Plans as Sand

Plans as Sandby Andrea Chilcote

In the summer months, we rise before 5 am to take the dogs on once-daily hikes before the unforgiving sun comes up, leaving them no choice but to retire indoors to our stone floors and air conditioning. It’s a treat for humans and canines alike, and usually it’s an urgent matter.

On some mornings, the weather is better than on others. If there have been no monsoon rains to add humidity, and if there is even a slight breeze, the pre-dawn is almost pleasant. If the air is laden with moisture from an overnight downpour, the heat is already oppressive at 5. On one such morning, Whisper, our ten-year-old Malamute, decided she wasn’t going.

WhisperMy hiking buddy Beth and I were shocked the first time Whisper stood glued to my husband Arthur’s leg, refusing to go with us and the other dogs. I was concerned that she was ill, but when I got out onto the trail I began to think she had the right idea. She chose to take it easy on a day the environment prescribed ease. The next day, a much more pleasant one, she enthusiastically joined us.

Each day since, Whisper has decided if she wanted a longer, more strenuous walk with us or if she would rather go to the barn for the morning feed, followed by a short and gentle walk with Arthur. She’s very clear, and she decides in the moment after checking the weather from an outdoor deck. One day last week I asked her, “Do you want to go to Spur Cross? (a nearby county park),” and was met with an excited “Woo woo woo.” The very next day her body language told me she was staying close to home, and she did.

Once again, Whisper has sage lessons for us.

I’ve always loved the saying, “Set your goals in stone and your plans in sand.” This summer, Whisper has been a role model for making routine and relatively inconsequential decisions in the moment, based on the circumstances that present themselves. If that sounds like obvious advice, consider this story. The other day, while walking up my driveway with Beth, I was puzzled as to why she had parked her car in a tucked-away space. As it turned out, she planned to do so the day prior, thinking that another friend was joining us. She didn’t want to block her in. While certainly a positive gesture, the problem was that her plan was no longer valid. The other friend’s “plans” had changed. Beth knew this, but still wedged her car in the inconvenient spot. As soon as the words left her mouth, she was reminded of Whisper’s lesson.

Do you ever waste the precious present moment planning things that are best determined in another, future, moment? Do you ever follow through on plans that are no longer justified?

Personally, Whisper’s behavior has reminded me of my goal for self-care. If my plan does not support my goal, perhaps I should change it. A long time ago, Beth offered me this advice: “If you do the right thing for you, it will probably be the right thing for others.” It’s tough for me in practice, but my dog makes it look easy.

Are you doing things out of an unfounded sense of obligation? What if you chose to hang out at the barn instead hiking up a mountain?

The last lesson involves giving another the freedom to change his or her mind. It was tempting to coax and cajole Whisper. After all, what dog would not want to hike? We refrained, honoring her wishes. I’m not sure we could have dragged her out of the house anyway, but we could have gotten ourselves all worked up trying. Isn’t that how it usually goes?

Do you honor the wishes of those you care about, or do you try to persuade them to follow the plan that seems right to you?

This next day, consider your and others’ plans as blowing sand. Where might they take shape?


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!

The Story of This Very Moment (2014)

Andrea Chilcote This Very MomentHow does one “Re-Write the Story of Their Life?” This is the second in a three-part series I wrote in 2012 for The Spirited Woman. In part two I challenge us all to engage in the moment at hand.

by Andrea Chilcote

Re-telling the story of your life requires examining the story you are living today. Even if – perhaps especially if – you are in transition, you are writing the story of your life right now, with each thought you have and each breath you take.

Many years ago I was living in a seemingly foreign place, away from my husband and four-legged family, finishing out a commitment to a job while anticipating a move to start my business. I was both exhilarated and terrified about my future, and anxious to be finished with my current assignment. And, I was lonely.

In hindsight, I learned a lesson. I had put my life “on hold,” working too much at a job that was unfulfilling, longing to be with my family, and obsessing about the future. Toward the end of the eight month period, I met a young family who invited me into their life. This brief experience helped me recognize that I had squandered the precious present moment far too long. Rather than engaging in life where I was, I had been living in a world of “what-if’s,” an uncomfortable mental state in which I was trying to hold on to what had really ended while unable to step fully into my future.

Change expert William Bridges suggests that in any transition, we experience a stage of letting go, then a stage of neutrality in which nothing feels grounded or clear; finally, those two stages are followed by a period of orienting to new beginnings. I suggest, while these are natural stages we must pass through, we can continue to live the story of a meaningful life even inside the so-called neutral zone. It’s as simple as showing up.

Are you telling yourself a story about a past that’s over or a future that has not yet arrived? What story would you tell about your life right now?  You have a choice to live a life of engagement and vitality. Even if you would rather be somewhere else, what can you do today, this moment even, to come alive again?

The fleeting present moment is filled with potential opportunities and possibilities, yet we often miss them because we’re consumed by a mind cluttered with thoughts about the past or the future. Stop – then look, listen and feel. Are you willing to engage in the precious opportunity before you?

Read parts one and three on The Spirited Woman site.