Prayer and The Dog – a Guide for Beginners
Your dog is a multidirectional antenna. So (of course) is mine.
On one hand, a dog (your dog, my dog) will pick up your feelings and reflect them back to you, in some fashion. Although “reflection” implies some kind of mirror-like activity, that really isn’t generally the case. There isn’t a word in English (or any language I know in my limited fashion) that concisely describes this type of “reflection.”
Go and look in the mirror now. Really, go do it. Wait – read to the end of this paragraph first. When you look at yourself, imagine for a moment that it’s a stranger. You might not actually recognize the color-shades of your hair, or the depth of your iris, or the shape of your ears. If you tried to draw yourself from memory, without a mirror, you’d do a terrible job – for the most part. We look into the mirror to see a specific feature or fragment: the place to part our hair, or the stuff around your ears that says it’s haircut time, or the semi-globular features of your ear-lobe (or perhaps the peculiarity of their attachment to your head). We don’t really see ourselves in a gestalt fashion in the mirror. But, in fact, dogs do reflect the gestalt “of the moment” and do so in a powerful, insightful and instructive fashion. They are “real mirrors.” Perhaps it is because they simply do not know how to lie. So now – go look.
Now that you’re back from your journey to the East, let’s take stock of what you might’ve learned from the trip.
Did you read your emotions in the mirror? I’ll bet it wasn’t easy. Of course not. (You probably “made faces” at yourself – an obvious discomfortable reaction). We’re so used to covering our deeper feelings, and wearing a Noh-drama disguise, that our truer selves are lost to perception. Who did you see in the mirror? Did you see “your face before you were born,” the self that perceives the person-of-the-world? It’s difficult to see him. We have many, many layers of protection between the viewer, the mirror and the recognition of the viewee.
But this is not true for your dog. He (or she) feels what you feel, sees what you ought to see, and is a smooth, perfect mirror of the person, and the soul. How does this happen? It is, in many ways, a marvelous mystery. We can tease out the direction of some answers.
Perhaps it’s olfactory: remember that your dog has over 20,000,000 (yes, that’s twenty million) olfactory sensors, compared to our one million. While at first glance you’d think it means their smelling ability (I call it “wooking,” a word I was given by my beloved Hennessy – yes, she’s the dog to whom I belong) is twenty times as good as ours, your first blush glance would be totally wrong. Smell is a function of multiple complex organic and inorganic compounds (and some elements). Each olfactory sensor is “tagged” or “slotted” for molecules of a specific structure, or “smell.” Therefore, theoretically (and really quite abstractly, and probably quite inaccurately save in our imagination), the number of different “things” you can smell is on the order of one million factorial. That’s the same as 1 x 2 x 3 x 4……..up to 1,000,000. It’s a very very (very) big number. Might be a number larger than all the atoms in the Universe, for example. As far as I’ve been able to tell, read or discover, no one (yet) really knows the limits of a dog’s olfactory ability. There may be no limit.
At first blush, this seems odd, weird, or nearly impossible. A sensory/intellectual capacity with no limit? But think about it: there are lots of things which are limitless. As a start, consider the number of word combinations that you can understand. With even a limited vocabulary, the count is infinite….or close to it. There are (according to the Global Language Monitor) over 1,000,000 words in English. An infinite number of possible word and sentence combinations, of varying length, exist only in English – and you – if you’re a native English speaker, or a trained listener – can understand all of them. Or the number of shades of blue you can perceive, or the variety of diatoms you can remember. All limitless
If you’re worried, for example, your dog may be worried as well, or might convey the expression of consolation or warm, sympathetic compassion. If you’re angry, your dog will be concerned and quiet, perhaps a bit afraid; you might be unhappy with him (or her), and he can’t yet figure it out. If you’re generally upset, just about life and the weltschmerzian pain of existence, so, too, will your dog be somewhat upset – although many dogs will try to shake you out of an unhappy mood, and urge you to appreciate the nature of the good life and its simplicity embodied in wagging tails, kindly licks and anxious regards. Dogs – as one of my wise friends once said – are emotional sponges. But just as porifera are highly varied in their habitats, diets and reproduction, so, too, are dogs. Dogs are a highly specialized type of emotional sponge, and their emotionality is not so much a reflection as a reaction, and no so much a reaction as a compassionately processed response.
Extremely gifted in so many intuitive ways, they can both reflect and simultaneously comfort, enlighten and enliven you.
It is not simply that your dog knows (or “feels”) how you feel, and what you are thinking, and if misery or distress are your lot. He grasps your sense of things around you, quite clearly, compassionately, and at the moment – and even deeply for the day or week or month. Elegantly, silently, and often subtly he can staunch your bleeding sorrows and console a wounded heart. He might sit with you, silently, lovingly, conveying nothing but genuine and untrammeled affection, gazing knowingly (is it really knowingly? Most dog lovers would say so) into the wellspring of your eyes, quietly reflecting the peace and compassion of an ageless Bodhi. At other times, he may urge you out of yourself and your entrapping pain, to remind you that to eat, drink, and enjoy the few days on earth with your dog that God (remember that “dog” is “God” spelled backwards, and frankly, no one knows the origin of the nomenclature; there’s no record of its linguistic origins, as if, Venus-like, the dog and his appellido sprang up on the surf of creation, pretending only a genetic evolution from his erstwhile cousin canis lupus) has provided are precious, precious indeed.
Of all lessons of value (and I promise you that they are innumerable) that we might learn from, with, to and about your dog, however, prayer is (to my mind) the single most valuable and enduring instruction possible….and it is something you can (productively) do many times a day, and always with pleasure, perfect reward, and glorious peace. Everything falls into its core perspective. Allow him, and your dog will teach you to pray with all your heart, and soul, and strength and mind. He or she will (if you’re ready) teach you a key essential about Paulian love, a foundational feature of agapeic affection, and will also provide instruction into the depth of fervent prayerful spirituality . He’s ready to teach you. In fact, he (or she, in my case and perhaps in yours) is always ready to teach. You, that is, you and your heart, however, must be ready to receive the training.