Fostering Excitement and Ahh: Five Disciplines
I let Riley off of the dog leash. She hops through the snow like a white hare. I follow several feet behind, dodging the flinging snow from her path and watching her play.
I admire her freedom, her liveliness, and her excitement about every new scent and every unexpected murmur in the woods. Spring is just beginning and the snow cascades from the branches it weighs down.
I can see my breath in front of me. I’ve been in cold before, but not like the cold in Alaska. As the air chills, my wet breath frosts onto my beard like the spray “snow” grandma used to adorn the edges of her windows with at Christmas time.
As a counselor, I work with individuals in emotional pain. I am honored with their stories. During the dark of winter, the pain seems to increase. Perhaps, it is just brought more to attention by the gray sky, muddied snow highways, and the sleeping sun. Regardless, my session-slots fill as people come in searching for freedom, liveliness, and just the ability to smell the aromas of their life and hear the sweet whisperings the universe murmurs to them.
I toss a soft snowball at my dogs tail, she spins around wagging and leaps through the snow toward me.
Riley and I play: running in circles, pawing each other, taking a break and then starting back again. Then, amongst our commotion, it starts. The snow is falling again. A late spring dusting. First I pause at the wet tickles on my skin. Riley follows the intermission of play at my cue. She looks up at me as if to say: did I miss something? Her nose wiggles up and down through the air; she smells the crisp atmosphere and the wet scent of snow.
Here I am, in the forest, amongst the antiqued birch and the reaching spruce. The falling snow speaks. No. It sings sweet arias of pleading passion. Pause, it says. Rest and breath, say the silent trees and the falling snow.
So I stand. Riley, not sure what is going on sits beside me and nuzzles her chin against my leg. I bend down beside her wrapping my arms around her bristly, brindle-haired body.
Listen, I tell her. Silence.
When I sit with the people who come into my office and they share their stories of divorce, addiction, deep despair, and anxiousness, I send a prayer into the universe that they be able to take in the beauty of the world with the excitement of Riley. I want them to experience the world with the ahh that I experience when I allow true silence to permeate my heart and soul.
How do we foster this ahh and excitement? I often teach others, and try myself, to live out these five life disciplines.
- Slow down. Period.
- Indulge and acknowledge all five senses as often as possible. Taste your food. Smell the air. Feel the warm blanket on your lap. Take in the sights of the beautiful Chugach Mountains that surround us like the wise elders of a tribe. Listen to the wind, to music, to the city sounds, and to the quiet.
- Enjoy the company around you, especially the furry ones.
- Don’t forget to breathe: breathe deep, breathe intentionally, breath with purpose.
- Go outside: even in the snow, even in the muddy mess that is breakup season. Go outside, especially when it seems the most inconvenient. That is when it’s needed most.
The snow falls and the world around me reaches out to receive the billowy white. I’ve met my old friend again, silence. It’s been a long time.
As we sniff and we rest and we listen, the setting sun tints the snow like mangoes and concord grapes. I continue through the woods, my own prayer labyrinth, and I find peace in breathing. In-out.
The cold air awakens my soul.
The world passes me by most of the time and I miss its sweet aromas. When I let it pass, it is easy to touch despair sometimes, anxiousness, even sadness. I can miss the trees’ song. I forget the colors of the earth that present themselves to me. I reside in my sometimes trivial troubles.
Riley paws me; she wants attention. Come on girl, I call. I run down the path and she follows.
Let’s go home.
Andrew Watson, MA, CDCI is a mental health and addictions therapist. He currently works at Wisdom Traditions Counseling Services in Anchorage, Alaska where he serves as the Clinical Director. He approaches the counseling relationship as a space of holy ground, where a client is able to be vulnerable and the counselor is able to honor a client's unique story. Andrew is a person who appreciates nature and enjoys being outdoors with his wife and dogs. He has a passion for writing, cooking good food, and painting/making art.