car next to you. Take a risk and smile at them and your common circumstance. Be more playful with yourself and those around you. Laugh at yourself more often. Be physical – dance, walk, run, move! Appreciate the daily work your body does for you, and treat it with kindness and compassion. Stop, and pet your dog or your cat if you have one. It will be good for both of you. Pick a wildflower and stick it in your hair. Write a poem, play an instrument. Turn off your automatic TV watching, and read a good book or listen to a symphony.
Just be present for your life each day, not just for one or two weeks of vacation in the summer. Use your “time on,” your everyday life, to be cognizant of, and grateful for your blessings. You’ll be a much happier person…….
PS. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and eloquent writer, is a terrific resource for the issues of happiness, staying present and in the “now.” You can get any of his wonderful books on these subjects at my Amazon store by going to: http://astore.amazon.com/wwwsusanlagec-20