Monday, March 20, 2017

Crash Into Me

Nature provides so many answers if we can just become aware.

Watching the oceans waves I think about how similar they are to life.

The hard stuff comes in with a bang, salty foam flying. We are always waiting and anticipating, but it crashes in when we least expect it. If we are mindful we may have noticed the swell coming our way, building and building.

At the time the crash seems so long, but if we wait it too will fizzle.

Two waves crash into one another and join forces to ride it out. If we look just a few feet to the left, change perspective, there is no wave. To the right is a wave much larger than ours.

All of the waves are connected, all are one.

If we look down, the wave likely left us little treasures and messages. An unexpected sand dollar or a beautiful shell.

The waves will leave an impression with salt upon our skin.

While they seem out of control, the waves are reliable. If we watch the waves long enough, we may notice patterns like the tides are there. They will come again and again. The waves are inevitable, we can’t possible sustain out-swimming them. Seemingly good or bad, wanted or unwanted, they will come. Some days the water will gently lap against the shore. Other days the waves are in a fury and seem endless, crash after crash.

We can control how we react to the wave.

Will we freeze, tumble, and get sucked under, somersaulting out of control?

Or will we look up and remember the blue sky above us? Will we remember the earth beneath our feet? Will we stop fighting it and trust? Will we ride it out, finding the good, heading the rush, and wanting more?

We will then see we needed the wave after all. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Three Dogs, One Hour & a Reminder of Gratitude

This piece originally appeared on elephant journal, here.

It can be easy to take the presence of animals for granted.

Expecting to be greeted at the door by a wagging tail and wet nose. Feeling annoyed at having to walk them when it’s cold outside. Carelessly weaving fingers through fur and not consciously acknowledging every fiber of the soft texture.
Indulging in the seemingly unconditional love in our pet’s eyes. Ignoring the tennis ball or rope in their mouth as we crank through another item on our to-do list.
But imagine now that our bodies are failing us while our minds remain sharp. We sit for hours on end in the same room with little to no company. We ache for connection and wistfully remember our own home filled with family, pets included.
We feel anxious. We feel lonely.
Then one day, we look up and a dog is trotting toward us with an inquisitive look and a swishing tail. We reach out our shaking hand and he nudges his head into our palm and sighs. A tear streams down our face.
We look forward to that dog returning each month. We store dog treats for him in our room. He quickly becomes more and more familiar and affectionately licks our hand. He could care less that we are in a wheel chair or that sometimes our words are jumbled.
Any time I replay this scene in my mind, it makes me wish I had started pet visits a long time ago.
It seems selfish that I’ve had these three dogs all to myself for so long. Especially since all it took was a phone call to a local nursing home to inquire about their pet policy. Most homes only require a copy of an animal’s vet records showing up-to-date vaccines and a heads up that you will be coming.
I partnered with a volunteer organization, knowing that they could help raise awareness of this opportunity to others. More volunteers also meant more time with dogs for the residents. I learned that not everyone likes big or small dogs, so a mix of both is ideal.
I do these pet visits because I would want someone to do them for me.
The visits are a gentle reminder to value my time with my dogs and with others. My grandmother is in hospice several states away and while I cannot do much to bring her comfort, it brings me peace to make a small impact on those close by.
The pet visits are one hour out of the month. I guard that commitment like a watch dog. It amazes me that such a small amount of effort can bring much-needed joy to these residents.
When we volunteer, we don’t expect anything back in return, but I’ve found that helping others is a good way to gain fulfillment for ourselves. It gives me a sense of purpose each month and a little joy as well. I get outside of my head and away from the seemingly important drama to focus on others. The connections I’ve made help give me a better sense of community.
The best parts of my week, and maybe yours, are when someone performs a random act of kindness. When my friend emails me a link to a video she thought would help me. When the neighborhood kids knock on my door and ask if they can walk our dogs. When my boyfriend leaves a cheerful note next to my tea each morning. These thoughtful gestures bring a smile to my face and a rush of gratitude. My mood and spirit elevate instantly.
Pet visits are my way to make a difference. I can feel the energy in the room shift when the dogs enter, as if each resident is recalling images and memories of their former pets. Often times they share stories as they reminisce about dog companions from the past, and this is when I pick up valuable nuggets of wisdom.
Imagine if we all found a simple way to give back, to do something different with a small portion of our time or resources that would instill that feeling of joyfulness in others. Imagine that.

Do You Know Your Neighbors' Names?

This piece originally appeared on elephant journal, here.

It took me awhile to figure out why I enjoy chanting an Om mantra in yoga class.

I like feeling the united vibration from everyone in the room.
We need others for their perspective and input, their teachings, ideas, and companionship. You’ve probably heard the stories of the premature twins that were not doing well, but once put together in the same incubator, against standard protocol, their health rapidly improved and they thrived.
We’ve all seen society come together after a natural disaster.
I crave that connection (hopefully without the disaster).
We’ve all had nightmarish neighbors or maybe we’ve even had brief stints playing that role ourselves. The fast food wrappers haphazardly thrown in our yards. The overzealous neighbor that gives you a fertility statue and invites you to their church within the first 30 seconds of meeting.
Maybe we’ve come home laughing loudly with friends, waking up others close by. Maybe we’ve had to pound on ceilings and invest in ear plugs. Maybe our boots have seemingly honed-in on that pile of dog poop that wasn’t picked up (now that’s a sh*tty neighbor). I couldn’t tell you any of their names (well, maybe their dogs’ names).
If we’re lucky, we’ve caught glimpses of community, people helping each other along the way. Neighbors doing yard work for the person next door not capable of pushing a lawnmower. Coaches taking players to visit colleges. Friends calling to check on each other. Neighborhood kids asking if we need help on moving day. Being rescued by a woman in a minivan when being circled like prey by a vicious dog.
How do we create a stronger sense of community? I’m an outgoing introvert and am perfectly content recharging inside my house solo. I’ve found the following tips help get me out there and learn about my cul-de-sac community:
1. Initiate contact.
Rally the neighborhood to do a group volunteer activity like a trail clean up. Start a book club, host a game night, coordinate a Nerf gun battle complete with war paint and barrel-rolls down hills, or plan a potluck dinner. Challenge everyone to an excessive Christmas decorating contest.
If that’s a little aggressive, at least let’s nervously knock on our neighbors’ doors with sweaty palms and laugh just a little too heartily and find out their names. Let’s assume they also want cool neighbors to throw Halloween parties with, where they use their baby monitors instead of hiring sitters because they are so close to home.
When someone new moves into the neighborhood, let’s kick it old school and bring them a casserole in a glass dish along with their Nerf gun for the next battle. Time to dust off that crockpot!
2. Slow down. 
When is the last time we’ve sat around to catch up with friends or family and were truly present? No cell phones on the tables. Not formulating responses while people are talking or cutting someone off mid-sentence to jump in with our own brilliant response. Instead, we could ask an open-ended, follow-up question to show our support, encouragement, and interest.
Let’s be content and happy to be there, really there, with our comrades. Isn’t that why we came?
A cursory wave as neighbors drive by isn’t good enough.
I want that sense of community and belonging, the peace of mind in knowing that we will all band together and share our skills and means when one of us is in need.

And I don’t want to step in dog poop anymore.