My Dubai

Ejo #121 – Dogs Of Dubai

My family has always been dog people.  We just love dogs, god damn it.  We’ve tried other pets along the way, of course.  Finches, fish, a mouse, a turtle I found in the garden (for about two days, anyway, before my grandfather set it free).  After one of my sister’s school projects, we ended up with a chicken called Tok Tok, which faithfully laid us a double yolked egg every single day until we came home from school one afternoon to be told that Tok Tok had been taken to a farm to live out her retirement years.  If memory serves correctly, we had roast chicken for dinner that night.  There is no correlation between these two events, whatsoever.  I once found a feral kitten in the gutter outside our house and somehow coerced it into my bedroom.  I spent the entire night fighting the damn thing off my face.

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Psycho Kitty.

We kept Kitty for a while, the entire family nursing cuts and bites and scratches for the duration, but Kitty was not meant for domesticity and after a couple of years she obviously found a better home and settled down with her new family (the only logical explanation for why she disappeared without a trace, and no further discussion on the matter is necessary).

But for the Stathopoulos family, our hearts have always belonged to dogs.  I don’t think I need to point this out, but I will anyway.  Dogs are special.  Scientists have shown that dogs have a unique ability to love, not just human beings, but all other species (depending on how early they are exposed to them).  When a dog looks into my eyes, or licks my hand lovingly, or lays it’s paw on my foot or even just leans against me – my heart explodes with love.  If yours doesn’t, I’m afraid there must be something terribly wrong with you.  Please go and see a doctor immediately.

Our first dog wasn’t even ours.  Joshua was a farm dog from the property next to our holiday house in Cape Schanck, but over the years, he lovingly adopted us to (the bemusement of his farmer owner).  He was our first taste of how loyal and loving and fun a dog could be.

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Joshua teaching me how to drive.

Our family loved Joshua so much we decided to get a full time dog of our own and ended up with a Rhodesian Ridgeback St. Bernard cross called Duchess.  She was a big, imposing dog, and she had a big heart to match.  She was definitely our Dad’s dog, but she loved us all and we loved her back.

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Duchess slow-dancing with my Dad.

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Pieta and Duchess being cute together.

A few years after Duchess died, we braved another pet and got a beautiful pure-bred Doberman called Jessica.  Her tail had already been cruelly clipped when we picked her out, but thankfully we got to her before they snipped her beautiful, velvety floppy ears.  Despite looking like a very scary attack dog, Jessica was a gentle soul who would never hurt a fly.  She could, however, turn on a deep, throaty growl when she felt it was necessary and she owned a bark that would scare off the most determined burglar.  When Jessica died, our whole family was heartbroken and my parents decided that was it.  No more Stathopoulos family pets.  The loss was just too painful.

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Jessica and her ball.

Both of my sisters, however, had been bitten by the doggy bug and about a year or so after Jessica died, they both adopted dogs of their own.  Mari brought home an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Barnaby.  And Pieta co-parented a Staffordshire called Subby with her best friend.  

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Pieta and Subby.

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Mari and Barnaby.

Sadly, Barnaby and Subby have moved onto the great kennel in the sky, but they were both very loved members of the Stathopoulos family.  They are both buried in our Mum’s backyard now, which is perhaps a little weird (since the house is no longer ours) but also kinda wonderful that their final resting place is the family home.

Over the years, I’ve always felt a strong desire to add a puppy to my life but sadly, shift work isn’t really conducive to owning a pet, and neither is our tendency to travel as much as possible.  My love of dogs runs deep but I am not so selfish as to subject an animal to a life of solitude in an apartment, interrupted only by regular visits to a kennel.  The answer to my pet dilemma in Dubai has turned out to be K9 Friends, a doggie shelter in an industrial area, near the port of Dubai.  K9 Friends is a non-profit organisation, founded more than 30 years ago, that rescues abandoned dogs (which is a huge problem in Dubai, sadly).  K9 Friends’ ultimate goal is to re-home all the dogs they rescue, but sometimes dogs end up staying with them for years, which is so devastatingly sad.  I do think what they do is amazing though, because if it wasn’t for them, most of these dogs would end up being euthanised.

Obviously, being a volunteer organisation, they rely on donations and the kindness of dog lovers who generously donate their time to looking after the dogs as well as taking care of the administration side of things.  They tend to have about 120-130 dogs kenneled at any one time, so as you can imagine that’s a whole lot of work (as well as a whole lot of poop that needs to be regularly collected).  If you love dogs and want to help, but aren’t able to adopt (or foster) a puppy there are a couple of other ways you can assist.  You can directly sponsor a dog (or a kennel), and that’s something that David and I would like to get involved with.  Each dog costs about 5000dhs a year to house (this includes vet costs, food, grooming etc).  The shelter is happy to accept any amount donation, and every cent helps.  Another way to help out is to take a dog out for the day,  It really is the next best thing to taking a doggo home permanently.

K9’s walking programme has turned out to be perfect for David and me.  In the last month we have taken three wonderful dogs out for the day.  It’s been such a treat to once again have some canine love in our lives, and I’ve really enjoyed having dogs in the house for a few hours a day (even though they’re not all necessarily completely toilet trained).  I also hope that the dogs have enjoyed a break from the shelter as well.  It really is a win-win situation for everyone.  If you live in Dubai and are a dog-lover, I would so highly recommend that you get involved with K9 Friends and take a beautiful, loving dog out for the day.  You never know, you might just end up with a friend for life.

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My favourite of the dogs we took home, Cranberry was found in an abandoned warehouse in an industrial part of town. Look at that face!!!!

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As soon as we brought him home, Cranberry decided he would move into our storage room.  Whenever he got a bit nervous, he would run back in there and crouch down in the corner, in the dark.

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It makes me so sad to think about what Cranberry experienced earlier in his life to make him be such a nervous, timid puppy.

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Cranberry and his new daddy. ❤

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Whilst he was very shy and timid, Cranberry loved going for a walk and meeting other dogs and people.

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Flower’s a slightly older dog who has given birth to loads of puppies before being neutered at K9.  She was a really quiet dog, and even though she was sociable with us, she wasn’t exactly affectionate.

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Flower had a tendency to just sit still, almost as if trying to become invisible.

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Flower loved going out for a walk.

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I really loved it when Flower came and wanted to sit next to me.  She was a very chilled out dog who would really suit an older couple or perhaps a busy family. Even though she was really quiet, the house felt empty when we had to take her back.  

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I have a feeling David developed a bond with Annie.  They really seemed to click.

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When I picked Annie up, the volunteers at K9 Friends warned me that she was “ugly/beautiful” and I guess that’s true.  She got a lot of weird looks on our walk, but she always won strangers over with her warmth and affection.  We were both very sad to take her back to the shelter at the end of the day.

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Annie was a small dog, and a little bit emaciated, but she was very strong and she liked to lead the way on our walks.  She was particularly partial to balls and always wanted to chase them down when we encountered them on our walk.  I think she would be suited to an active family or perhaps a single person that likes to exercise regularly.

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It was tough to drop Annie off at the shelter, and I think that she also wanted to stay with us.  K9 Friends are a very caring dog shelter, but these dogs really need to find permanent, loving homes.  If you want to adopt a dog in Dubai, this is the first place you should check out.  If you want some doggie love, on a more temporary basis, then you should definitely register to take a dog out for a walk.  It’s such a richly rewarding experience, for you and the dog.

 

Ejo #110 – The Happiness Project: Part 3

Well, we’ve reached the Happiness Project finale!  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the strategies available to all of us to increase our happiness levels.  When I first started the project I was already pretty happy thanks to my years of working closely with Zimmy (who David accurately refers to as my “guru”).  But the three months I spent closely monitoring the way I think, and the things I do, actually increased my happiness score significantly.  For some of us, constant vigilance and consistency is necessary in order to be happy.  For others, dipping in and out, as required is enough to do the trick.  Everyone is different, but we all deserve happiness, so read on to learn about the final seven rewirements of the project.

YOGA
Yoga is amazing because it ticks so many boxes on the path to happiness. Contrary to popular belief, the core purpose of yoga isn’t actually achieving pretzel pose perfection, but rather the accompanying breathing  (though the poses and stretches are a fantastic workout). I always walk away from a yoga session with a sense of euphoria, and the great thing is that almost anyone can do it. A simple series of movements called a sun salutation done first thing in the morning is a wonderful way to start your day. It gets the blood and energy in your body flowing, and it eases the transition from sleep to wakefulness for both the body and the mind.

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PERSONALITY RESHUFFLE
Zimmy considers that our personalities are actually a composite of beliefs, behaviours and habits that we develop to cope with previous traumas, or challenging events from our past. What she would like us to do is to ask ourselves who we are outside of our pain, anxiety, insecurities and fears. What would we be? How would we think, or feel, if we stopped living our lives as a product of the story we have created about ourselves? To be honest, I initially misinterpreted this rewirement as needing to change the way I viewed the world, and in particular my feelings towards Dubai. But when I discussed this with Zimmy during one of our in-person sessions, she pointed out that it wasn’t about affirming a new intention but actually adopting a whole new personality and then basically trying that new personality out, like in a role-playing game (kind of like faking it ‘til you make it). I totally understand how this rewirement has the potential to make me happier. By taking on a survivor mentality about living in Dubai, I’m creating that reality around me. This one isn’t easy – you have to first identify the obsolete dominating personality and then lovingly let it go, while supporting another, healthier personality to come forward.

PRACTISE FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness does not mean letting someone “get away with it”. It doesn’t mean that what they did is OK. What it does mean is that you release the burden of holding onto resentment and negativity because of what someone did to you. Isn’t it crazy that painfully holding onto that shit can sometimes seem easier than just letting it go? This rewirement is definitely one that requires you to put in the work, especially if you have something major you’d like to let go of. But when you can learn to forgive, easily and without feeling like you’re losing something in the process, you will feel a weight lift from your shoulders. You’ll be empowered because your well-being is no longer dependent on other people’s actions and words. And, as a bonus, you’ll also experience health benefits like a stronger immune system, heart health and self-esteem. Holding onto pain and resentment and anger only hurts you, not the other person. Even worse, it tethers you to them, and what they did. Forgiving is freeing. Let karma take care of the rest.

DECLUTTER
As I already mentioned in Part 1, stuff doesn’t make us happy. And research shows that it can actually make us stressed, anxious and unhappy. It’s human nature to gather stuff. If you’ve ever moved house you’ll know the shock of realising exactly how much shit you’ve accumulated over the years. What feels less natural is getting rid of it, but that’s exactly what you need to do in order to be happier. It might feel really difficult to let go of some things, but the catharsis you’ll feel by decluttering makes it worth the effort. I have a general rule of thumb whenever I get the urge to spring clean – if I haven’t used it or enjoyed it in over a year, I try to get rid of it. I’ll admit I’m not as brutal as I could be when it comes to throwing things out, but I do know I love to live in a minimal house that isn’t full of crap. The state of your home can have a real impact on the state of your mind, so see how it feels to start decluttering it.

BE MORE CHARITABLE
The benefits of being charitable are fairly well documented, and I’m proud to say that most of my friends are already pretty amazing in this regard. Every time David and I raise money for a food handout I’m always overwhelmed by the huge response. It’s funny when I thank my friends for donating, how many of them thank me back for actually doing the handout but really, that’s the most rewarding part of the experience. Seeing someone’s face express joy, gratitude or even just relief at receiving something given with no expectation of anything in return is an incredible feeling and I actually feel lucky that I can be so hands-on with making a difference. But there are so many other ways in which you can be charitable. Of course you can volunteer at an organisation that helps others. You can declutter your home and give your unwanted items to someone who needs them, or to a charity. You can donate blood, and hair (if it’s long enough), or the ultimate charitable act, your organs. You can help someone cross the street or carry their shopping to their car. You can foster an animal (or a child)! There are so many ways to help out our fellow humans, and in the process of making the world a better place, you also end up helping yourself.

PRACTICE KINDNESS
Think about the last time someone was kind to you. How did their act of compassion or generosity make you feel? I bet it was good. When you do something kind for someone, or when you’re the recipient of someone’s kindness, incredible things happen in your brain. A whole bunch of feel-good hormones get released into your body. Stuff like endorphins, which you also get after running a marathon. Serotonin, which is the hormone released when you take lots of ecstasy (though kindness has the benefit of being a lot less illegal, and a lot better for you). Dopamine, which is known as the reward hormone, and the reason some people become addicted to gambling (though I reckon kindness is a helluva nicer thing to be addicted to).  And finally, oxytocin, known as the “love” hormone, which also floods the body during orgasm.  I’ll just leave that there for you to think about. 😉

PLAY
So tell me guys, why do kids get to have all the fun? When did we, as grown ups, stop playing? And more importantly, why? It’s well known that kids need to play in order for their brains to develop empathy, communication and resilience. But adults can also benefit by incorporating some playtime into their day. Firstly, the act of playing releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. But more than that, it’s been proven to increase productivity, creativity and connection. Which is why the most progressive companies in the world factor playtime into their office design and schedules. Being playful doesn’t necessarily have to be a structured thing, either. Finding the humour in situations, being silly, making jokes, flirting, play-fighting and role-playing all contribute to our well-being, as well as making us healthier and happier. And isn’t that what we’re all looking for?!

Ejo #109 – The Happiness Project: Part 2

And away we go with Part 2 of The Happiness Project (which has actually blown out to be a chunky three parter, to be continued next month). Zimmy’s just opened registration for the second round of the project, which is due to start in a couple of weeks, and if you can spare the time and money I would really highly recommend you get on board and commit to doing something that will definitely change your life for the better. What have you got to lose?

So here is Zimmy’s offer:

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Do you want to be happier – but just don’t know how to go about it, or where to start? Rather than waiting for certain things to happen, that you think will make you happy, would you like to learn how to create happiness in your existing circumstances? A large number of research studies have been conducted about happiness and how to create it in our daily lives. We now have a great amount of guidance on how to be more empowered in this pursuit. On how to create the life we want, rather than just responding to life, or surviving it.

Last year I completed a degree from Yale University – The Science of Well-being. It showed me that many of the things I’ve learnt over the past few years, and have been practicing diligently, are in fact the cornerstones of creating happiness. I realised that these practices have produced very tangible positive results in my life, and in the lives of my friends and clients too.

So with that in mind, I have created this project, and we have already completed Round 1 a couple of months ago, with 20 participants who were able to increase their happiness scores significantly through the practices that were shared in the course. During this 12 week project, we will be using scientifically proven tests to measure your authentic happiness score before, during and after the course. You will receive clear, proven tools and techniques to employ every single day via email, that will help you create more happiness in your life, more consistently. And you will have these for life, to use for yourself and share with loved ones.

This course can be done by people not only in Dubai, but anywhere around the world, as it will be conducted through emails, and two personal one-on-one progress meetings, either in person (if you are in Dubai) or on video chat. There will also be a Facebook forum for group discussions and sharing of challenges, breakthroughs, inspiration and achievements.

Special introductory offer for all Epiphany clients is 2,750 AED.
Early bird offer, if paid before February 6th is 2,500 AED.
If you get a friend to sign up for the project with you, you’ll both pay 2,250 AED each.

If you are interested in doing the course, and know that you will be able to access your email every day, as well as meet with me twice during this period, please let me or Chryss know by February 4th 2019, and we will send you further details. This course is limited to 20 participants so that I can give each of you the right amount of attention and focus required to master the practices.

And now we’ll carry on with twelve more of the happiness rewirements.

INTERACT MORE MINDFULLY WITH SOCIAL MEDIA
Self-explanatory. I definitely had a problem with my phone before this project. A problem that I think I now have under control. During the project, I just decided I wasn’t going to use my phone at all, half an hour before bed. And I’ll tell you what has happened as a result. It takes me much less time to go to sleep, and I sleep so much better. It was hard in the beginning, because I had to break the habit, but once I did I felt free. Free, I tell you!!!!!

SPEAK TO YOURSELF MORE KINDLY
This one kind of matches with the first rewirement. We can be so loving and kind to other people, and so harsh and critical of ourselves. One way to make ourselves happier is to be gentler and kinder to ourselves. So when you catch yourself being critical or mean, turn that shit around. Go from saying, “Fuck, I’m such an idiot” to “Wow, I miscalculated that, but it’s OK, I’ll do better next time”. It seems like such a simple thing, but the way we speak to ourselves has such a big influence on our self-worth, and ultimately our happiness.

SELF-LOVE AFFIRMATIONS
As I mentioned in Part 1, most of us have this negative background tape playing on a loop, pretty well every moment that we’re awake. The idea of self-love affirmations is to counter the bullshit with something positive. If we hear something often enough, we start to believe it. But at the end of the day, whether you believe in it or not, choosing positivity over negativity has to be the better choice. I chose three self-love affirmations, that I repeated in front of the mirror seven times, three times a day during the project (and beyond). My favourite was (and still is), “I am confident in my individuality”. When I first started telling myself this, I felt like a fraud. Today, I mean it.

AMPLIFY HIGH RANKING STRENGTH & LOW RANKING STRENGTH
We all have character strengths (and weaknesses). The purpose of this rewirement is to become aware of what they are in order to appropriately amplify them. As part of the project we all did a survey to figure out the exact ranking of our character traits (my top three were love, kindness and honesty and my bottom three were humility, teamwork and self-regulation). Zimmy then provided detailed methods to take advantage of, and develop, these individual characteristics depending on their ranking. Only by knowing where we’re strong, and where we can do more work, can we then use these traits to enrich our own lives, and the lives of others.

WRITE A LETTER OF GRATITUDE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF
As I’ve already mentioned, gratitude is the big kahuna of happiness. This one involves handwriting a letter to yourself from a time when you might have been going through something difficult or after learning an important life lesson, and thanking yourself for getting through it so well. This task invokes self-love, compassion, appreciation and hope, as well as gratitude towards ourselves for navigating life’s crazy rollercoaster. It’s tough out there people. Give yourself a pat on the back, because you seriously deserve it. It’s so liberating and soothing to acknowledge yourself in this way. I actually cried about four different varieties of tears when I wrote this to myself: “Thank you for being so brave when it got so fucking hard. Thank you for somehow controlling the damage, even from the depths of despair.

WRITE A LETTER OF GRATITUDE TO SOMEONE ELSE
Continuing on with gratitude, this one is directed outward to someone who has made a big difference in your life. Someone that you want to thank, but haven’t had the chance to do so. Again, it needs to be handwritten (and it can’t be addressed to your significant other). And…. here’s the doozy. It has the most impact if you can arrange to actually read your letter aloud to the recipient. In person. Whoa, right?!! I was lucky enough to have the chance to read my letter of gratitude to Zimmy (meta, much?) and it got pretty damn intense. It was a really beautiful moment between the two of us and I’m so thrilled I had the opportunity to make her feel so special and loved and adored. This task is something that a lot of people might find difficult to muster up the courage to do, but if you can manage to overcome that, the pay off is enormous.

EAT MINDFULLY
Well, this one is obvious. We all need to eat better. And we all know it. But it actually takes a bit of a tectonic plate shift to adapt that knowledge into our every day lives. Seriously though, the difference this can make to your entire mindset and wellbeing (and ultimately happiness) is enormous! I would personally like to advocate for giving up sugar. I haven’t eaten any sugar since 8th November 2018 and I feel amazing for it. I don’t experience any more weirdo mood swings and my energy levels are so much higher. Giving up sugar wasn’t specifically part of the Happiness Project but rewiring the way I looked at food was a natural precursor to quitting. Another thing David and I do is try to savour our dinner when we eat together at home. That means lighting candles, putting down our cutlery between bites, trying to actually taste what we’re eating and really trying not to rush a meal.

DRINK ALCOHOL MORE MINDFULLY, AND DRINK MORE WATER
Mindful drinking of alcohol is a big “thing” right now (congratulations to everyone who made it through dry January). And so it should be. Alcohol can be a bit of a danger zone for some of us these days. Lots of people are tending towards some kind of emotional dependency on the booze and I can totally relate to that. But I also know how liberating it can be to break free of that dependency and learn that you can actually enjoy life (and I mean REALLY enjoy it) without the crutch that alcohol provides. Blurring your life doesn’t make it happier. Fully experiencing it, in sharp relief, actually can. Also, just drink more fucking water. You simply can’t go wrong with that advice.

GET ENOUGH DEEP SLEEP
Well, this one is easier said than done for a shift worker, so that kinda sucks for David and me. More often that not we both feel tired from lack of sleep. It’s just something that comes with the job, sadly. But hey, most of you aren’t shift workers and there IS something you can do about it. A good night’s sleep isn’t a luxury. There’s a whole bunch of evidence about the benefits of getting a good solid seven hours a night. Did you know that while you sleep your brain essentially refreshes and regenerates?? And you actually NEED to be deeply asleep for that to happen. Try making it a priority for a while and see how much happier you feel.

DO 15 MINUTES OF EXERCISE EVERY DAY
Another oldie (but a goodie) is, of course, to just squeeze some physical activity into your daily routine. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Go for a walk, take the stairs, go for a swim, do a class, clench your butt at the supermarket checkout. Squat while you’re in the elevator. Just move your body, damn it! And hey, if you can get it, a great way to move your body is to get funky with it. Grab someone you love (or like, or even just dig a little bit) and get down on it, coz sex is a magnificent way to generate a bit of body heat (and in the process happiness, intimacy, a sense of belonging, higher self esteem and better health).

MINDFUL BREATHING
Check this out. I’m 47 years old and only just recently realised that I didn’t know how to breathe. What the actual fuck?! Most of us tend to breathe way too shallowly, and only in the upper part of our respiratory system. When you figure out how to breathe deeply, into your abdomen, your life will fucking change. And I’m not joking when I say this. Think of every deep breath you take as a love letter to your body ❤️. And when you exhale properly you do amazing things for your parasympathetic nervous system. You will ease your anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder. And if you don’t suffer from these conditions, will simply realise that you’re able to operate at a much more optimal level, and just generally feel so much better. Yoga helps. Tai chi helps. Qigong helps (look it up – it’s easy to do and you feel amazing afterwards). Just breathe. It seems like something you shouldn’t have to think about, but when you do you can seriously improve your wellbeing.

DAILY MEDITATION
I’ve been meditating (on and off) for a couple of years but only recently started doing Vedic meditation, twenty minutes a day. This is another big one for me. Something that I would say is a definite requisite for life happiness and a daily practice that I’ve found to positively contribute to my wellbeing. In fact meditation is a massively trending topic these days and you can easily get a lot of information about it online. There are shitloads of apps you can use to meditate, but in reality all you need is somewhere to sit for a spell. You can do it just about anywhere and anytime, though I’d recommend starting off in a peaceful, quiet environment where you won’t be disturbed. At least until you get better at it. And you will get better, I promise. You just have to keep at it for a while. So many people give up practicing meditation because they think they’re not doing it right, or they expect to achieve immediate nirvana. When you boil it right down, meditation is simply the act of not allowing yourself to get caught up in your thoughts. The idea is not to empty your head, but rather to not fixate on what does crop up. It helps to have something to anchor your attention on, and your own breath is a hugely popular thing to focus on because it’s something that is always present. Another thing is a mantra (which is what I use when I do Vedic meditation). You just say the mantra over and over again, bringing your attention back to the words whenever you get distracted by a thought. And that’s it. It sounds ridiculously simplistic, and it is, but the positive effects are extremely powerful.

Here’s the thing, guys. You all know this stuff. There’s nothing new or magical here. But the project takes all of these ingredients and alchemises them into a potent elixir that will make you happier. I guarantee it.