Last week, I invited you to join me on my 5-3-1 Happiness Challenge, a simple way to bring more happiness to your life. The idea is a wonderful one: Each day you spend five minutes in meditation, write down three things you’re grateful for, and do one act of kindness. I couldn’t wait to get started! But that was before my week turned upside down …
I started the challenge last Tuesday. I meditate every day anyway, so that part was easy. I thought of some things I was grateful for. I saved a spider as my random act of kindness (though I can’t say I did it without screaming!). And then, the very next day, my horse Kodiak colicked.
Colic is a serious problem in horses and has the potential to be fatal. I was really worried as I raced over to the barn right after my trainer called. I dropped everything I was doing to be with him and help him through this difficult time—in whatever way I could.
I spent the whole day at his side, and then a long night at the barn. I stayed awake all night to watch over him. If his condition worsened, I would have had to take him to a nearby equine hospital. I offered Reiki to him for many hours while waiting and waiting for signs of improvement. I realized I didn’t have the mental resources to “do” the Happiness Challenge I had just promised myself I’d do.
But then a funny thing happened. Although the Happiness Challenge didn’t turn out the way I’d thought, looking back on this week, I realized it actually still helped me in the end. I had gone into this week intending to do acts of kindness … but here I was in a difficult time, and someone did an act of kindness for ME! My trainer, Susan, literally dropped everything she had planned the day Kody colicked. She stayed with me, walking Kodiak, massaging him, staying with us as the vet arrived to treat him. When the tube the vet put through his nose into his stomach caused Kodiak a terrible nose bleed, Susan hugged me as I cried. She even stayed at the barn until the evening, watching over Kodiak, so I could run home to grab dinner before I drove back up for the night. Her selflessness reminded me how powerful kindness is in this world; how it really can help to get us through the tough times. (And it showed me what a wonderful friend she is, too!).
Also, during the darkest part of the first night he colicked, the Happiness Challenge reminded me of the importance of focusing on gratitude instead of giving into fear. It’s at our most difficult moments that it’s most important to remember this! During the extended periods of Reiki meditations in the barn that night, I kept my mind positive by remembering many more than three things about Kody that I was grateful for. I thought of how Kody really helped me so many times in my cancer recovery; how back then, I couldn’t wait to be well enough so I could ride him again. That was one of the goals I focused on during my difficult, painful recovery. And now it was my turn to do everything I could to help him. I kept telling him, “We are going to get you through this. You are going to be ok.” I’m so happy to report the impaction finally resolved without needing further veterinary treatment! It took both Kodiak and me a few days to recover from the emotions and stress of it all. I think the worst part for him was when he started feeling better but had to be on a restricted diet. That horse loves to eat!
So while I may not have followed the Happiness Challenge to a T, because it was at the top of my mind and intention, I had a deeper realization of the importance that meditation, gratitude and kindness have in our everyday lives. I think it’s important to remember that when things are running smoothly for us—someone else out there is having a horrible, terrible day, and maybe one small act of kindness on our part can help them find hope and strength where they couldn’t see it before. And maybe all of us can become just a little bit happier.
I still love the idea of 5-3-1, and I want to keep incorporating this idea into my daily life. For those of you who followed the challenge with me, thank you. Now tell me: How did your week go?
They don’t argue back, they’re wonderful listeners, they love cuddles, and they never lose enthusiasm for seeing you at the end of a long day. Animals are the best, aren’t they? They’re so awesome, in fact, that sometimes I think I like them better than people (my family excluded, ahem). Here are some warning signs to look out for to see if you, too, tend to like animals better than humans:
1. When you get some great news, the first “person” you want to tell is your dog.
2. When you snuggle up on the couch to binge-watch Downton Abbey, the warm body next to you has furry legs and paws.
3. That secret ingredient in your amazing coconut-vanilla cupcakes (and all of your cooking, really) is 1 dog hair.
4. When your cat starts to cough up a hairball (again), you’re at the ready with a towel or paper bag to catch the mess before it hits the floor.
5. When holiday shopping, you can easily spend 30 minutes deciding whether she’d rather have the pink or red heart-shaped chew toy.
6. “Vacation!!” means hitting the road for some fun in the sun at your favorite pet-friendly hotels, beaches and restaurants.
7. When the person next to you on your flight to New York brings a ferret on board as an “Emotional Support Animal,” you don’t bat an eyelash.
8. You actually think rat tails are cute.
Fact: Rat tails are cute.
9. When your neighbor adopts a dog from the local animal shelter, your first question is, “Is it a boy or a girl?”
10. “Deathly afraid of needles” quickly turns into “superstar subcutaneous fluids-giver” when your cat becomes diagnosed with kidney failure.
11. When your best friend talks about her new shoes, you immediately think of your horse’s shoeing appointment you forgot to schedule.
12. The first thing you see in the morning when you wake up is your cat’s stomach laying across your face.
13. Your favorite smells are puppy breath and fresh manure at the barn.
14. When you find a spider in your apartment, you summon all your bravery and find a glass (or wide-mouthed jar, depending the size) to safely put it outside.
15. Your dog knows how to eat off a fork.
What about you? (Guilty as charged?) When did you know you were a delightfully unapologetic animal person?
This fascinating article in The New Republic declared 2014 the year of mindfulness. Because meditation is such an important (and beneficial) part of my life, I love that it’s starting to take off in such a big way and that people in general seem more open to this idea than ever before. But the article left out a very important factor: animals. In my work with Reiki, I’ve realized they just “get” meditation and the idea of living in the moment more than we ever will. In fact, by following their lead, it’s easier than ever to find that mindful “ideal” we’re all striving for.
With that in mind, here are some easy ways we can all practice daily mindfulness with our animals (a.k.a. our best meditation teachers):
1. Savor the sun and smell the roses. Yes, it’s cliché. But next time you’re on your daily walk with your dog, instead of rushing through so you can get back to your next task, take a few moments to experience everything around both of you in nature. Smell the salty air, breathe and feel the sun on your skin. Resist the urge to do your daily walk on autopilot. You can even wander in a new direction; the two of you can just enjoy the moment and see where it takes you. If you’re more of a horse person, take the same approach on your next trail ride with your horse.
2. Give 100 percent full attention to your animal. This isn’t always easy. Next time you cuddle with your cat and talk sweetly to her, do so without any other distractions—no TV, laptop, phone, magazine or the like. When grooming your horse, focus on the moment and truly take it in: the sweeping of the brush, his nickers, the shine of his hair. Sit with your dog and give him your 100 percent attention. Really try to feel and embrace every aspect of the moment—sights, sounds and so on—instead of letting your mind fall back on other distractions, like your to-do list or what you’re cooking for dinner tonight.
3. Practice mindful eating—for both you and your animal. We all know the benefits of thinking about what you put into your body. Support your health by eating fresh, wholesome foods—and support your animal’s health, too, by doing the same and serving natural, nutritious foods. Thankfully, due to consumer demand, premium and organic dog and cat foods are easier to find than ever before. And when you want to spoil your favorite dog, whip up some easy (and deliciously healthy!) homemade treats.
4. Meditate and “be” Reiki with your animal. I’ve created a special series of six 20-minute meditations to help you tune into and connect energetically with your animal, with the natural world around you, and with that deep inner space of peace and strength within yourself—all important ingredients to mindful living. Click here to get started.
5. Take 10. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or the very last part of your night, take 10 minutes to breathe, be calm and just “be.” If they’re not already, your dog or cat will probably end up in your lap!
How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life?
One of the best parts about adopting a new animal into the family is naming him or her! It’s so fun to play with words, read baby name books and even hit the web in search of the perfect fit. My youngest sis recently did just that: She and her husband welcomed home two eight-month-old sister kittens from the local shelter. They finally decided on two beautiful names: Tig (the alpha kitten, after the comedian Tig Notaro) and Quinn (they wanted a beautiful one-syllable Irish name).
A few weeks ago, all the top name lists for 2014 came out: top baby names of 2014, popular puppy names of 2014, and most popular kitten names 2014. If you’re looking to name a new furry family member, these are great places to start your search.
Many of you know me as a horse person. It’s true—my favorite days are often those spent at the barn or in the dressage ring, caring for and riding my two horses Shawnee and Kodiak. But sometimes I have frustrating days where I just don’t understand my horses, and I can’t get through to them. For instance, Kodiak, the young one, is very pushy and strong-willed. And I admit it: At times I’ve been a complete pushover when working with him. I wanted things to change.
So imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity recently to work with Dean Voigt, a very talented horse trainer and clinician who trained with Ray Hunt, a pioneer in natural horsemanship. Voigt is an old-fashioned cowboy and a true natural when working with horses, and I now think of him as real-life “horse whisperer.” His approach is “using communication rather than intimidation to achieve positive changes in preparing a horse to accept the saddle and a rider.” And it works!
Voigt has taught me many helpful strategies over the past several months (we now work together once every four to six weeks), but here are three lessons that stand out in particular. Keep in mind these lessons have helped me not just with my horses, but also with my Reiki business and life in general:
1. The problem isn’t always what you think. As I mentioned earlier, my horse Kodiak is dominant, strong and willful; he often doesn’t listen to me. He can be so feisty sometimes that I almost stop breathing. My instincts have always been, “He’s being bad!” but luckily Voigt set me straight. After working with Kodiak, he said, “Your horse has a very high play drive. If you can make what you do with him a game—make it fun—he will do anything for you.” I took those words to heart and now when Kodiak challenges me or gets high energy, instead of fearing him I reframe it in my mind as respectfully playing with each other. Now I’ll smile and say, “Oh, do you want to play today?” and channel his energy in a positive way. Voigt helped me realize that Kodiak wasn’t being mean; he just wanted to play. Now that I understand the intention behind his strength and energy, I can finally enjoy it (and make strides we couldn’t before).
2. Remember the important role emotions play. Again and again, Voigt has pointed out to me (and to the other participants at the barn) that a lot of the problems we have with our horses have to do with emotions, either ours or those of our horse: fear, frustration and confusion, for example. Voigt has shown us that once you can heal that emotional part, then everything else will come together. He helps you to realize what’s really going on so you can move past it. He’s kind of like a therapist in that way.
3. Create a state of being that is peaceful and calm. Voigt gets results by achieving this in the ring, and it’s also something I’ve noticed in my work with animals and Reiki. When I watch Voigt work with the horses, I can see that he understands the language of energy and speaks it to our horses. He’ll stand there and barely move his pinkie, and the horse will know exactly what he was saying.
I saw him with some really fearful horses once and he stood there really calm, like a rock. No matter what the animals were doing, he didn’t react to it. He was just calm, quiet and gentle. And within 30 seconds, these horses were like, well, he’s not scared, so why am I expending all this energy? And then they came over and stood with him. And that’s what we do with Reiki: How do we bring our meditation and calmness to every moment, even when the animal is being difficult?
I always say, “Be Reiki with your animal; don’t DO Reiki to your animal.” That’s why Voigt is so successful. He creates a state of being that is peaceful and calm, and that really heals any problem he has with an animal. His presence is very much a healing presence.
Horsey friends, what life lesson have you learned from working with your horses?