Loving-kindness…

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A number of years ago, I attended a motivational business seminar where I had the opportunity to participate in the following exercise. The room divided into groups of three, one of whom was chosen to be ‘the tree’… standing with their arms extended out to the side, like branches. When the seminar leader gave the cue, the remaining two members of each group took an arm and tried to push it down to the person’s side as they made positive statements about them.

You’re a great person. You’re really nice. You’re a hard worker. You make people happy. You have a great sense of humor. You’re kind.

When the seminar leader instructed everyone to stop, we discovered that not one group had been able to push down the arms of the people with their arms extended.

The second part of the exercise was identical, with the exception of the statements verbalized. As group members tried to push down the arms of the other member in their group, they instead made negative statements about them.

You did a terrible job. You never do anything right. No one likes you. You’ll never be able to do that. We don’t want you in our group.

The result was surprising. Everyone’s arms folded like a deck of cards. Not one person was able to keep their arms extended in the face of negative input.

The people and the methods were the same in both exercises. The only thing that varied was the words that were spoken. The lesson was unmistakeable. Our words have the power to either build others up or to tear them down.

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I thought of that exercise again recently with the challenge I’ve been having trying to incorporate one 35 minute daily walk into Charlie’s life (our 19 month old purebred British bulldog). The main challenge has been that Charlie doesn’t want to walk. He doesn’t even want to leave the property. If he could talk, I’m sure he would point out that British bulldogs are physically built to excel at naps, not walks. And I don’t think he appreciates my rationale that one short walk a day still leaves him with 23 1/2 hours a day for napping.

So, each walk has started like this. I put Charlie on the leash… we go out the door and down the steps. Charlie thinks he’s going for a pee but then, at some point, realizes that was only ‘Phase 1’ of the outing. I start walking toward the end of the driveway but then Charlie puts the brakes on… basically plants his feet and becomes a 49 pound stone. So, I brace the leash across the front of my legs while continuing to slowly walk forward until he eventually has no choice but to follow. This pattern continues for many blocks until Charlie suddenly shakes off his protestations, and inexplicably walks beautifully beside me for the rest of the walk.

I can attest to the fact that I’ve tried everything to get Charlie to be less resistant for the first part of his walk. My theory that he would remember his walk from the previous day, and that it would motivate him to eventually walk willingly right from the beginning never took flight. Instead, each day was like Groundhog Day, with practice becoming permanent.

But I recently came up with the idea to praise Charlie the minute he walked – particularly near the beginning of our outing when the walking didn’t tend to go so well. Now, even if Charlie drags his feet, as long as he’s walking, it counts as walking… and I instantly praise him. Good boy, Charlie. If he plants his feet the next moment, I say nothing except ‘Come’ and just keep moving ahead until he has no choice but to follow. I’ve wanted Charlie to associate praise with the action of walking, and have hoped it would prove to be motivating.

Guess what? It’s working!

Until I tried this little experiment, I never said anything positive OR negative to Charlie on our walks… just mostly things like ‘Come’ or ‘Yes, you’re going to walk’ (the latter quite possibly through gritted teeth). But, something as simple as giving words of praise for something that genuinely merits praise has made all the difference.

I can’t say that Charlie is 100% onboard with his walks just yet. He still plants his feet in the driveway when he realizes that we plan to actually leave the property but his resistance doesn’t continue too far beyond that anymore when, not so long ago, it was a battle of wills for literally many blocks.

It made me think of the word ‘loving-kindness’… meaning tenderness and consideration toward others. I think there are many ways we can show loving-kindness to those around us – including the Charlie’s in our lives – but one of the most powerful ways is through our words. Of course, extending loving-kindness through our words means nothing unless our actions back them up but I truly believe there’s nothing quite like our words to build others up in a way that few other things can.

Don’t let on to Charlie but I think our daily walk has become the highlight of his day. I know it’s become the highlight of mine…

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Love list…

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It can be easy to take the things we love – and the people we love – for granted so I decided to pay special attention to both this past week. That exercise made me wonder why I ever let life overshadow love…

Here is a glimpse of my love list…

  • My husband and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary a couple of days ago. We had dinner at the historical ranche house where our wedding had taken place, and where Mike had proposed six months before that. We loved reminiscing and just celebrating us in the place that holds so many great memories of our love story…
  • Emily turned 17 the day before our anniversary, and her wish was to celebrate by having both sides of the family over for dinner. It was somewhat daunting to consider feeding 22 people – especially just days after having had surgery – but it was worth it to see how happy both Emily and my hubby were with how the evening had gone…
  • Lately, I’ve tried to be more intentional about being connected to friends and family. It means a lot when people take the time to send an e-mail, message, text, or phone call my way – or do something equally thoughtful – and I want to be that kind of person too. As much as I think I do reasonably well in this respect, my goal is to do better, because nothing communicates love quite like our actions…
  • The more I strive to know God and to love God, the more I find I’m able to love others. Hopefully, somewhere in that process, I also become more lovable to others…
  • Great food always rates some love. This past week… stellar sturgeon for our anniversary dinner, fall-off-the bone ribs for Emily’s party, delish salads made by my husband’s mom and sister, and to-die-for giant cupcakes from a bakery aptly called ‘Crave’. Yum…
  • I’ve been loving the great weather that Calgary has had since the end of January. I’m originally from the east coast where winters are epic – both in cold and in snowfall. But, even by west coast standards, the weather has been quite ‘un’Canadian, with above seasonal temperatures and virtually no snow. I’ve even been almost warm enough most days (with an emphasis on ‘almost’), which is saying something, given I tend to get a chill on a breezy day in the summer…
  • Our quirky British bulldog puppy, Charlie, inspires love just by being Charlie…
  • I’ve been loving an app for my Kindle from our local library that allows me to download and read countless books for free (and who doesn’t love free…). My favorite guilt-free part of that pleasure are the books I start and decide to return (because they really aren’t my cup of tea) – and I can do it for FREE. I still love to physically read a good book every now and then but, for the most part, bye bye paperbacks…
  • I used to tell people that I have a black thumb, as evidenced by the historical failure of plants to thrive under my care. But, since assuming the care for my husband’s many plants after getting married, I’ve surprisingly had more successes than failures. So, I recently extended my efforts from indoor to outdoor, cleaning up our numerous flower beds (all home to perennials) and trimming back umpteen bushes and trees. It was a much bigger job than I had anticipated – and one that involved a lot of ‘bs’ (blood and sweat…) – but the outcome more than made up for the effort. It was a  vivid reminder that the people we love – and the things we love – generally need considerable effort on our part in order to get the best result.

One final thing that impressed itself on me this past week was how much more joy I felt simply by focusing on what I loved about people, places, and things. It’s amazing how easy it can be to lose sight of the fact that, even when it’s tough to focus on what’s good, making a conscious effort to do just that always inspires far more positive feelings than when we focus on what’s not so good.

Just one more thing to love…

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For the love of Charlie…

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I don’t know about you but I find it’s hardest to love people who are hard to love. People who are hard to like. People who are unkind to me. It’s something I’ve struggled with over the past couple of years in particular, in no small part because there are people in close proximity to me who have fallen into that category.

It makes me think about our 19 month old purebred British bulldog, Charlie… who loves everyone and everything… people, dogs, cats, birds, insects, you name it. If it’s alive, he loves it.

Since Charlie has always been such a loving dog, we didn’t think twice about volunteering to look after another dog… an older Portuguese Water dog named Lottie. Charlie was enthralled to have ‘company’ and immediately decided they were ‘best buds’. Anything Lottie did, Charlie did. If she walked down the hall, Charlie was walking right behind her, matching her pace. If she laid down, he laid down. If she got up and moved to a new place, Charlie got up and moved too. So cute… but not for long. It quickly became evident that Lottie didn’t have the same ‘lovin’ feeling towards Charlie as he had towards her.

Maybe she thought his ‘love’ seemed suspiciously like ‘stalking’. Maybe she was getting crotchety in her advancing age. Or maybe she just didn’t care for a certain British bulldog. Regardless, she let her displeasure be known. She barked at Charlie… lunged at Charlie… and even bit Charlie on a couple of occasions. The more he didn’t ‘get’ it… the more pronounced her actions became. It got to the point where she would lose it if she entered a room and even set eyes on him (who we were keeping in a different space as much as possible at that point). Lottie went out of her way to communicate that she wanted nothing to do with Charlie… a fact that truly seemed to perplex him.

No matter how extreme Lottie’s actions or reactions were, Charlie never once retaliated. Never once barked, bit, growled, or lunged. He loved Lottie even though she was being less than lovable and certainly less than kind toward him.

Right from the time he was born, it has been Charlie’s practice to exhibit loving behavior toward others. In fact, when we were considering which puppy to adopt, Charlie stood out from the rest because he just took whatever abuse the other dogs heaped on him… including lunging, snarling, and biting.

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Charlie’s example reminds me of some truths that I need to apply more consistently in my life, starting today:

  1. If someone doesn’t love you, love them anyway.
  2. Be yourself even if someone doesn’t appreciate who you are.
  3. Know who you are and be that person. Not everyone will like you but that’s ok. You can still love them.
  4. It’s possible to love people you don’t particularly like. Consider your immediate and extended family, and I suspect you’ll come up with at least one person who falls into that category.
  5. Your attitude doesn’t depend on someone else. No one can take away your joy unless you let them.
  6. Love should be unconditional. That’s what we hope for from others so why should we give anything less.
  7. Love is a feeling but it’s also a choice. Choosing to love inspires us to feel more loving which, in turn, increases our joy.
  8. Not everyone can handle ‘full-on’ Charlie (which is why our dogsitting days are a thing of the past…).

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