I have a border collie named Lucky. He insists on getting my full attention. He will whine, push his head under my hand as I lay on the couch, smile at me or use is puppy dog eyes to elicit sympathy. Oh, he gets a lot of attention. But I guess if you were to ask him he would surely say “it’s not enough.” To be honest, he really does not ask for much. Good dog food and occasional human food. A soft bed or couch to lay on. Lots of hugs and petting. And he loves to go out on adventures. How does he pay for this? Well, He does let us know when someone is at the front door. He listens. He gives unconditional love. He models how to be calm and be in harmony with his world. It is so easy for him. As long as a family member is with him, he is happy.
A friend of mine had a health scare about a year ago. He has taken up hiking in the woods with an almost obsessive passion. He had to retire from his business due to his health condition. At first, this was very difficult for him as he felt a loss of purpose in life. Hiking the trails around his home has brought back a sense of accomplishment and vitality to his life. Not to mention it helped him to drop 70 plus pounds. About two months ago he was down in South Carolina. He just took off by himself to try a section to the Appalachian Trail. He texted me a picture when he reached the top of a small mountain. I called him when I received the picture. I heard in his voice something that I had lost. Pure joy and reverence for the beauty that surrounds us if we just go looking for it. Later on, he talked me into training to hike a five-day section of the Appalachian Trail in late summer or early fall. So we meet about once per week to hike together (he kicks my butt right now). On other days I go out alone on the trails that surround my home or are close by. I am blessed in living near two state recreation areas that have a good trail system. Some days, when I can have Lucky off his leash, I take him with me. As with any exercise regimen, the first fifteen to twenty minutes are the most difficult. My mind goes through this ritual of identifying every ache and pain, questioning why I am doing this at my age. And how comfortable cozy my couch is. Once I finish this mind ritual I get into the rhythm of the trail and the harmony of the forest. I have noticed that Lucky does not suffer from the agonies of the mind. He goes right into harmony mode. He will smell every smell, see every tree, hear every bird or squirrel, and of course let all the other animals know he has been there by marking his passing. How does one bladder hold so much pee is beyond me?
I am blessed in living near two state recreation areas that have a good trail system.
Many years ago I saw a book titled Chop Wood, Carry Water. I never read the book but I always remember that title. For me, it tells how to find joy in simple activities. I found this to be true when I scrape paint off of wood. Most find this work tedious. I found it calming. I loved to be outside up on a ladder leaning against the side of my century-old house, scraping the multiple layers of paint off of the old wood. With music playing or just the rustle of leaves dancing to the rhythm of the breeze, the sun peeking through the shadows onto the surface of the wood. I found peace. I found simple joy.
Making an effort to do the simple things in life can bring a sense of harmony and peace when you are feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed out. It is easy to make excuses to not go outside, meet up with close friends, scrape and paint wood, or go for a walk with your dog. But then you miss out on simple joy, harmony, and the balance of a life well-lived.
Michael Patterson LMSW