I’ve said before that animals are our greatest teachers. My beloved dog Dakota was my first animal Reiki teacher. And the animals I’ve worked with over the years have taught me so much about compassion and even guidance on meditation. But the other day, as I caught sight of my dog Mystic napping contentedly in her little dog bed, I realized the animals teach us other important lessons, too. Do any of these spiritual lessons from animals sound familiar to you?
1. Unconditional love. Mystic loves me when I’m in my PJs, grumpy, sick and even if the house is messy. No matter what mood I’m in, she’s there for me without judgement. It’s definitely a perk when you share your life with a dog, isn’t it? You can just be yourself. And it’s always been the same for the other dogs I’ve shared my life with, too (and also the cats!). Even my horses love and accept me for who I am. They don’t tell me, “Be different. Change who you are.” The wisdom of animals in rising above and embracing their humans (warts and all) is something for me to remember, learn and carry over into my life and those I share it with.
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?
When I was at Pilates the other day, my trainer told me about 5-3-1, a simple (and genius!) way we can all be happier. Specifically: Spend five minutes a day in meditation; write down three things that you are grateful for; and lastly, do one random act of kindness. Each day.
Though I do meditate every day, sometimes I’m too busy to think about focusing my thoughts on gratitude, or going out of my way intentionally to do a random act of kindness seven times a week. So I’m going to give 5-3-1 a try this week starting today, and I’ll report back next week with my results. I’m pretty excited, and I hope you’ll join me!
Before I begin, here are some thoughts about making the 5-3-1 Happiness Challenge really work for me (and hopefully you, too):
1. Meditate for five minutes a day: Remember, your daily meditation doesn’t have to take place sitting in a quiet room on a pillow with your legs crossed. Meditation is about bringing compassion to our lives—and then sharing it with the world. You can do this while walking the dog, taking a stroll on the beach, cuddling your cat and so on. These forms of meditation may be considered “informal,” but they’re just as powerful—if not more so. I also prefer to meditate with animals close by (definitely try it if you haven’t already!). And since all we need is five minutes a day for this challenge, try these mini meditations as a launching point.
2. Write down three things that you’re grateful for: I’m grateful for my health, yes. And for my family. Etc. Etc. But this week I’m going to challenge myself to look deeper and uncover new things specific to each day to be thankful for; little things that pass me by and get forgotten because so often, life just moves too fast. So instead of “I’m grateful for my daughter,” I’ll be looking for more focused gratitudes, such as, “I’m grateful that my daughter and I were able to share some laughs during breakfast this morning.”
3. One random act of kindness: This one is a little more difficult for me, if only because I want to be a little creative about it. I’m thinking about sending a little thank-you note or email to someone who helped me recently; I could also purchase the Starbucks latte for the person behind me in line at the drive-through. I’m also hoping that as I go through my day, opportunities will arise for me to do a conscious act of kindness on the spot. Clearly I need some inspiration here, so I’m definitely going to check out this list of 101 Easy Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness.
Tell me: Are you in? Please join me for the next seven days, and let’s report back next week with our results!
I recently wrote about random acts of kindness—which got me thinking, what about random acts of kindness toward the animals of this world, specifically? Here are 10 easy and inspiring ways we can all be kind to the beautiful creatures sharing our world. Remember, kindness is contagious, so pass it on …
1. Choose cruelty-free products. Each year, 100,000-200,000 animals around the world suffer and die in laboratories due to cosmetics testing. Choosing to spend your hard-earned dollars on products from compassionate companies is one small act of kindness we can all do to support the rats, bunnies and guinea pigs commonly used in testing. Use PETA’s search function on its website to determine if the products you use are animal-friendly or not and find alternatives. (LUSH, a cruelty-free business with amazing beauty products, is a favorite of mine!)
Living with intention. Living joyfully. I try to connect with these ideals every day, though some days I’m more successful than others. The thing is, when I take the time to really nourish my inner self, I feel stronger, more balanced and, well, happier. So no matter how busy my schedule gets, I always try to make space for simple, soul-nourishing activities such as these:
1. Watch the sun rise. When was the last time you took the time to do this? (And I’m not talking about seeing the sun rise over the freeway while driving to the airport to catch an early-morning flight.) I mean, awakening in starlight, then setting your intention to wait, watch and really savor the beauty that is a new day beginning. This is not just a wonderful time to clear your mind and think, but also a special way to start your day.
2. Plant a vegetable (preferably one you love to eat). You don’t have to be a green thumb to try this one out, and you don’t have to plant an entire time-consuming or complicated garden. Just pick one veggie and give it a whirl. There is something almost meditative about working with the earth, digging and planting. The payoff—eating something fresh you grew yourself—nourishes both your body and soul.
3. Groom your animal. Brushing your dog, cat or horse feels good for them, but it’s good for us, too: It’s the kind of easy, repetitive work that lets our mind wander to a peaceful place. Strengthening your bond with your animal is another bonus. (They’ll shed less, too!)
4. Make your bed. When your bed is made first thing in the morning, your room looks better and more welcoming all day. Also, it starts your day off right by accomplishing this one small task. And at night, isn’t your state of mind in a more positive place when you can wind down in a tidy room? Try it tomorrow; it takes just two minutes.
5. Do a random act of kindness. There’s real power behind a random act of kindness. Even a small gesture of kindness can generate tiny ripple effects and help make this world a better place. Here’s an inspiring TEDx Talk on the subject. See what this woman learned when she dedicated herself to 38 acts of kindness for her 38th birthday:
6. Visit your local art museum. Most of us like to visit an art museum when we travel to a new city. It’s refreshing and almost meditative to wander and contemplate art—but most of us forget we can do this in our own city, as well. (I know, I know … it’s not The Louvre, but still.) We lead such busy lives we often neglect nurturing ourselves. But don’t think of visiting an art museum as a mere indulgence; studies have linked “artistic consumption” to improved health.
7. Channel your inner kid with a coloring book. Tapping into our creativity is very nourishing for the soul, but sometimes being creative can be exhausting. Enter the rise in popularity of coloring books for adults, which can now be found topping the best-seller lists. Like many of the activities listed here, coloring can be very meditative and relaxing (and fun!), and studies show art therapy such as coloring can also reduce stress. I like this one and this one.
8. Find your personal Zen. Maybe you love to exercise—for me it’s Pilates. Or maybe you love painting, writing, creating music, brewing an amazing cup of coffee or baking a batch of muffins. Find a place in your day to do whatever strikes you and that you love.
These are just a few ideas that are good for the soul—do you have any to add to the list?