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

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

 

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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?

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

 

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

 

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

 

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.

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

 

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:

st/shortlife

 

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. 

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

Feeling Understood

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Dali and Oskar can have strong opinions about where they want to go for a walk.  Most of the time I will go the way they want because I want them to be happy and be able to make some choices in their lives (I am well aware that I decide much of what happens in their lives, but that is for another blog post).  Sometimes, though, I am clear within myself that I am not going to go the way Dali and Oskar want and have another direction I want to take.

This happened the other day.  Dali and Oskar wanted to head downtown and I did not.  I said “let’s go” and headed the way I wanted to go, but they stayed put and turned away from me, looking in the direction that they wanted to walk.  Very clear, nonverbal communication.  🙂 Sometimes I will get frustrated and simply go my way.  Typically, Dali will sulk the rest of the walk.  She will walk so slowly it feels like she is walking backwards.  And she will stop to smell every blade of grass.  Oskar is much more flexible and will make the best of the situation.

Instead of going down their route, I said to them, “I know you want to go downtown.  I can see that.  I know it is disappointing for you, but we can’t do that today.  There is going to be a lot of salt and that is going to hurt your paws and we’ll be too far from home for mommy to carry you home and I can’t carry both of you.  So, we need to go this way.”  They intensely looked at me and then turned and willingly headed in the direction I wanted to go.  (Interestingly, research shows that dogs are more capable of understanding things from a human perspective than previously thought (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21411249).)

People – and other animals – need to feel that someone else hears and understands them before change is possible.  As a therapist, I know how true this is.  My experience is that if change is to happen, my client and I need to understand together how much it makes sense where he or she is at presently.   Then we can start to see doors to open for something different. I also see this in my relationship with my husband.  If I feel he understands me, then I can soften to understand him and then we can move forward.  And vice versa.   

In fact, understanding another’s perspective is one of Dale Carnegie’s principles in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  He quotes Henry Ford, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” 

When we’re calm and relaxed, it’s easier for all of us to do this.  It can take a lot of practice to be able to see things from another’s perspective in the heat of the moment.  The more I work on slowing myself down, the more fulfilling relationships I have with my husband, my dogs, my friends and family, and my community.  I believe it is worth the effort.    

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

Belonging

In the early days after Dali came to live with us, my husband was sitting on the floor playing and cuddling with her.  I was on the couch, looking on, and longing to be with them.  I had a felt sense that I would be welcomed if I joined them.  I hadn’t had much of a sense of belonging in my life and Dali brought that when she joined our family. 

Years later, before we welcomed Oskar home, a neighbor said to me, “Dali has an air about her that says that she belongs to a family.”  My heart filled with joy.  Dali had given me the gift of belonging and I had been able to return the favor.  

Dali treasures her sense of belonging.   One evening, we had to take Oskar to the emergency animal hospital.  We were going to leave Dali at home, but she ran out the door.  I knew she wasn’t going to run away.  She didn’t want to be left behind.    And as almost always, Dali got her way and we went as a family to take care of Oskar.

Dali has other things she does to try to keep us together as a family.  When we’re getting out of the car or going to the car, Dali will herd me and my husband to make sure we stay together.  If my husband is going to walk Dali and Oskar, Dali will come sit next to me, and look at me mournfully, as a way to get me to go on the walk, as well.  When I do decide to join the outing, Dali literally jumps up and down for joy. 

The desire to belong is a fundamental motivation.  When we have a sense of belonging, we are more confident, better able to handle difficult challenges, and we can manage our emotions in a way that feel less like a roller coaster and more like a rolling brook. 

The desire to belong is found in other animals, as well, and strong bonds benefit other animals in similar ways as humans.  For example, studies have shown that cows are more resilient and less frightened by new situations when they are with their friends.  They also learn more quickly when they are with other cows than when they are alone. 

In The Inner World of Farm Animals, I read about a female cow who gave birth to a stillborn calf.  Although weak from medical complications from the delivery, she traveled a good distance though many fields to find her own mother.  The next day, they were found together, the mother comforting and grooming her distraught daughter.

Belonging is a powerful force.  Belonging sustains us.  Belonging gives us the strength to be ourselves.  Belonging provides a source of acceptance and comfort.  Belonging need not be restricted by boundaries of race, gender or species.

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

Good morning kisses

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When I wake up, Dali is there to give me gentle, good-morning kisses. It’s like she’s re-establishing our connection after we’ve been apart while sleeping during the night. She reminds me of our in-born need to be securely attached. I coo at her and tell her good morning and how pretty she is. She turns over so I can rub her belly.

I treasure these moments because I know how important I am to her and I believe she knows how important she is to me.

It doesn’t matter if we were mad at each other the day before. Dali certainly has her way of letting me know she is not happy with me. And Dali can be so difficult at times; I get mad at her too. We always come back to the bond between us that trumps all else.

I’ve learned from Dali how important these kinds of rituals are in couple relationships. They help us to honor who we are to one another, particularly during our comings and goings. When I know my husband cares about me and he knows I care about him, we can get through the hardships of the day much easier and indulge more in the joys of life.

Being There

This is Dali (pronounced Dolly).  We adopted her in 2005 when she was about 7 months old. And  this is Oskar.  We adopted Oskar in 2008 when he was about 3 months old.

This is Dali (pronounced Dolly). We adopted her in 2005 when she was about 7 months old. And this is Oskar. We adopted Oskar in 2008 when he was about 3 months old.

Soon after we got Dali, we went to visit my parents. Dali made herself at home there and my parents loved her. One afternoon, my husband and I went out and left Dali with my parents. While we were gone, Dali followed my mom wherever she went. My mom went upstairs, Dali went upstairs. My mom went downstairs, Dali went downstairs. At some point, my mom couldn’t find Dali. She went all over the house, calling out for Dali, but Dali never barked. My mom remembered she had gone downstairs and put something in a walk-in closet and thought to look for Dali there. She checked the closet and sure enough, Dali was there.

Why hadn’t Dali barked to get help and let my mom know where she was?

It’s part of mammals’ and many other species’ instinctive behavior to call out for help. Dogs and people are similar that way. We need to know we will be responded to.

I believe Dali was taken from her mom and litter-mates when she was too young and ended up in a shelter, perhaps after being with a family for a short time. She, luckily, was rescued by a rescue organization and then she became a part of our family. So why would she bark, and call out for help? She hadn’t had the experience of someone responding to her needs.

I remember that something similar happened years later. Somehow, Dali got shut in the basement. This time, when I called out for her, she barked. I was thrilled because it meant that she trusted me to be there for her. Since being a part of our family, she had had enough experiences of us caring for her that she knew she was not alone in this world. She knew she could call for us and we would be there.

We all need that. We all need to know that when we are in need someone who is special to us will come for us when we call.

Simply Being There

“We see you’re hurting, Mommy.  And we care that you’re sad.  We’re here for you.”  That is the message I get when Dali and Oskar rush to lick my tears away whenever I’m crying.  Their concern is very comforting.  I do feel better receiving their caring contact.   They sense my distress even if they are in another room and before you know it, they are there by my side.

There are times when I need to remind my husband not to try to fix things for me when I’m feeling vulnerable about something.  I tell him I just need him to hold me and understand how I’m feeling.

And there are times I have to remind myself not to jump to solution-mode with other people.  It can be difficult sometimes to sit with someone and be with them in their pain.

I’m reminded of the story of the four-year old boy whose next door neighbor, an elderly gentleman, recently lost his wife.  When the young boy saw the man crying, he went over to him, climbed on his lap and sat there.   After he returned home, the little boy’s mother asked him what he had said to their neighbor.  Her son said, “Nothing.  I just helped him cry.”

It doesn’t always take language to soothe.  And in fact, sometimes words get in the way.  I’ve learned from Dali and Oskar the power of presence.  Putting my heart in to being there with someone’s experience is simple and pure and one of the best gifts I can give.

We all need support. Nervous Dogs sometimes just need to hold hands with their owners while riding in cars.