Don’t Be Afraid To Make The First Tracks

So here we are again.  The fields are covered in snow.  The sun is blazing, despite the -15 degree temperature.  It’s a beautiful day to be outside, as long as you’re dressed for the weather.

I love to stand at the top of the hill and look down onto the sparkling expanse of snow below.  I’m always a bit reluctant to take the plunge and begin tramping ahead with Gus.  Somehow it seems a bit sad to puncture the pristine snow with my clompy boots and his prancing paws.  Never mind.  On we go, and before long, the field is a mess of footprints and pawprints; leaving evidence of everywhere we’ve been.   For the past two mornings we have spent ages outside in the fields; running and playing in the snow, and working up a sweat despite the freezing temperatures.  We’ve had the best time.

It’s a bit like life itself, isn’t it?  When we are about to begin something fresh and new, we stand on the brink, contemplating what we are about to dive into.  It’s often a mix of excitement, wonder and trepidation all rolled together that can keep us perched there; immobilized.  As if we’re afraid of ruining that perfect image before us with our footprints and actions, as we forge ahead into new territory.

You’ll think I’m nuts, but I’m reminded of something silly from my childhood.  When we were little, my siblings and I used to argue over who got to “break the rink” on a new jar of peanut butter, by being the first one to dig a knife into it.  (Boy, were we easy to entertain!)  I guess we knew then that it was less important to gaze at the perfectly smooth surface than to get on with taking the plunge, and enjoying what would come next.

Get going!

It’s the journey itself that matters most

This morning at the end of our walk, Gus bounded up the front steps and plopped down as he always does to wait for me to toss him his cookie.  There he is in the picture, sitting and waiting for our little ritual that marks our return home.  It suddenly dawned on me that, in the four years we have spent together, Gus and I have been on more than 1200 walks!  When I think about the mileage we have covered, it is truly mind-boggling.  I have worn through several pairs of walking shoes to prove it.  As I pondered this, I was struck by an even more incredible fact.  Despite the distance we have covered together, we always end up in exactly the same place at the end of our walk:  right on our own front porch where we started!  I suppose you could say that, despite all of our walking, we haven’t really gone anywhere at all.

What a concept.  Walking and walking, yet ultimately ending up right back in the same place.  To some, it might seem crazy.  But not to me.

You see, for Gus and for me it’s the walk itself that is the whole point.

Sure, a daily walk is a great source of exercise and fresh air.  I highly recommend it for all the obvious reasons.  But, if you’ve been reading here for a while, you will know that  there is so much more that happens when we are out walking together.  Every day on our journey we meet people and dogs. We make new friends and share experiences.  We are inspired by magical sights right in our own neighbourhood.  In fact, it is while we have been out walking, ultimately going nowhere, that all the important lessons have occurred.

Today is my 49th birthday.  I’ve had a perfectly lovely day.  I got hugs and good wishes from family and friends near and far.  I had lunch with two incredibly special women. I had dinner with my wonderful family.  And I started it off with a very long walk outside with Gus on a beautiful snowy day.

I was thinking this morning that life itself is like these daily walks.  I don’t want to be morbid, but let’s face it, we are all going to end up in the same place we started out eventually.  Dust to dust, and all that stuff.  Each time we mark the passage of another year, it’s as if we are setting out on another walk – one that will end up at our next birthday.  I truly feel that the years themselves aren’t the point at all.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been hung up about revealing my age.   To me, it’s what we’re doing on that journey between the milestones that really matters in the long run.

As I look back on the past year, I am overwhelmed by all that I have seen, done and learned on my journey.  I have met and developed relationships with so many incredible people.  I have marveled at the wonders of the changing seasons and the magical sights that have been right in front of me all the time.  I have learned valuable lessons about myself and what I believe, and I have a clearer sense of who I am and what I value.  There have been high points and low points, but all in all it has been an incredible ride.

Tomorrow is February 11th once again, and I will lace up my shoes and set out off the front porch as always.  I can’t wait to see what I will discover next, as my journey continues. . .

Eat, play, love

I don’t think that Gus has any idea at all that the calendar has just turned over, but for us humans, it’s hard to escape.  There is something about the approach of December 31 that makes us reflect on what has passed, and on what lies ahead.  It can all get a bit overwhelming.

As a result, I’m sure you noticed that I retreated from blogging for much of December.  My apologies, but for some reason I found myself needing to take a break from “putting it out there.”   I have had a wonderful few weeks of non-routine with Gus, my family, and so many special friends.  I’ve also found myself turning inwards.  I’ve  looked back over the events of 2009, and I’ve reflected a lot on what lies ahead for me in 2010.

This past year will always stand out for me as one of great extremes.  I experienced loss, sadness and grief, but also the incredible gifts of love, support, and inspiration from so many incredible souls around me.  I suppose those two sides of the coin often come to us together.

I have also had the incredible experience of acting on something I am passionate about, and I have been overwhelmed by the positive results and far-reaching ripple effects that have come back to me as a result.  I have felt excited, terrified, overwhelmed and incredibly fulfilled, all at the same time.

As I try to sum it all up and step bravely forward, out into the -20 degree January morning, I find that, as usual, I am drawing another lesson from Gus.  In his world, right now is what truly matters.  Introspection and reflection are great, but he just gets on with it and deals with what’s right in front of him; right here and right now.  And he keeps it pretty simple.

As the title above suggests, life for Gus revolves around three basic things.  In fact, I realized that the last few weeks have been all about those same three pillars for me as well.  I have eaten so much wonderful food (and I have the tight waistband to show for it!).  I have kicked back and enjoyed down time and fun with those who are dear to me.  And, I have been truly blessed with an abundance of love in my life.  Maybe that’s why I’m feeling so good now, as I head into this new year.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions.  To me, they only set us up for disappointment and frustration, as we try to measure up against unrealistic and unattainable goals.  This year, I’m going to try to keep it simple, the way Gus does.  I’m going to do my best to focus on the here and now, just as it unfolds before me.

My plan for 2010 is to eat well, play often, and love with all my heart.  I think that if I manage to do that, the rest will take care of itself.

Happy New Year!

Love, Janet

Smells like home

Sarah and Gus smells like home

I’ve mentioned before how all the members of our family use Gus like a sort of living stuffed animal.  He is so sweet and gentle, and he loves to be cuddled.  He’s so big that he’s like a full-body pillow.  He’s the perfect size to snuggle up to and wrap your arms around, if you’re feeling sad or happy, or simply just in need of a hug.  Of course, we all love to bury our faces deep in his fur while we do this.

The other day, Sarah was snuggling up to Gus, when she suddenly looked up at me and exclaimed, “He smells like home!”    She’s right.

We started talking, trying to find a way to express what we knew to be true, but were struggling with putting into words.  What we agreed on was the feeling that we get when we bury our faces in Gus’s fur.  It is a comforting, settled, familiar feeling that just seems to say “home.”  You might think I’m crazy, but I spent a while trying to analyze it, and the truth is that he really doesn’t smell much at all. (Apparently we are doing something right!).  However, I took a deep sniff and tried to concentrate really hard.   When I did, I was able to detect the fresh scent of the outside air, a hint of the garden, the grass and fall leaves lingering on his fur.  I guess that’s what evokes those calm and settled feelings for us.

What scent says “home” to you?    Is it a pot of aromatic soup simmering on a crisp fall day?  Is it the familiar fragrance of a loved one’s cologne or perfume?  Is it fresh cut flowers?  Perhaps, it is the unforgettable soft sweet smell of a tiny new baby.    I’ve written before about the power of scent to evoke strong memories.  I also believe that we form powerful associations with certain smells, and that these tell a lot about who we are, and what has meaning for us.

Don’t be afraid to harness the power of scent to perk yourself up or to calm yourself down when you need it.  This is what the field of aromatherapy is all about.  We always said that we wanted Gus to be trained as a therapy dog.  I guess we didn’t realize that he already is!

What you focus on is what will come to you

Gus tractor beam

We call it the tractor beam.  If you’ve ever seen the old Star Trek series, you’ll know exactly what I mean.  Whenever we are eating, Gus will join us in the kitchen.  He’s very quiet about it, but his strategy is clear and consistent  As you can see from the photos above and below, he will fix his gaze intently on whatever food he is interested in.  His eyes never waver.  They will follow that food from plate to hand or fork, to mouth; without so much as blinking or looking away for a second.  His focus is absolute, and his mission is crystal clear.

Tractor beam 2 with Mom

Okay, I know all you dog people who listened to your trainers are aghast by now, as you’re anticipating what’s coming next.  One of the cardinal rules of dog ownership and good manners is “no table feeding.”  Well, I’m sorry to confess this, but we’re not so good about that one!  Gus’s persistence is usually rewarded with a small bite of whatever he has been staring at.  Hey, as a family, we believe that sharing is a good thing! And don’t worry, we are pretty healthy eaters, so what he gets is mostly fruit and vegetables, or the odd bit of toast with peanut butter or smoked salmon.

Gus has totally figured out that if he concentrates hard enough, whatever he fixes his gaze on will eventually end up right where he wants it – in his mouth.  What a smart guy!

Now, neither Gus nor I can take credit for figuring out the “secret” here.  In fact, some other people have written about this “law of attraction,” and they even made a video that has made millions of dollars.  It all comes down to a very simple rule:  whatever you focus on is what will come to you.

This rule has been given many different names over the years, and it can be applied to everything from table scraps to relationships to finances.  Despite a lot of hype and marketing, it’s really not rocket science.  If there is something you want, focus all of your time and energy on that thing, and eventually you will have it.

I did watch that famous video a few years ago, and, while it has a good message, I feel that it over-dramatized the concept.  It’s not as though things will just magically appear at your door because you conjure them up in your wishes.  What happens is that, by focusing on what you want and making it your priority, you start to act and think differently.

At minimum, by focusing like this, you begin to devote a significant amount of your time and energy towards that goal.  This effort alone tends to go a long way towards helping you reach it.  Just the other day I was saying to Josh that if what he really wants is a high mark in math, then I should see him working on math most of the time, instead of playing the guitar. At the college where I teach, I tell my students all the time that they are actively choosing the mark they want in my course by how much time and effort they are putting into working on it outside of class.

In addition, what I have found is that, when you are really focusing on something, you start to recognize opportunities that are right in front of you; things that you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.  If you are in this goal-oriented mindset, you begin to take advantage of these opportunities, and that’s where things really get rolling!  A while back, when I was chatting in the park about my blog and all the inspiration I get when I am out with Gus, one of my friends commented, “you must have more interesting walks than I do!”  I don’t think that’s the case at all.  I just think that, because I am in this mode where I am focusing on what’s going on around me all the time, these ideas jump out at me from my everyday interactions.

So, what do you make of all this?  Whatever you choose to.  But the next time you are moaning about something you want, stop and remember Gus with his eyes on that bagel.  Ask yourself, “how much of my energy am I really focusing on this goal, and what am I actually doing to make it happen?”  You might be surprised at how much power you have to bring it within reach.