Excerpt from Chapter 4: Lifestyle

Maggie and Me — June 2009

I'm midway through a 10-day stay with Maggie. My visit was something I thought I was doing for her, but it turns out to be one of the best things I've done for myself in a long time. Part of this is due to the fact that Maggie is so easygoing and mellow—just what I need to counter my more intense personality. In fact, she's very accommodating and is happy to pretty much go along with whatever I want to do.

For instance, I love to walk (and generally take a long walk every day), but I usually walk alone because others either don't walk at the pace I prefer or want to take a different route, etc., but Maggie is just happy to be walking and leaves the details completely up to me.

While all the above is true, I don't want to go further without acknowledging that this wonderful, easygoing Maggie is not a friend or relative; she's the 8-year old Golden Retriever belonging to my daughter and her family. However, when I stay with her while they're away, I feel like she's mine—and we've developed a very special bond.

If you're not a "dog person," you may decide not to read the rest of this, but I hope you will—because it's not really about a dog so much as about experiencing a quiet, peaceful time in the midst of life's rush. Granted, it's much easier to be peaceful when you're alone with a dog as your companion. But since I brought my computer and am continuing my normal work while I'm here, the difference in being here instead of in my usual surroundings is more about a state of mind.

My normal state of mind is pretty hectic and chaotic, despite the fact that my life circumstances don't call for it. I tend to find things to get "excited" about (any little thing will do) rather than maintaining a degree of calmness in dealing with life. The result is that the "stress" I put on myself on an ongoing basis is contributing to a stomach condition that I've addressed with diet and exercise, but haven't yet taken the necessary final step by consistently reducing my stress.

So one of my "missions" in staying with Maggie was to use her calmness to reinforce the calmness I want to experience for myself. And I'm happy to say that it's working. Of course, I'm helping it along in some other ways. For instance, I brought along some books that would reinforce the idea of approaching life in a calmer way. One of those books, which I'm re-reading, is Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth. (Frankly, it's easier to benefit from the ideas in the book in this quiet environment.)

The other "plan" I'm trying to implement is to be less rigid in my use of time. I normally "schedule" myself, deciding in advance when I'll do what—rather than doing things in the time and order that feels most natural. (After all, "getting them done" is the goal, not the specific schedule on which they're done.)

So I want to encourage you to consider in what ways you are "stressing" yourself—beyond the legitimately unavoidable stresses of life. Are there some calming "time-outs" you can give yourself, no matter how small? It's not essential to change your living space, as I'm doing during this period. There are things we can do anytime, anywhere.

We've all heard the simplest ideas—like getting outside in nature, taking a long bath (rather than a quick shower), having a cup of hot tea, sitting in silence with no TV, cell phone, iPod, etc. It's easy to dismiss these as unrealistic due to having no "free time." But even the busiest people "make time" (even if it means getting up earlier) to engage in activities that have been shown to make you more productive the rest of the day.

I do hope you will stop and consider what you might do to even slightly slow down the pace of your life to find a little calmness. I can vouch for the fact that it can be very therapeutic—with or without a dog.

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