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.
My dog, Dali, is a steady presence to all my different ways of being.
If I’m sad, Dali is licking my tears.
If I’m angry, Dali follows me from room-to-room.
If I’m anxious, Dali sits patiently as I pace.
If I’m depressed and lay down, Dali lays down with me.
She is confident and courageous and calm and if she could talk, I imagine she would say, “It doesn’t matter how you are. I am here. I’m not going anywhere. You can count on me.”
I’ve learned from Dali what it means to be present to all my different parts. Through this experience, I’m better able to do that for myself.
Dali is closing in on 15 years of age and she is declining. I am afraid that I am not going to learn fast enough all that Dali has to teach me. But I am present and compassionate to that fear and in that way, and many other ways, Dali’s legend will live on.
I remember when Dali first joined our family, we lived in a downtown area. She was about six months old, maybe close to a year and filled with energy. She loved saying hello to people, all people. She would go up to everyone and greet them. And most people responded in kind, although there were always some who were busy or didn’t want to be bothered, which was no problem for Dali. She would just move on to the next person. Though she is nearing 14 years old, she still goes out of her way to greet people and it is clear how happy this interaction makes her.
Social interaction makes a big difference in our health. It is as important as eating healthy and exercising.
In this seven-minute segment, Shankar Vedantam focuses on the health impacts of social isolation for men, but it has good information for everyone.
Researchers Examine What Social Isolation Can Do To Men’s Health
Take time to connect with other people. Say hello to others on the bus or subway. Or when you’re on line. Strike up a conversation with a bank teller or cashier. I know from my experience, though brief, these interactions can boost my mood.
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.
I was feeling down one recent weekend. As luck would have it, I was doing some research on what makes us happy.
Turns out, we are not very good at knowing what brings us happiness. Research by Dan Gilbert bears this out.
One of the best kept secrets on what makes us happy is doing for others. Material goods or achievements are no match for giving of ourselves in promoting our long term happiness.
A 2012 study by Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues at the University of British Columbia shows that toddlers under the age of two are happier when giving treats to others rather than receiving goodies themselves. But the good news about our capacity for feeling good about giving doesn’t stop there. The study showed that children are happier when they give their own treats away than giving an identical treat away that doesn’t belong to them. (http://news.ubc.ca/2012/06/19/giving-makes-young-children-happy-ubc-study-suggests/)
So, when my husband came home from his volunteer efforts, taking photographs of cats to increase their likelihood of getting adopted, I asked him to show me his pictures. Immediately, I felt better as I supported and encouraged him in his efforts and hobby. I discovered, firsthand, how taking the focus off of me and my ruminations and putting my energies, instead, into helping someone else is a free and easy way to get my happy on.
I highly recommend you give it a try and if you like, share your experience.
If my example didn’t inspire you, this video of Lilica, the dog, and what she does for her family surely will.
I am sitting on the couch with Oskar, next to me and he moves to get more comfortable and drapes his leg across my leg. It is comforting to me and I imagine comforting for Oskar since he put his leg there.
This was after Dali and Oskar and I went to a local park. exploring woods we hadn’t been to before. We all enjoyed the adventure and I felt closer to my companion animals.
According to research, physical affection and doing new things together are qualities of a long-term love.
In your relationships, human and nonhuman, make time for contact comfort and exploring the world together.
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.
Well, I ended up taking Dali to the vet because I felt like she was walking slower than she should even with aging. Maybe she had arthritis that could be relieved with pain medicine. I noticed her being careful about walking up and down curbs. I watched as she chose to walk down where there was a gentle slope to the street for wheel chairs. The vet said Dali is experiencing some lumbar pain and we’re waiting to get blood test results to see if the discomfort is associated with some other problem.
I decided to make an appointment with the vets after a particularly slow walk. Oskar was pulling me to go faster and Dali was clearly doing the best she could. Oskar turned around a couple of times to see what was going on with Dali. Interestingly, after a bit, Oskar retreated from the lead and chose to walk side-by-side with Dali. I imagine he recognized that Dali was not just being obstinate, as she can be, but picked up on her discomfort. How astute and kind of Oskar. And I sensed Dali took in his support.
I don’t know how much of an active choice Oskar made to give up his desire to go at his pace and instead be compassionate, but we have a choice. Research shows our first instinct, as adults or children, is to help others, not compete with them. Unfortunately, cultural factors get in the way of our innate desire to be compassionate. Research also shows that when we are kind to others, we are mentally and physical healthier.
I know for myself, whenever I choose the Golden Rule, whether it is with nonhuman animals (animals) or people, I always feel better about myself. Just this morning, my husband, Irwin, and I started to get into an argument. I thought he was being ridiculous. And I thought of this quote by a child that I read recently. I can’t remember it exactly, but it is something like: When I’m acting badly I need your compassion the most. So I put my arm around Irwin and said I knew he was tired and had been working so hard and done so much for the family. He hugged me back. Compassion turned a moment of disconnect into a moment of connection. I’d say we both felt better.
What is a time when you acting compassionately and you noticed feeling happier or good about yourself?
I never thought Dali would ever slow down, but she is. She’s nine now and doesn’t have the energy she used to. Some days, we can still go for a 2 hour walk in the morning and other days it’s a slow half-hour walk. Some of it is the heat and humidity, I’m sure, but Oskar could keep going if Dali were willing.
Barring anything unforeseen, I am sure that I have many more years with Dali. Her signs of aging impact me, though. Dali is a willful individual and it’s like I’m being let in on her secret. Her vulnerability and fragility are peeking through her indomitable spirit.
One day, I made the mistake of insisting that I pick her up to help her make the walk. She struggled in my arms until I put her down. Now, I just pretend that I don’t notice that we’re walking slowly or shorter distances. I want to give Dali her dignity.
Oskar has to adjust, too. He doesn’t always have his partner to run with and chase squirrels. When I can, I take him out by himself. Sometimes he’ll go with me and interestingly, sometimes he wants to stay back with Dali. Even though I don’t think they would have picked each other as friends, they have developed a bond and look out for each other.
Recognizing and honoring the losses, as well as remaining flexible in the face of change, helps us all find our way together through this new phase of our lives.
What has helped you get through some of your life transitions?
Good News! I was passing by the lake the other day and saw Mom and Dad Goose with seven babies. I guess Mom had been busy creating the nest, laying her eggs and incubating them. I just read how Dad’s job during this time is to watch out for predators, but he doesn’t go near the nest so as not to give the location away to predators.
I am glad Mom and Dad Goose are OK and I look forward to watching their babies grow up. I wanted to share the good news and also some of what I learned after reading up on geese.
Did you know that geese mate for life? They will only look for another mate if their partner dies. Some choose to not to look for another mate and remain solo for the rest of their lives, which can be for as long as 25 years. They look out for each other, refusing to leave the side of a sick or injured mate or gosling’s side. This attachment can come at the expense of his or her own survival, staying with a loved one in need even when the rest of the flock migrates south for the winter.
I also learned how geese are cooperative and supportive of one another. They fly in a “V” format when they migrate and they take turns in the lead, so each goose gets a rest. Geese honk sounds of encouragement to the lead goose so he or she will keep up a good speed.
Acknowledgement goes a long way. Research by Dan Ariel, behavioral economist at Duke University and author of Predictably Irrational, shows that we can improve motivation by acknowledging another’s efforts with a simple “Uh Huh.” Geese instinctually know how recognizing and supporting another’s efforts goes a long way.
Ariel says “Ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding their effort before their eyes. The good news is that adding motivation doesn’t seem to be so difficult. The bad news is that eliminating motivation seems to be incredibly easy.”
This is important in the work setting, as well as other relationships. Even the smallest gesture can make someone feel energized. A “Thank you for your efforts,” “I really appreciate what you’ve done,” “You really helped me out” or a high-five has a positive impact. If you can be specific about what you’re acknowledging, that’s even better. Next time, if you want to appreciate the efforts of your partner or friend or even salesperson, try honking at them. J
Here’s an interesting TedTalk by Dan Ariely about what makes us feel good about our work: