The day can be whatever you choose it to be

Gus happy on a windy fall day

I’m always amazed to see it.  Over the last few weeks, the fall mornings have become darker, colder, windier, and wetter.  At six o’clock, when I stagger downstairs to make my morning coffee, it takes so much effort  just to shake myself awake and think about the day ahead.  As I look outside into the dark and drizzly yard, I have been feeling an overwhelming urge to crawl back upstairs and snuggle under the covers, where it is still warm and cozy.  Then I look over at Gus.

At this point, he has also made his way downstairs after slowly rousing from his own cozy bed.  He always takes his time, and stretches and yawns before gradually getting up.  Here is where the difference between us ends. While I am still fumbling with the coffee, Gus always goes and stands by the back door.  He will wait there patiently until I let him out.  When the door is finally opened, he explodes out into the yard, like a shot from a cannon.  He lets out a yelp of joy, and then he proceeds to tear around the yard at top speed.  If he finds a toy he’s left lying there, he will pick it up and shake it back and forth for a bit.  Then he will drop it and run wildly again, until he has checked out every corner of his space.  The whole time he is doing this, his tail is wagging like crazy, and you can see by his behaviour that he is just so completely happy! This routine is the same every day, no matter what the weather is like. When he eventually comes into the house after his morning ritual, he is always in such a great mood, and it inevitably rubs off on the rest of us.

On the deck with a ball on a rainy morning

Yesterday, as I watched this display, I thought about how Gus perceives the morning.  He doesn’t focus on the darkness, the rain, or the chill in the air.  He is just so happy to be in a place he loves, out in the fresh air and in the freedom of the yard.  He is so full of positive energy, and it often seems to be in defiance of the atmosphere around him.  It made me stop and think.

By 7:30, as I drove through the grey drizzle on my way to work, I had made a decision.  I was on my way to give a three hour lecture on connective tissues on a dreary Friday morning.  It was the end of a long and stressful week for my students.  I knew that things had the potential to be pretty low energy when I walked into the room. It suddenly hit me how I had a the ability to choose the energy that I brought into that classroom. So here’s what I did.

I walked in and said my usual “Good Morning” to the class.  Then I announced that, despite it being a miserable, rainy, grey Friday, we were not going to let it get to us.  I told the students that we were going to shift the energy, and we were going to do so by focusing on what was positive about the day.  We went around the room and, starting with myself, each person took a turn and completed the sentence “I feel good about _____________” by sharing some small thing they were happy about.  The comments ran the gamut, from simply being happy to be there, to looking forward to specific events, or to seeing friends and family on the weekend.  It didn’t really matter.  What happened, though, was quite remarkable.  Within a few short minutes, the room full of students was buzzing and laughing, and almost everyone was smiling, as we all shared our positive comments.  As a group, we had chosen to shift the focus of the day and, along with it, the energy in the room.

That positive energy stayed with us throughout the whole three hour class.  In fact, for one of the most boring lectures I have to teach, it was actually a lot more fun than usual.  I was struck by how differently things had turned out from how they might have been, if I had just walked in and made some comment about the crummy weather, and then started into my lecture.

I guess the lesson for me was that we really do have the power to choose how we want each day to begin, despite what the weather is outside.  Even more striking was the realization of how great the impact of my choice was on so many other people around me.  It was kind of exciting and scary at the same time.    Now all I have to do is remind myself of this each morning, when I’m tired and fumbling about in the dark, trying to get my coffee going.  I’m lucky though, because all I will need to do is look out in the yard and see Gus racing happily about, and it will all come back to me.

Lean into the wind

Watson in the wind

They’re here.  Those blustery days when we know that summer is most definitely behind us, and fall has truly arrived.  These are the days when you look out the window and see branches bending and swaying, and leaves flying off the trees and blowing wildly down the street.  The howl of the autumn wind can even be heard from inside the house.

For many, this is a time to begin the retreat indoors.  In Canada, a great number of people disappear from October to May, in order to avoid the wind and the cold, and everything else that gets thrown at us during our extended fall and winter.  If you do see these souls outside during this time, you will find them scurrying quickly from house to car, and back. Their faces are hidden under tightly gathered hoods and scarves; their heads ducked down to avoid the fury of the wind. When forced to be outside for any length of time, these folks will usually find a corner, and huddle with their backs to the wind, as if hoping that the forces of nature will somehow blow past them, and leave them alone.

Life with Gus means that behaviour like this is simply not an option.  Out we go every day, no matter how hard the wind is blowing.  It’s not just that he doesn’t seem to mind it; Gus loves to be outside on a cool and windy day.  The picture above was taken out in the field on the day I wrote about “slobbery balls.”  Gus didn’t stand still long enough for a good photo, so this is a great shot of Watson, doing what Gus often does out in the wind.

As you can see, there’s certainly no ducking or huddling going on here.  Like Watson, Gus will sit or stand tall, and actually lean into the wind with his face turned up.  Look how he’s  enjoying the feeling, as it blows through him; ruffling his fur.

Since I’ve noticed Gus and other dogs doing this, I’ve begun to try the same thing myself when I’m out in the middle of the field.  Of course, you have to be dressed properly, and be active enough to be warm on the inside.  If you are, and you try this, you will experience an exhilarating feeling as you lean into the full force of the wind; meeting it head on. You can almost imagine that you are a kite or a sail; feeling the lifting power and the promise of flight.

There’s an interesting analogy here that struck me the other day.  The wind can be compared to our life’s problems and challenges.  There’s no question that there’s always a wind of some sort in the air for us to deal with. When things are going well, we may only feel the gentle breeze of everyday challenges blowing softly by.  We scarcely feel our hair mussed, and we carry on with little concern.  But sometimes, when we are facing major issues and problems, we may find ourselves feeling like we are on the top of a hill, being buffeted by gale force winds.  It’s the wild, unpredictable nature of many challenges we face that leaves us feeling as though we are being tossed about, like a leaf at the mercy of the autumn wind.  Our inclination is to draw our hood around us and huddle; hoping that we can ride out the storm and be spared from its fury.

Research confirms that those who cope best with life’s stresses are the ones who, like Gus and Watson, choose to stand tall and meet the wind head on; leaning into its full force.  Rather than huddling like victims, those who sit up and take control of their situation tend to not only cope more effectively, but they often even emerge in better shape at the end of the ordeal.  When we are handed a challenge, there’s no question that we often feel broadsided, and blown off our feet by the force of events.  However, if we stop and collect ourselves, we find that there is always some element in every situation that we can take control of.

The next time you find yourself in a gale, stand tall and lean head first into that wind.  It will give you an exhilarating feeling of power and control.  If you manage to find a way to fashion a sail, you’ll do even better.  You might even harness the power of that wind and find that you can use it to carry you aloft.