My fur babies, “my girls,” have passed over the Rainbow Bridge. Feisty Madam Butterfly was a piece of work from the get-go. Spawned in a puppy mill and caged in a mall pet store, she was wired for mischief, petulance, and pomposity. Miss Noelle, on the other hand, had a legitimate pedigree which was evident in her regal but demure, gentle bearing and nary an iota of haughtiness.
I loved these two girls with my whole heart. But man, they could not have been more different – except that they were both obsessed with me (yay!) and shared an unconditional love of the outdoors. Both spent most of their lives in the frigid, snowy Northeast where winter hung on like a bad cold. Neither was deterred by the temperature or the ice and snow because their joy wasn’t predicated on sunshine or 70-degree perfection. To their credit, they got me out of the house on many a winter afternoon when I was hunkered down praying for the appearance of the first snowdrops, harbingers of spring. The more I think about it, the more I realize what I’ve learned from their experience of winter:
Make no excuses
Breathing in the fresh air and getting your body moving always feels good. Why wait? Why imprison yourself within four walls when all of nature is calling to you? Exchange your excuses for a hat, a warm coat, and a pair of gloves and embrace the day. Start small – 10 minutes – then build on more time as you go.
Create your own fun
You’re out there, so why not get into it? Start by taking a good look around. The bare branches have a beauty all their own while the winter sun is welcoming and the crisp air is nothing short of invigorating. Take it from there! Madam once dug out a half-eaten hot dog from a pile of snow 12 inches high. What a trooper!
Don’t make your joy conditional
My girls greeted neighbors and strangers alike, regardless of the weather. It was almost as if they had a “we’re all in this together” approach to the winter walk. Instead of grumbling about the cold, be cheerful about the fact that you are outdoors.
Attitude is everything
You know the adage: perception is reality. It rings true because we know that our attitude about a situation determines our experience of it. My girls personified “great attitude.” They knew exactly how to make the most of a winter walk. Noelle “skated” gracefully down our long icy driveway, taking it all in stride.
Reward yourself afterwards
Madam and Noelle looked forward to snuggling in their warm beds after a brisk winter walk. And so did I. Or maybe a hot cup of tea or cocoa is your preference. The point is that if you have to nudge yourself to get outside, play that positive mind game where you envision the reward you’ll have afterwards. It works!
This is what I made all of their lessons mean for me:
Take the long view
To watch a dog is to know that she embodies every moment without exception. Whatever she is doing, she is all in. We humans bring more complexity, more “stuff” to our experience. We weigh down the moment with worry, obligation, expectation – all of which interfere with our ability to take delight in the now. While I am sure that my girls weren’t philosophical about taking the long view in life, they certainly lived as though they did. For many folks, winter is the season that challenges our spirit. We have a way of forgetting that each day is fleeting and that it’s on us to make it joyful. My girls reinforced this lesson. They helped me to accept winter for the natural cycle that it is, one that I have the power to embrace with my whole heart.