A Pup's Guide to Being Present



This weekend I had the privilege of having not one, but two dogs in my home, as I was dog-sitting for a friend. I spend a lot of time with my pup, Barkley, but something about having two dogs, and perhaps being more attentive than I am on a day-to-day basis, made me reflect on how skilled dogs are at staying present. While they don't do it all the time (I can definitely tell when Bark is stressed or anxious about something that just happened or is about to happen), they do seem to be much better at staying in the moment. Of course, they have the added benefit of not having quite as much on their minds as humans do, but that doesn't mean we still can learn from them. 

Here are some of the mindfulness tips I was reminded of over the weekend. Learn from the the wisdom of pups! (If you're looking for additional inspiration on pets and mindfulness, I highly recommend the book Guardians of Being by Eckhart Tolle and Patrick McDonnell. It's adorable and insightful.) 


Do less every day.

Pups don't overwhelm their schedules with lengthy to-do lists, appointments, and activities. Pups (and most pets!) know how to take it easy. They spend most of the day relaxing and another good chunk of it playing, going for walks, eating, etc.. We'd all probably love to live a life on a pup's schedule, but since that's impossible for most of us, we can at least strive to do less each day. We can make fewer appointments. We can schedule fewer activities. Yes, some things must be done, but take a look at your to-do list and see if there are tasks that maybe aren't so essential.


Worry less often.

Even if you have an anxious pup (like Bark!), pup still don't worry as much as humans do. Worrying, as you might know, doesn't really do anything. It's completely unproductive, but yet many of us spend a lot of time doing it. What we should do instead is determine if there's something we can do about a worrisome situation. If we can, we should take action. If we can't, we should do our best to let the worry go. 


Experience more joy.

There's no joy quite like that of a dog with a beloved toy. Barkley, for example, loves this one blue ball she has. You can just see the joy on her face when she runs for the ball, or even when I say the word "ball." As humans, I think we all have things like this, situations or things or people that make us feel completely joyful. Unfortunately, we don't always allow ourselves to experience it fully and without inhibition. Take a lesson from a pup, and allow yourself to feel complete and total joy without fear of judgment. 


Refrain from judgment.

And speaking of judgment, the lack of it is one of the most precious assets of any pup. Pups might have preferences for certain things, as we all do, but they don't judge people or themselves. Have you ever seen a pup look in the mirror and complain about her appearance? Yes, I'm aware that they don't have the mental capacity to do that, but still, it's something we should be inspired by, even if it's much more difficult for us, as humans, to attain.


Avoid complaining.

Life's got its highs and lows, for both pups and people, but consider how dogs handle most situations: they cope. If they're hot or cold or tired or hungry, they deal with it. Yes, sometimes there's a bit of whining involved, but generally they make the best of where they are until things get better. We could all learn from this. Yes, sometimes it feels good to vent, but more often than not, complaining only makes a difficult situation worse. 


Ditch the drama.

Whether its intentional or not, most people create some bit of drama for themselves. Sometimes it's purposeful (stirring the pot, as my mom would say) and other times its unintentional (not being as straightforward as you could be, for example), but regardless of how it happens, its something we have the power to become aware of and transform. Dogs don't create drama for no reason. They face situations head-on without rationalization or blame -- and we'd be a lot better off if we did the same!


Create deep connections.

Pets and their owners have a unique and magical kind of unconditional love. Because humans are more complex, it's not always easy to have such a simple, nearly flawless connection with them, but it doesn't hurt to consider how you'd treat your pup if s/he made a mistake vs. how you'd treat a person. The love between pups and people is strong and, typically, unwavering, and it would help us all if we made that kind of connection our goal with other humans. 


Notice the little things. 

One of the best things about having a pet is how much they notice. Barkley is particularly adept at noticing any changes in her environment and investigating them for more info. We, as humans, are often rushing around and fail to notice the little things. If you have a pup, take him/her on a walk and take note of everything the pup notices. Whenever I do this, it really helps to make even the most mundane things more magical. 



For most people (including me!), mindfulness is a challenge. But if we were able to adopt some of these lessons from the pets in our lives (or at least try to adopt them), we'd all be a lot more mindful. Staying present takes practice, and I'm thankful to have a present-minded pup in my life to inspire me. If you have a pet, pay attention to how amazingly present they are most of the time. If you don't have one, hopefully these tips from Bark will give you some mindfulness tips you can put into practice in your own life! 



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The Power of "I Am" + How to Harness It



It's probably not news to you that the words you use have a big impact on how you perceive the world (and how you feel about the world and yourself), but today I want to focus on two of the most powerful words in the world: I am

Every time you think or say, "I am" or "I'm not," you're defining yourself. We, as humans, love defining things. The world is a pretty crazy place, and knowing what we are helps us cope with the chaos. But, while definitions have the power to clarify, they also have the power to limit. This is especially true when it comes to the words I am

Because these two words are so powerful, it's important to use them carefully. I've discovered that, in order to make the most of them, to use them for clarity and not as a crutch, we have to make sure we're being very conscious and purposeful in how and when we use them. It's a process that takes practice, because it it involves a bit of complex duality: using I am for what's unconditional and avoiding I am for what's conditional.  

Why is this important? Because what follows I am is powerful and creates your reality. If I am isn't used carefully, it can become a very chicken-or-the-egg situation, in which is becomes difficult to differentiate what you actually are versus what you've continually said you are. To avoid this, I recommend keeping these two things in mind: 



With the words “I am,” you define yourself to the world, and, when used honestly, offer a valuable definition of who you are.

Consider the truth of the words, “I am a [mother / brother / friend / coworker / etc.].” There is no doubting that you're one of those things. A statement like “I am a mother” is a fact, and not something that only applies sometimes. As Alexandra Franzen put it, people say, “‘I am a mother,’ not ‘I do mothering’ or ‘My goal is to do mothering seven days a week.’ Who you are is not something you try to do."

When used in this way, I am is a definitive and concrete definition of yourself, but defining yourself in relation to family is an easy one. Most of us have no problem being 100% clear on that. The waters get a little murkier when it comes to other I am-worthy statements. For example, when someone asks me what I do for a living, sometimes, instead of stating, “I am a writer,” I might hedge the statement with, “I write about positivity and self-love.” At first glance, they seem to convey the same message, but not using I am part makes it less definitive and concrete.

Not using I am for things that are unconditionally true lessens the validity of how you identify yourself, and that's not the message you want to send to the world (or yourself!). Getting the hang of fearlessly using I am can be a challenge, depending on how you usually speak about yourself, but you can practice by thinking about how you'd answer the following questions: 


What do you do / study?
I AM (your career or major)

What is your relationship status? 
I AM (single / married / coupled / etc.)

Are you an only child? 
I AM (an only child / sister / brother)

What do you like to do for fun? 
I AM (a runner / artist / party animal / etc. )


Even if the answers aren't what you want them to be — let’s say you’re single and you want to be married or you’re a contractor but you want to be a full-time employee — it's important to use I am to embrace what's true in this moment. A vital aspect of self-love is acceptance. You don’t have to be in love with the way things are at the moment, but you should always love who you are because it’s exactly where you’re supposed to be right now.

Using I am for the unconditional aspects of your life is more powerful than you might realize. Not only does it convey who you are to those asking, but it reaffirms these facts internally, making it easier to know definitively who you are. The more awareness you have about yourself, the more you can expand the aspects you like and work on the ones you don't. 



While it's important to use I am to clearly define what you are instead of hedging a description of yourself (i.e., "I'm a writer" vs. "I write about..."), but it’s just as important not to use I am in statements that are conditional. Most of us use I am in ways that aren't 100% accurate. A statement might refer to part of who you are — for example, “I am impatient” is really “Sometimes I struggle to have patience” — or it might be completely untrue — such looking in the mirror, noticing you want to lose a few pounds, and saying, “I am fat" when you're not actually overweight.

Rather than really thinking about what we are saying, we’re often quick to use I am, labeling ourselves in an (often unproductive) attempt at self-definition. To give you a more personal example, here are some of the things I’ve said about myself: “I am antisocial. I am bossy. I am aggressive. I am selfish.” While, at some points in my life, I have experienced these characteristics, by choosing them as labels for myself, I am embracing and accepting them as universal definitions of who I am. These phrases are not absolute truths. Yes, there are times when I act in a bossy manner, but when I say, "I am bossy," I identify with "bossy" as universal trait, rather than a conditional aspect that I can (and perhaps should!) change.

The more times you say, “I am [insert adjective here],” the more you’ll start to identify with that trait. Sometimes this can be a wonderful thing, such as when you say, “I am brave. I am strong. I am beautiful,” but more often than not, we find ourselves stating things like, “I am overweight. I am unhealthy. I am unhappy.” Though there might be some truth in those statements, identifying with them as who you are — rather than a state you’re in — can make it challenging to truly love yourself. It might seem silly to nitpick at words this way, but there's a difference between saying "I am unhappy," and "I feel unhappy right now," and, small as the words I am are, they end up having a big impact on your perception. 


Whether you're learning to use the words I am more frequently or learning not to use them so often (or both!), keep in mind that how you define yourself is what you become. You cannot control everything in life, but your words are incredibly powerful and you have the power to use them in ways that increase the amount of self-love in your life. 


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Lettering Life Lessons : Being Open-Minded

Positively Present Open Mind


As often as I can, I spend time drawing and lettering on my iPad, thinking all the while about what the words mean and how I might effectively share them with you. This week I decided to share a little bit of that process and, if you like it, I'll keep it up as a new segment called Lettering + Lessons! 

The Lettering Life Lessons concept is simple: I'll pick a quote, then I'll chat about it in more detail while drawing and hand-lettering it. This is the first time I've tried this so I have to admit: it isn't perfect. For one, I forgot to record the audio for a big huge chunk of it (scroll to the last couple minutes of the video if you want to see the audio-free drawing process). For another, I'm still getting the hang of working and talking so, at times, it's a little all over the place. And it's definitely too long, but I kind of like the stream-of-consciousness vibe so I decided to forgo the editing and just see what you guys think! 

Here's the video, where you'll see the process behind the drawing above, accompanied by a (slightly rambling) analysis of the quote and a discussion about what being open-minded means to me (and how we can all benefit from it!).  


Can't see the video? Click here to watch on YouTube


I'd love to hear what you think about this Lettering Life Lessons concept! If you like it, give the video a thumbs up on YouTube or let me know in the comments section below. And if you have any suggestions for what you'd like to see in the future — more specifics on the lettering? more insights on the quote and less detail about the lettering process? quotes or phrases you'd like me to letter? — I'd love the feedback! :)


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