Knowing Who You Are Through Actions

 

Dali is one of the most strong-willed individuals that I know.  She pursues what she wants with every ounce of energy that she has.  When I had to take my other dog, Oskar, to the emergency clinic, Dali snuck out the front door so as not to be left behind.  On walks, she sits, unmovable, when she doesn’t want to go the way I want to go.  When she desires a neck rub, she sits by my feet and communicates with body language that says it is time.  And there is no alternative for me but to massage her neck.

Pretty good for a 20-pound dog.

Though Dali is getter older and the hot, humid summer is hard on her, she still is clear on what she wants.  She lets me know when it is time to go home.  She makes it clear when she wants to sit and soak in the sun.  And she determines when it is time for her, at least, daily neck rub.

In her honor, I am taking steps to go after what I want.  I am doing art every day, whether painting or writing poetry, even for a few minutes a day.  Taking this first step gave me more energy to do more of the things that are important to me.  I started a Google Group that I’ve thought about for at least a year and am taking a bike ride at least once a week.  I feel better about myself and more competent.

 

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” Thomas Jefferson

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.

Don’t Take “No” for an Answer and the Joys of Making the Best out of a Situation

If Dali were to write a book on living life, I think her first principle would be:  Don’t Take “No” for an Answer.

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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.

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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.  🙂

 

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.

Life As Haiku

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:

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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.

Be joyous.

 

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. 

Just because it’s fun

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.