Positive Qualities of Relationships

 

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.

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Speaking your truth

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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.

Compassion

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 time when you acting compassionately and you noticed feeling happier or good about yourself?

Life Transitions

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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 and the Power of a Honk

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:

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_what_makes_us_feel_good_about_our_work

The Joy and Sadness of Being Open to Others

 

Walking Dali and Oskar past the man-made lake in our neighborhood, I tip-toe around the annual goose-poop on the side walk. Every year since we moved here about seven years ago, I have enjoyed watching two geese return to their residency here, have their babies, raise their goslings, and then migrate to wherever they go in the fall.

I had to teach Dali and Oskar that we leave the geese alone. We would carefully pass Momma and Papa Goose and their fluffy, little babies who eventually grew until I could not distinguish them from their parents. If Papa Goose felt that we got too close, he would flap his wings, make a sound and come towards us. I learned to give them a wide berth.

One day I saw the goslings go up a boy, who was on his way to Middle School, and pull on his shorts with their beaks. I asked the young student whether they had done that before and he said “Yes.” I was so touched at the connection the boy had made not only with the baby geese, but also Momma and Papa Goose. The parents trusted the boy enough to let their children go and make contact with him.

A few days after I had welcomed the geese’s return, I saw one of the them by him or herself. And a day or two after that, I noted he or she was sitting on the dock, his or her head buried in his or her feathers. I sensed a deep mourning and realized that one of the geese must have died. I shared this news with my husband and cried out of empathy for the goose, as well as grief for my own loss.

I learned that sometimes we don’t realize we are attached to someone until we lose the connection. We can experience loss about many different things: a loved one, a job, moving, loss of our hopes and dreams, the ending of a friendship, finishing a project, and a goose.

I also was reminded of my husband’s kindness. He honored my sadness and comforted me, even though he didn’t share my experience.

The next time I passed by the lake, the goose was again sitting on the dock with his head buried in his feathers (for simplicity, I’ll refer to the surviving goose as male because my sense is it is Papa Goose). I paused and told him that I saw him there, that I knew he was grieving, that I was sad too, that I hoped his companion passed away peacefully, and that I wished him a lessening of his pain over time. I felt better after I shared my sentiments with this other living being and I hoped that my acknowledgement of him helped him feel a little better.

I returned from my walk hours later and saw the goose swimming in the lake. His glides, although solitary, were beautiful and I felt some peace that he was enjoying the water.

Learning to Say “I Don’t Have it to Give Now”

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I take my responsibility as a guardian to Dali and Oskar seriously. I know that I decide when they go for a walk, how long they walk, when they eat, what they eat, how much they eat, if they go to the vets, when they go to the vets. I decide most things in their life. Although this isn’t completely true particularly for Oskar because he is very fast at finding what I call “bad garbage” and eating it while looking up at me to make sure I am seeing him and daring me to try to take it out of the steel grip of his jaw. But, still, you get my point. Because I am aware that they have limited choices in their lives, I try my very best to make their life fulfilling. I am happy to do this and see this as part of my responsibility as their guardian and I have learned an important lesson about setting my own limits too.

I take Dali and Oskar for long walks – about 1 ½ hours in the morning. When I’m working, I have a dog walker come and take them out so they don’t have to spend long periods of time sleeping alone in the house. I take them to different places because I get bored walking the same route and I figure Dali and Oskar are stimulated by different routes and the different smells on those routes too. I take them, when I can, into different stores when I have to do errands. I play games with them so they exercise their brains.

I like making them happy, but sometimes doing so conflicts with my needs. They could walk and sunbathe, when the weather allows, all day. I do enjoy our time in the outdoors and I also have other things I like and need to do. When I extend myself beyond my limit, I typically get frustrated. This, of course, negatively impacts my relationship with Dali and Oskar.

After many years, I have learned that recognizing and honoring my limit and needs is better for Dali and Oskar and our relationship than pushing myself beyond what I have to give. I tell them that I am very sorry, that I wish I could run with them all day, but this is all I can do right now. This alleviates my own guilt and they seem to understand the sincerity in my voice and give in to me – mostly.

I can better understand times when my mother would get angry with me, which hurt my feelings. I can see that she was torn between wanting to give to me and having limits of her own. I would have liked it better if she would have been able to let me know that she loved me, but just couldn’t talk anymore. Having her model that for me might have helped me, too, to learn to listen to my own needs and set appropriate limits.

Luckily, I continue to learn and Dali and Oskar are forgiving of my mistakes and accepting of my imperfections. And that is a wonderful gift they give me.