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!
Most of us are familiar with the “January Effect” – people armed with New Year’s resolutions to live cleaner: workout regularly, be more organized, eat more healthfully and lose weight, drink less, be more productive and waste less time, etc., etc.
Years ago when I belonged to Gold’s Gym we “regulars” would see swarms of well-intentioned people in January jamming up the machines, crowding the classes, full of optimism, only to almost entirely clear out by late February or March. The self-righteous eye rolls or chuckles among the “regulars” would be palpable. After observing it yearly I ultimately decided that this phenomenon might not be so much about laziness, lack of commitment or disorganization, but maybe more about a lack of permission – a lack of giving oneself permission to honor the need for down time, rest, hanging out, or sometimes people’s lack of permission to look at themselves with honesty about what’s really important to them. Had the resolutions to work out rigorously four times a week taken into account what was realistic in the context of people’s sleep habits, infrastructure to take that personal time, need for solitude or need for rest? Often not – coming to the gym frequently sounded good on paper, but had these people given themselves permission to look realistically at all these other factors that could undermine them? I think not.
I met with several couples in my practice after the holidays who talked with surprise and delight about having had a wonderful time with each other and with their kids during the holidays – for some, the first time in years! It wasn’t because they packed more activities in or were “good.” They didn’t go to every festival or capitalize on every possible day to ski or ice skate. They didn’t go to every party. They didn’t jump start their New Year’s resolutions. Instead they gave themselves permission to do less, to relax more, sleep more, hang out more, go offline, and not compete with their friends or neighbors to be the most social, or have the best holiday decorations, or the most elaborate rituals. They had given themselves permission to be honest with themselves about how much was enough, and how much might be too much. They tuned into themselves and their children rather than the hype around them, and it made all the difference in the world.
So, if as you read this you feel some apprehension about becoming a sloth if you practice tuning into your needs for rest and relaxation, take a deep breath and just try it for awhile. You may very well discover that when you legitimize downtime you won’t ultimately be less productive or social or happy. You may just discover a quieter, “slower” aspect of yourself, creating more peace of mind. You may even get to the gym with sufficient regularity after January!
I do almost everything FAST. I walk fast. I eat fast. I talk fast. I think fast. Regrettably, I drive fast. When I moved to Maine from New York City I felt like I’d landed on the “Slow Planet.” Drivers on local roads coming from opposite directions would wind down from a frenetic 20 miles an hour to a dead stop, and have a conversation with each other while everyone behind them would wait patiently, never beeping their horns. (?) Cashiers at checkout counters would wrap every purchased item as though it was made of 14 karat gold, then fish around for the right bag, all while shooting the breeze with me. People on elevators would wait courteously while others filed out first – all in slow motion.
Where I came from in New York I was typical – everyone rushing around everywhere as though North Korea had finally launched an ICBM with a big warhead on it headed toward NYC. With millions of people around, it always felt normal and necessary to be quick on the draw! So the transition to the “Slow Planet” has been a challenge. Not only that, but in my line of work as a psychotherapist slow is often needed to be attuned. Clients don’t want to feel they’re playing “Beat the Clock” in their precious time with me, so I’ve had to be mindful of pace and intensity there as well.
The good news is that I’ve found an anti-zoom antidote to “Fast” through kayaking, which I’d highly recommend to everyone. Even though my kayak is capable of moving very quickly and efficiently through water it feels like an oxymoron to be doing “fast” there. What’s the rush? There’s no email or texts calling, as service if often nil, no laundry, no dishes, no blogposts, no bills, no nothing except the beauty of the water, the mysteries under the surface, the cottages on the shore, the breeze, and the lapping, rhythmic sound of my paddle pushing me gently forward. Unless you’re an olympic contender for “speed kayaking,” (don’t think that actually exists….), there’s no point in being fast when you’re in that realm. Calm reigns and stress is quieted. Reflection and being present in the moment is natural. I’m finally home, and you will be too, where “Slow” is the gift……
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.
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…..
It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in here because I’ve been practicing what I preach: giving myself a break. And, you know what? Nobody got killed! I took time to do some light gardening, some socializing with family and friends, some cooking and baking, some Spring organizing, some reading, and some mindless fun. It was totally delightful. For a few weeks no major trainings, no BlogTalk Radio shows, no bookkeeping, no internet work, no professional reading, no raking and mulching, and no blog writing. It was a daily practice of exorcizing my “shoulds,” and I would strongly recommend it to all of you as part of your mental health workout.
People today talk constantly about being too busy, but often don’t challenge the underlying assumptions and automatic or duty-driven behaviors which fuel the compulsive whirlwind of activity. Companies expect employees to be available without limitations, so it exacerbates the perception and experience of busyness as “loyal,” “responsible” and “valued.”
I would invite you however, to step off the emotional treadmill every so often to stop and smell the roses. Be silly, non-“productive,” self indulgent, time “wasting,” and in the moment. Relax, and see what happens…..
I’ve often teased my husband about how he goes into his “happy place” when he’s fishing, especially from his kayak. He slips into a total trance, paddling softly, examining the shallow water for fish and lures other people have left behind. I could be drowning in the next kayak, or there could be a nuclear holocaust and he’d be completely immersed in a Zen meditative state. (I think he’s in good company with half the planet in this way.)
Well, I’ve noticed something similar about myself and what I think may be true for millions of women: when I’m on a shopping mission searching for a specific item, I’m either in a store or online, totally immersed in the experience, focused and calm, in much the same way as when I play my guitar, maneuver my kayak, ski or garden. I used to think of the shopping as being too material, but I now realize that it’s a form of meditation – retail meditation! Whenever I’m in a store I observe something similar seeming to happen for mostly other women – they sail around with their carts, looking for this or that, with contented smiles on their faces, calm and centered, in what looks like a perfect state of “flow.” I don’t know if they’re on drugs or engaged in compulsive shopping, but they sure seem to be present in the moment!
So, if you engage in the same behavior, and you’re not overspending or avoiding some other responsibility, try not to let your inner critic define the experience as shallow. You may instead be honoring a biologically wired “gathering” instinct and doing a moving meditation. If it centers and calms you, it may be just what you need at that time!
PS. If you need more help with silencing your judgmental inner critic, feel free to call me for an appointment: 603-431-7131
I’m very excited to announce this upcoming BlogTalk Radio episode about Trauma Sensitive Yoga with Lisa Boldin, a graduate of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, and specialist practitioner in this unique form of Yoga.
In this episode we’ll discuss the unique advantages of Trauma Sensitive Yoga for anyone who is struggling with anxiety, emotional stress, or trauma related to experiences such as sexual assault, military combat, or domestic violence.
Call in toll-free at 877-497-9046 to share comments or ask questions about this Yoga. Or, listen live streaming (or later to the recording) at www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager where you will learn more about how and why this practice offers unique benefits for coping with PTSD. You won’t want to miss this show!