I’m missing deadlines some weeks and months lately-like this column that I didn’t get finished in time for the new years. Many of us are tired for reasons that have nothing to do with being ill but facing our ‘surge capacity’ which I wrote about in a prior article.
We were exhausted by 2020 and now some of that which caused 2020 to be so difficult will bleed over into the new year for some time. Yes, there is hope on the horizon and like most things, the animals and nature have the most to teach us.
I have watched my dogs sail just fine through the pandemic, multiple confinements where they also have nowhere else to go but on an hour walk for many months this past year, and the stress levels of their guardians spiking on many occasions. My cat and bunnies did just fine too for that matter. What’s their secret? It’s simple, but for us humans, it’s not easy, much to our detriment.
Animals naturally have a magic formula: Play, Eat, Sleep and Repeat. If that’s not a recipe for happiness I don’t know what is. Remember the Eat, Pray, Love book? Eat, Sleep, Repeat is more fun. That book forgot the play. There is a new documentary out called “Playing For Keeps”. I don’t know if and when it will appear in our neighborhood or online but it is worth looking for.
Produced by (now deceased) James Redford, who has also produced several other movies about some serious stress and challenges as well as what builds resiliency in childhood. Now he and another associate have turned their focus to adults—FINALLY! The classic book about the importance of play is by Stuart Brown, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. It’s really clear in the research and from Those Who Play that play is essential for life to feel worthwhile. Yes, the fun is that serious!
Adults are spending less and less time in pleasurable, fulfilling adult hobbies even though so many other things in life seem to be getting easier. A big cost of the lockdowns and restrictions is that the loss of the freedom and ability to pursue joy. One gift from the pandemic for some people was a chance to slow down, spend more time with their family playing together at home or outside and to pursue things that aren’t performance driven. Many people have or will decide to not go back to the way they did things before because it was just too stressful and did not bring them joy.
Redford said in an interview I read recently that harmony and balance are essential to health and longevity and we need to get back in touch with that to manage what is. Seeking a community of others that want to play with you is also helpful and important but playing in whatever form it takes is like getting good health care—often for free.
Have you ever known a dog that wasn’t ready to play at any moment s/he was given the chance? Dogs and other animals get this whole play thing and they didn’t need to go to school to study it.
What have you decided is no longer important in your life and by giving it up it, what will you do that is more important? And ‘nothing’ is a just fine answer here. To paraphrase from my Guide to Life, when grown-ups asked Christopher Robin what he was going to do today, he answered “oh, nothing,” and then he and Winnie the Pooh went out and did it. Do you know how to do nothing?
Of course, after you play you must rest. Have you noticed and ever envied the way a dog or other animal can just stop, drop and nap without a care for where or how or for how long?
I wrote before about the Nap Ministry (https://thenapministry.wordpress.com). This is another great concept that says napping is a form of social justice and change—a resistance to the ills of uncontrolled capitalism that is harming us and our earth. It’s also love personified that creates space for creativity to arise. What do you think you could create if you were truly rested?
Napping is a way to build and store the energy we need to do the work of social change, life and more playing when awake. Animals don’t care about our political system or what needs to be done today or this decade but they do know it’s important to nap. Will you allow yourself to rest? What would be different in your life if you did? What do you think would arise as possible?
Finally, oh to eat! One of the greatest pleasures in life. Have you seen the joy of dogs when it comes to eating? They usually get the same thing, meal after meal but they are no less joyful each time. We have more choices and so our joy can be even greater.
Of course, the real magic of eating is truly eating to nourish yourself. Picking foods and preparations that will fill and truly honor the needs of your body, mind and spirit. Yes, once in a great while, that is fried chicken but most of the time, your body knows what it needs if you learn how to ask it without all the marketing programming getting in the way. If you can’t hear your body which speaks quietly, it may be because addictive food and substances are often much louder and more demanding. People often need help to re-learn how to really hear their body wisdom.
Animals especially in natural environments have no such issues. They eat and will leave food behind when they are full. They don’t seek out foods that aren’t good for them or if they do eat something that doesn’t serve them, they quickly learn to avoid it.
Have you ever had the experience of listening to your body or asking it was it REALLY needs for food right now, without worry or obstacles like whether it’s handily available? Just the act of connecting with your body and asking this kind of question is a way to honor, care and know yourself. Then you can plan accordingly by using this skill as you grocery shop and you’ll also know how to listen when you are faced with food in any situation.
I work with seemingly ‘healthy’ people who are obsessed about making the ‘right’ choice and not truly listening to their body. They are no more healthy than the pre-diabetic getting the next sugary snack because they don’t know how else to manage their anxiety. Dogs don’t do this, although it would make a laughable comic.
So be like your dog if you have one—or watch the dogs, or cats, or other animals. They truly appreciate the present moment whether it be a chance to play, sleep or eat. What will you do today that will bring one or more of these essential elements into your life?
I hope this will be useful in guiding us through the bumps of this year too. Happy New Year! Go out and play!
I can be reached for life, wellness and family coaching and/or counseling sessions at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.YourLifeWellLived.net.