This blog will be about life and relationships; mostly, from what I’ve learned from my two companion animals, Dali and Oskar. Sometimes I’ll post other types of resources and anecdotes. I hope what I share is helpful or at least fun.
He will stand at the top of the stairs and push a tennis ball to me at the bottom. When I get it, I throw it back – down the hall – so he has to run and get it. He’ll go back to the top of the stairs and wait for me to sit down on the couch and then he will push the ball down the stairs again, so I hear a thump, thump, thump as the ball bounces down the stairs.
As he grew up in our family, and I would give a chew treat to both him and Dali. He would hide his treat when I wasn’t looking and then give me this look like something happened to his chewy and he didn’t know what it was. I was thinking maybe Dali was taking it so I’d give him another. Until one day, I don’t remember why, I thought to look around the house and saw that he was hiding them. When he realized I was on to him, he stopped his prank.
There are other things he does in the moment and I find myself cracking up. I look at him and he has a big smile on his face. We connect over the moment of playfulness and I feel lighter and joyful.
Laughing boosts the immune system and relieves stress, depression, anxiety, pain and social conflict. Be sure to watch a funny video, movie, spend time with friends who make you laugh, or find other things that make you LOL on a regular basis.
Walks with my dogs help me not only to get outside and get exercise, but also savor the pleasant and interesting things around me. Just this morning, I saw a baby fox looking at us from a safe distance. Often, I take a photo of what I am enjoying (unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of the fox) which helps me amass a riches of positive feelings. Taking time to stop and smell the roses boosts my positive emotions.
In our daily lives, we are often distracted by our thoughts or tasks at hand, so it is good to purposefully take some time to notice and savor positive things around us. This is one thing we can do to increase our happiness. A trip to the Bahamas or Belize, though awesome, is not needed for us to savor the everyday beauty around us.
If you like, try taking a short walk of about 15 – 20 minutes each day, or however often works for you. Use your different senses to notice some charm in the moment. Feel the cool breeze on your skin. Notice the dramatic cloud formation. Smell the roses. Keeping a written journal or a photographic journal is an additional way to accumulate a treasure chest filled with simple pleasures.
The photos on this blog are some of the visual treats I’ve enjoyed. Most are from walks with my dogs, but some are from walks I’ve taken without Dali and Oskar. Yes, that does happen from time to time. I hope you enjoy.
And if you decide to give this “helpful hint” a try, feel free to let me know how it goes by writing below.
I joke around that Oskar is my boyfriend (who could resist that face?). If I go upstairs, Oskar goes upstairs. If I go downstairs, Oskar goes downstairs. When he comes in from a walk that I haven’t taken him on, the first thing he does is run to find me. He’s very attached to me and that’s why I was so surprised that he went to bite me when I was wiping his paws after he was out in the snow, ice and salt that they put down to prevent people from falling, but if it is not dog friendly, can really hurt their paws.
Oskar didn’t actually bite me. He just went to bite me, but I scolded him more from being so startled that he would actually try to hurt me. He looked so sheepish afterward. Maybe it was from being misunderstood, I don’t know, but the way he looked got me thinking. I knew he didn’t want to hurt me and I realized that he must have been hurting and wanted me to stop and it was the only way he had to tell me.
Something similar happened on one of our walks. A small rock got in between his paw pads and he couldn’t walk without hurting. So I went to take it out but was only using one hand because it was so cold out I didn’t want to take off my other glove. I didn’t realize at the time that in only using one hand, I was rubbing the rock against his pads while trying to remove it. In a flash, he turned his head around and put his teeth on my hands.
This time, I didn’t scold him. This time, I apologized and said to him he must be hurting and I realized I needed two hands to make sure I didn’t cause him any more pain. He gave me a kiss.
I later thought to myself if I can be so understanding toward Oskar and why he might lash out at me, maybe I could be understanding with myself when I get angry with friends or family when I’m hurting. That happened to me the other idea. I felt rejected and instead of telling my friend I was feeling hurt, I got angry with him. And then I felt terrible for getting angry and putting him on the defensive and feeling rejected.
After the now infamous Oskar incident, I was able to be compassionate with myself and know that I was not a bad person for getting angry, my anger came from a genuine place of feeling hurt. That helped to let go of the shame I was feeling. What a relief! Afterward, I also felt more capable of being vulnerable and telling my friend straight-up the next time I was feeling hurt. It’s a lot easier that way.
Sara Bareilles song, Brave, captures the theme of this post beautifully and with a lot of flare. I hope you enjoy dancing to this as much as I do.
If Dali were to write a book on living life, I think her first principle would be: Don’t Take “No” for an Answer.
Don’t let this picture fool you. She looks pretty cute and innocent, but she can be incredibly determined and stubborn. I once asked my husband, Irwin, what kind of work Dali would do if she were human. We came up with some kind of artist because she has a gift for expressing her emotions. But, Oskar does, too. It’s just that he is much more easy-going. If he doesn’t get his way, he makes the best out of the situation. Not Dali. Dali sulks. If we don’t go the direction she wants, she can stop and smell the grass every two seconds. We make no progress. She has made her displeasure known. Sometimes she’ll loop back towards home and we end up walking a very short walk because we didn’t go the way Dali wanted to go.
Even though these qualities seem kind of opposite to each other, I see value in them both and learn from my two companions. Knowing what you want and going for it is certainly a helpful quality to have. I have different projects I’d like to accomplish, and sometimes I get stuck in figuring out which project to work on and what step should I take next. Dali is an inspiration. She plows straight ahead and figures things out as she goes along. Dali makes her own path.
And I learn from Oskar, too.
It is a real strength to be flexible and be able to change courses when the situation warrants. He is more of a team-player and that comes in handy in our social world. I’ve gotten better at that throughout the years. I’ve learned that although whatever situation I might be in, even if it is not my favorite, like finding myself at lunch or dinner with people I don’t know or don’t like, I can make the best out of the situation. I can make that my goal and when I do that, I feel good about myself and often find I have a better time than I expected.
I hope Dali and Oskar have picked up some of my better qualities. 🙂
Years ago, The Washington Post ran a series called Life is Short: Autobiography as Haiku. I don’t remember reading that section religiously, but I sure am glad I read Lynda Van Kuren’s piece. I cut it out and have had it on my refrigerator ever since it was published on August 19, 2007. I’m sharing it here because I think it has some good life lessons for us all and it brings a smile to my face every time I read it. Here is the picture that is featured beside the haiku:
And here is the poem:
I loved her with all my heart. Little did I know that this little dog was my teacher, showing me how to negotiate life’s journey. Shana’s lessons:
Hang out with the people you love, and get as close to them as you can.
Always be ready to play.
If someone doesn’t like you, don’t worry about it. Lots of others do. Spend your time with them.
Don’t spend a lot of time being sad. Find something to do that makes you happy.
If someone upsets the one you love most, pee on their side of the bed.
When we realize we are inter-connected, we can learn life lessons from all animals. Maybe that is one of the most important lessons. To keep our hearts open to other living beings.
Years ago, soon after we welcomed Oskar to our home and before he knew all of our rituals, I took Dali and Oskar to the airport to pick up my husband, Irwin. We were waiting for him in the baggage area and after I received his call, I knew to keep a look-out. When I saw Irwin, I alerted Dali and Oskar: “Who sees Daddy?” Dali looked around, spotted Irwin and started running towards him. She had a goal. Oskar ran along with Dali. He was so much in the moment, simply joyous to be running with his buddy. Oskar was in a moment of play. Running just because it was fun. He ran right past his Daddy.
Sometimes Dali and Oskar will rough and tumble play. Dali doesn’t play as much as Oskar would like and I feel bad about that, but when they do, it is so much fun to watch. It is like they are in their own world. And that is part of play, too. Play participants are in a state of abandon, a zone.
According to play expert Dr. Stuart Brown (what a fun job he has!), play is important throughout our life. There are many different types of play and the basis of human trust is established through play signals. Play helps with our emotional regulation, cognitive and physical development, innovation and creativity, and bonding and closeness. Nothing lights up the brain like play does. All species seem to be able to play and there is a very powerful and deep signaling system that exists between various species.
In his TEDTalk, Dr. Brown gives this example of a polar bear coming upon chained sled dogs. The polar bear is in a predatory approach with eyes fixed, stalking movements, and claws extended. One of the sled dogs gives a play bow and when the polar bear receives the message, everything changes. Their interaction becomes good-natured and trusting.
I’ve certainly experienced this with Oskar. Oskar can be very playful. He can make me laugh out loud. One time, I was at the foot of the stairs calling to Oskar at the top of the stairs to bring the ball-ie. He doesn’t like to bring the ball. He likes me to chase him. I don’t like to chase him. He just stood motionless and so after a couple of tries, I left my post and walked away. Moments later, I hear the ball hitting each step. I started to laugh. Oskar had pushed the ball down the stairs to lure me back, but he found a way to do so without bringing the ball to me.
Although hard to define because it is pre-verbal, play is voluntary, fun for its own sake and seems purposeless. It can be active. It can also be imaginative and inward. Some of my favorite times have been walking in the woods with Dali and Oskar. I explore places and climb in and out of small creek beds I never would if I weren’t with them. And I daydream. I hadn’t understood these times to be a form of play until listening to Dr. Brown.
It is important to bring play in to our lives. It is important for our well-being. Play deprivation results in rigidness, lack of optimism, a negative view on life and depression. It is important for each of us to be true to our own temperament to find the activities of play that fit us best. This will help us be more effective in work and different areas of our life. I recently started painting and found my anxiety decreased dramatically. I love using a lot of paint and because I enjoy the gooey feel I sometimes use my hands to cover the canvas and mix paint. Doing this brought up memories of photos I had seen of myself as a toddler playing in the mud. Perhaps a trait I was born with was to enjoy exploring through a sense of touch and physical movement.
Play is also important in our couple relationships. If we neglect the fun side of our relationship, this can trigger a spiral of distress. Each couple needs to incorporate their ways of play into their lives and so some things together just because it is fun.
The video at the top of this blog post always makes me smile. My mirror neurons probably fire watching the dog and sheep play tag. I hope they and my blog inspire you to find ways to play that fit who you are.