Tag Archives: Mindful

If you believe you are a Labrador Retriever….

I was having coffee with some friends recently when, inevitably, the subject of our dogs came up.  Three of us have medium to large dogs and one has a smaller, hypoallergenic one (which is brilliant since I think EVERYONE needs a dog).  I mentioned that I grew up with Basset Hounds, but that these have been ruled out since my husband has a strict rule about only having dogs who can jump into the truck on their own accord. The Mastiff owner shared that he knew a guy once who had a Basset Hound – Black Lab mix (visions of the Island of Dr. Moreau popped into my head).  The dog apparently had the body style of a Basset and the head and coloring of a Lab.   Despite his ground-skimming physique, he could jump into a truck.  To which I remarked, “Well, I guess he didn’t know he was a Basset Hound.”

I was thinking about this and it occurred to me that a dog’s self-perception is not really limited by the stories in his (or her) head in the way that people’s self-perceptions are.  Puppies don’t have self-limiting beliefs.  A puppy doesn’t react in the present to some story his mom told him about how he’s never really been good at playing fetch and probably he should learn how to howl.   Dogs are all basically instinct and direct experience.  Take Stumpy, for example (I just named him that because BH-BL seemed too impersonal for such a courageous heart).  Maybe Stumpy watched his mom, a leggy Lab with a shiny Black coat, leap gracefully into her owner’s truck every morning.  Not realizing he inherited his dad’s stocky build, he just followed her one day. (And yes, I do understand the biological unlikelihood of this scenario but stay with me, I have a point.)  Maybe he didn’t reach the cab the first day. But he kept trying because, after all, he’s a Lab. Labs ride around in trucks and go duck hunting.  Imagine what would have happened to poor Stumpy if someone told him that his dad was a low riding Basset Hound better suited to rooting out bears in the bramble than gracefully retrieving the carcass of a Mallard.  Dogs operate on instinct. They don’t stop trying because things are hard. They do what comes naturally. When unsuccessful, they work around it.  Take Sadie and Strauss, for example. Sadie was a lithe Grey Hound – Lab mix. She was lightning fast and loved the water.  Strauss was a Border Collie – Springer Spaniel mix. She loved to round things up.  When we would play catch by the river, Sadie would always beat Strauss to the stick. Strauss really had no chance of catching her. But she wanted that stick. Eventually she realized that if she met Sadie at the edge of the water as she was bringing back the stick, she could herd her until Sadie was so confused and tired that Strauss could steal the stick right out of her mouth and bring it to us.  Strauss didn’t give up playing catch.  It was fun! (Who doesn’t want to hear “Good girl! Bring it here!”  a hundred times or more?) Strauss didn’t try to out run Sadie. She figured out her gift and applied it until she got the job done.  Trust me, Sadie would run herself ragged, but she couldn’t escape Strauss’ herding skills.

I recognize we are not dogs. Humans have more complicated lives and we do more complex things than other animals do. But there is something to be said for taking a cue from our four-legged friends.  What if we all believed that we could get better at something, master it even, just by learning from our mistakes and trying again?  What if we didn’t have a story about the past that limited our experience in the present?  What if we saw our failures as learning and not as personal deficits?  What if we believed we could change the outcome merely through increasing our effort and applying our talents?  What if we acknowledged and acted upon the possibility that we might have talents we have not yet discovered?

I remember when my daughter was learning to walk.  It went really fast and I am not sure what her ultimate goal was, but she always had the most determined look on her face.  Just like all other children, she started by standing on her wobbly legs leaning against the couch. She fell. A lot. In fact, she fell so often that we finally just started calling it FDGB (Fall Down Go Boom) to save time. But she did not stop trying. Once she mastered standing and leaning, she tried standing alone. When she mastered that, she took her first step. Every new thing she tried, she fell down.  After every success she had, she tried something harder and failed immediately.  But she didn’t stop.  She cried, dusted herself off, got a hug and off she went.  I didn’t say to her after the second fall or even the tenth one, “It’s OK.  I don’t think walking is for you.  You’re probably just not good at walking. Let’s go back to crawling.”  It sounds absurd doesn’t it?  I said, “You’re fine. You’ll get.  Try again. I am right here.”  I reassured her that she might not be able to walk yet. Sometimes we forget that last part – yet.  Take math for example, has anyone ever said to you, “It’s OK. You’re probably just not good at math.” Or did they tell you, “You’ll get it. It’s hard now but keep trying. You just haven’t learned this yet.”


We are all different. We all have different gifts.  I am not suggesting everything is within our grasp. For example, I am 5’ 4” and stocky. Genetically, I lean toward people who hauled in fish nets or thatched roofs.  No amount of effort or will would turn me into a figure skater or a gymnast (trust me, I know physics).  But that did not keep me from enjoying a lifetime of sports more aligned to my physique. What I am suggesting is that we examine the stories we tell ourselves, and more importantly, the stories we tell our children through our actions and words, to make sure that we are sending the right messages:

I believe that I can get better at something, master it even, just by learning from my mistakes and trying again.

I will not listen to the stories about the past that limit my experience in the present.

I see my failures as learning and not as a personal deficit.

I believe I can change the outcome merely through increasing my effort and applying my talents.

I know I have talents I have not yet discovered.

Do you? Will you?


DocFile (2)

DocFile (1)

Learning to Walk


Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.

You’re Never Too Old for a Little Joy

I found myself sifting through old Easter pictures this week.  It’s not surprising really. I often find myself looking back when holidays roll around. This is one of my favorite Easter pictures.  I keep a copy on my desk.  My daughter was three in this picture and the youngest of a herd of kids at my sister’s house for the holiday.  My sister always put on amazing holiday feasts and welcomed family and friends to her home.  On this particular Easter, she filled a rainbow of plastic eggs with chocolates and hid them all around her yard. They filled six baskets in the end.  With a little help from her older cousins, my daughter had a full basket to herself.  She chased the older kids around and they were so sweet to help her find the eggs.  In the end, she was completely bushed.  She crouched down in the middle of the driveway holding her chubby little cheeks up in both hands and waited for the day to end.

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No More Candy:  Easter 2003
(1/500 sec., f/9, 100 ISO, 20.3 mm)

As I sorted through the pictures though, I was reminded of what an adventure it is to have a three-year-old. They are so unguarded. They just feel. And they let you know in so many ways what they are feeling. That day, she went through every possible mood and I captured them all. What was astounding though was that every change in mood was punctuated with joy. She giggled and laughed. She chased the other kids and ran with glee when they chased her.  She bubbled when her cousin let her play with her dolls. She glowed when they took her hand.  When one found an egg, he made it seem like a big glorious discovery and she squealed.  When she ate, she chomped away like it was the best thing she ever ate. She did everything with joy. Oh sure, she cried that day. She scowled that day.  I was pretty sure she might even get sick that day. But in between were priceless moments of unadulterated joy.

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(1/250 sec., f/10, 100 ISO, 24 mm)

I think sometimes, as adults, we forget to revel in the joy of the moment. I don’t mean the big moments- like births and weddings and birthdays.  Those are definitely joyful.  I mean connecting with joyful moments as often as we can.  (You know you are doing this enough, by the way, if your teenager finds you just a little embarrassing.)  Sometimes you have to work joy into your life.  Sometimes it just appears.  Every spring when I take the top off my Jeep, no matter how cold it is, I go for a long drive with the music up loud and get an ice cream cone.  It’s might seem silly. But I love that feeling of wind in my hair and a soundtrack made just for me.  It makes me feel young and free- even if it is only for 50 miles.  It is extra joyful when my daughter joins me.  I like getting up in early in the morning, cranking up the tunes and working out- pure joy.  I am filled with joy when my teenager comes in at the end of the day to tell me all about her’s- yup simple joy.  I love getting up at the crack of dawn with my husband and driving into the mountains. Uninterrupted, easy conversation with the man I have loved for 34 years- pure joy.  Sitting by the firepit with friends and family.  Tackling a really complicated job.  Spending a couple of hours catching up with my friends. Creating something beautiful.  Joy. Joy. Joy. Joy.  Sometimes as adults, we get bogged down in all of our responsibilities, plans, and schedules.  We forget to be present. That is when we miss the joy.  There are ups and downs certainly.  In fact, 2018 has been a struggle so far in our house. But the truth is that in between all of those little challenges, we have had a lot of joy. I am glad I did not miss it. I hope you will stop and feel the joy.


Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.

Old Year’s Reflection

I have never been one for New Year’s Resolutions.  I think it might be my very well-hidden but absolutely well-developed rebellious side. Oh, I keep it in check for the most part but a rule with no meaningful basis, even if self-imposed, brings it out in me. (Don’t get me started on the Don’t walk on the Grass signs. I mean really! It’s grass. I’m going to walk on it, lay on it, play fetch with my dog on it…)  In addition to impending internal rebellion, a year is just a really, long time. I usually break the resolution in the first week and then I might as well wait for 2019.  I prefer to see every day as a new day and do the best that I possibly can.  If I screw up, I forgive myself, make it right, learn from it and move on. I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and fortunately I am in very good company.  Instead of a New Year’s Resolution, I prefer to make an Old Year’s Reflection.  I focus on what I am grateful for in the past year. I think about what I have learned in the past year.  Then I pray for many blessing for everyone in the New Year.  All of that seems a lot more important than committing to losing some weight or having a perpetually clean house.  (Though, truth be told, I would be happy if both of those things happen as well.) This past year has been a year of change and acceptance.  It has been a year of creativity, exploration and risk-taking. It has been a year of joy, celebration and gratitude.  I would not have missed one moment or traded one breath for all the world.

Change and acceptance seemed to be a theme for me this year. I would like to say I have accepted that change is inevitable, so I just roll with the punches with poise and grace.  But the truth is I don’t always.  Sometimes I just want to throw a boot stomping, dust kicking, screaming fit.  This year, I definitely wanted to do that.  This is the year that I finally had to accept that I am no longer that physically strong 20 something that I am in my mind.  I had to learn to accept help doing things I normally would take great pride in doing myself.  Though I may have gone kicking and screaming toward acceptance, I got there. But I did not get there alone.  I am so grateful for my friends and family who eased the way.  I am grateful for my daughter and her friends who took the top off my jeep while I was still recuperating from back surgery, so I wouldn’t miss a single top down day this year (and there were many and each one was glorious!).  I am grateful for the friends who took turns going on pathetically short walks in winter weather with me as I recovered and learned to walk properly again.  I am grateful for the friend who lifted carboys, so I wouldn’t miss out on making wine this year. I am grateful for my amazing husband who kept me laughing through the whole thing.  It is easy to accept the changes in your life when you surround yourself with friends and family who know what you love and understand what will be the hardest for you to let go of.  It is the small things that help you to accept change and to see that change might mean the end of one thing, but it is not the end of all things.

Creativity, exploration and risk-taking were another big part of my year.  I took a giant leap (refer to Confessions of Closet Artist) and started selling my photographs. I had so much to learn about setting up a business and I probably would have been completely deterred by the magnitude of that process had it not been for the encouragement of a friend. Actually, she took one look at the photographs I brought her, and she gave me until the weekend to get them framed and hung on her wall.  I could so easily have talked myself out of it.  I think she sensed that, so she played to my strengths- she gave me a deadline (deadlines and trophies are my kryptonite).  That simple but exuberant encouragement was the kindling I need to light my fire.  That’s what we need in life: friends who know when to tiptoe silently forward with an apple in their outstretched hand and when to show you their spurs.  She gave me the spurs and I am so grateful she did.  I have learned so much this year about photography, about art, about business and most importantly about myself.  Some things were harder to learn than others and at least one of those was a fortuitous disaster.  Because I couldn’t figure out how to delete the blog page from the website template I fell in love with, I started a blog.  I don’t usually surrender that easily but surrender I did. That led me to writing my blog: Life Through My Lens.  I have enjoyed this so much!  I am grateful to all of you who read my blog and especially those of you who have commented. It means a lot to me that people take time to respond to the blog and share their ideas.  I am grateful to all of my friends and family who encouraged me to start on this journey.   You have made taking this leap so worth it!

Lastly, this has been a year of joy, celebration and gratitude. Hopefully, you are already seeing the gratitude.   I am not sure if this has been an unusually joyful year or if I am just more aware of the joy this year.  But joyful it has been. The year has been peppered with celebrations- showers, weddings, births, graduations and birthdays.  All of them celebrations of love, family and friendship.  I am so grateful to have just been witness to these special moments.  It is not only the big “I do!” moments but all the simple moments that fill the spaces.  Watching an older couple holding hands remembering their own wedding year’s past.  Grandmas cradling newborn babies. Big kids taking care of little ones.  Friends sharing laughter. Sitting by the pool with a friend reveling at the wonder that is our girls. Dancing with abandon.  Taking one for the team and being first on Splash Mountain so I can hear the shrieks of glee behind me.  Sitting on the beach watching surfers ride the waves.  Having late night talks with my sisters. Sitting in the dark with my husband waiting for the sun to rise.  All those tiny moments that make life’s joy so, so big.  I am grateful for all of the people in my life who share those tiny moments of big joy with me.   I wish you all many blessings in the New Year!

I chose my logo as the image for this post.  I designed it to represent Catherine Matthews Images.  Hopefully you can see that it is my initials CM separated by an i in the shape of a joyous woman.  I thought this was a fitting image for the post.

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Copyright Catherine Matthews 2017.