Sunday, March 30, 2008

Heart of a Dog

This blog entry is dedicated to the memory of Tanner.

Tanner lived intensely and loved intensely. In four and a half years he summited all of the mountains within an hours drive of Burlington and was known to go on epic mountain bike rides 5+ hours with Caleb and his friends. Tanner always ran behind the lead biker's back tire and Sweety our other little dog was the caboose. His speed was phenomenal and he loved to chase squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits. We are almost certain that he left this world in hot pursuit of a great scent. We miss him dearly. Our friends and family knew what a special dog he was and we will cherish the love he shared with us during his all too brief time on earth -- Caroline.

Maurice is my neighbor's black dog. A mix of black lab and some other big dog. He spent a recent weekend with us, showing the purity of his heart. When left alone he was quiet and slept sprawled out on the floor wherever he lay. When approached, he wriggled with excitement. On one of our walks around Colchester Pond, we encountered some people who had two grown German Shepard puppies. They quickly established dominance over Maurice and had him quivering on his back, receiving their playful nips. With much growling and action, a casual onlooker might have seen this as an aggressive scene. Yet on closer inspection, I could see the attacks were just nips, and that the scene was one of play. The play helps the dogs to establish their social hierarchy. Maurice in his good nature submits to the more dominant energy of the other dogs. A social contract is formed with no blood spilled and no egos bruised. Maurice will not be going to his psychotherapist complaining of how two other dogs "beat him up" and the trauma of it all. Animals have play to, among others things, avoid violence. Humans sometimes confuse the two such as in the recent soccer violence in Italy. Perhaps we'd be better off if we were playing instead of just watching. The dog also lacks ego (self-importance), probably because they don't have enough of a frontal lobe in their brains to support it. This helps them to avoid the painful self-reflections that we are prone to. Dogs seem to be mostly limbic -- that is, ruled by the emotional center of the brain. They live on instinct and affection. My Rhodesian Ridgeback often appears to be pensive, even lugubrious, but dangle a milk bone in front of him or announce that there are squirrels in the vicinity and he becomes pure emotion -- attention ready for action. He goes from middle-age to puppyhood in a flash. I believe the dog's heart is pure, which is to say unentangled by abstract desires. If dogs can think about the future or the past, they certainly don't hold onto it. They return to the present with an ease that we should take note of, and to ask if we could live the same way.

I always get annoyed when I hear something on the news about innocent victims. What human is innocent? And what does this mean exactly? Whatever innocence is dogs embody it. Dogs can show some of the afflictions that we are prone to: desire and aversion in particular. Yet they seem to touch these briefly and return to the present. It's the rare dog that displays afflictive or negative emotions such as jealousy and aggression. They are innocent because they lack painful self-reflection and are oriented to attach. They are unabashedly hungry for both food and love. They retain a youthful view of the world even when they are aging. We can learn from their way of being in the world. For instance: never let an opportunity for a nap pass. As Wislawa Symborska, the Polish Nobel Laureate, says in her poem "In Praise of Feeling Bad for Yourself" the animals heart is light and conscience clear. There are no vexing thoughts or stories to get in the way of this moment; nothing to obstruct the bliss of sleep. We could learn something from this.

1 comment:

Psychedeliana said...

Very well said... Dogs are innocent, mindful and live in the present.
Who is Tanner?