3 Ways Your Dog Can Teach You Contemplation

I have the world’s most beautiful dog. That’s her in the picture above, her name is Sceolan. Sceolan was one of Fionn MacCumhail’s most beloved dogs, a great companion for the great Gaelic hero. But that’s a story for another time. Besides being handsome to look at she is also a great spiritual teacher. She has taught me 3 very important lessons about how to live a contemplative life. And she has done it with all her foolishness and her neediness and her simplicity. I would like to share with you now how she has changed my heart and brought me closer to God.

  1. She is honest. For all her faults, she would have no idea how to lie. If she gets into the trash and I ask her if she did it, she tells me right away that it was her and that she’s sorry. If she doesn’t want to get in trouble she might try to hide, but never lies. When she is feeling anxious, she shows it. When she is feeling excited, everyone can tell. When she is hungry, we definitely know about it. She has no shame in expressing herself, she has no pride keeping her from being giddy and silly, she has nothing fake in any aspect of her soul. Imagine if we all lived like that. Imagine if we never had to wonder what someone else was actually feeling. Imagine if we never had to suspect someone was manipulating us or hiding something from us. Imagine a world where humans were as honest as dogs.
  1. She is comfortable with silence. I wish I knew what her interior life is like, but from the outside she appears to live very comfortably in silence. She is content to sit beside me and simply share space. In this sense, she is a contemplative master. I am constantly checking my phone or listening to something or both. I am always needing something to fill the silence. She, on the other hand, will lay on the floor staring off into space for hours at a time. I wish I could do that. I sit down to do my contemplative prayer and I have to fight myself from getting up and doing something, or at the very least creating a million scenarios in my mind that involve me doing something. Why am I so dissatisfied with silence and how does she live it so fully?
  1. She lives for others. When I come home the mixture of excitement to see me and residual anxiety from my being gone is so very present. When my son comes home she can’t wait to bring him her ball and play. Her entire life is so plainly about others. She finds her identity through her community. She cares for us and relies on us. She is perfectly happy and comfortable living in interdependent community. There is no fear of betrayal which leads her to selfishness. There is no question about whether or not we are a family. To her it is plain and simple we are her pack, and she is one of us. If only I could be as selfless as she is. If only I could forget myself entirely for others. If only I could live in family without having to wrestle with questions of worth and self doubt.

You may have experienced this as well. Maybe you have been so blessed to live with such a spiritual guru. One who knows the deep truths of self and community. One who knows silence both inwardly and outwardly. One who lives without deception. They come into our lives and teach us who we are underneath all this human nonsense and then they are gone like a flash. In this sense, they are like little fairies that flitter into our lives and flitter out again. They are magical and brilliant and wonderful. They are our best friends and our best teachers.

Yet, by human standards dogs are simplistic creatures. They may spend their whole lives trying to learn how to roll over, or not get into the trash. They will never appreciate the fine arts or literature. They will never be able to accomplish all the human glories we aspire to and love. Yet, I wonder, should we pity them or should they pity us?

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9 thoughts on “3 Ways Your Dog Can Teach You Contemplation

  1. I have had dogs all my life and all of them have shown me how to be still, listen, and be in the moment, However, it was Mac, a small black Schipperke, who taught me the love of God. I had lost my job and was in danger of loosing my home. Mac was always there at my side. When I was terrified about the future and screamed into the night, Max was there, silently sitting in my lap, placing his head on my breast, and letting his calmness soak through my fear and grief.

    When I couldn’t sleep, Mac would go to the door and wait for me. We would walk in the middle of the night, just he and I, talking to each other, talking to God. Mac was there when standing at my side when I wanted to die, his quiet presence telling me, sit with me, hold me. We would sit in silence letting the sounds of day or night enter in, letting the presence of God flow through Mac to me.

    When I was offered a new job, Mac was there suddenly a free spirit who seemed to know the dark night was gone. The two of us would sit and simply be. When I met my future husband, Mac was there, first to protect and then to be a dog.

    Mac died suddenly from cancer. I held him in my arms as his spirit crossed over, yet he never seems to be far away, his spirit is always close.

    Dog spelled in reverse is God, and God-like was Mac. He was compassionate, merciful (except to rats and moles, sorry), and he was loving and kind. His presence brought peace and a sense of justice, except those mentioned above. I miss him.

  2. Blue Moon Epiphany

    Those who inspire in us
    the greatest affection
    are not always those for whom
    we have the highest regard.

    ~ George Sand

    At four o’clock the landscape is bathed in a soft glow.
    A celestial nightlight. Did you hear that, my husband
    asks, our mix-lab Rip’s strange howl sounding more like
    a child’s cry of distress than anything. Had I known
    what was to come I’d have paid more attention instead
    of turning over and drifting back to sleep, assuming
    he was wailing at the giant orb in the sky.

    Later bearing the sin of omission, the weight of regret.
    Who’d have known it was the eve of our pet’s death,
    that by morning he’d be laid to rest under the pecan
    tree back of our property. A gray numbness sets in.
    Weeks of mild anxiety and grief deeper than the Zaire
    River. Zenith of every shed tear. Endless contemplation
    of his 14 years: a bright day at the lake.

    Geese gliding across still water until I make the mistake
    of unleashing him to walk alongside me, watching in horror
    as he runs like a rabbit speeding toward the lake,
    sending a gaggle of geese scattering skyward and honking
    louder than the trumpet of the Lord at the second coming.
    A man stands in his solitary spot, fishing and minding his
    own quiet business, witnessing this disruptive scene.

    Oblivious to my shrill whistles, Rip paddles on.
    Nothing now visible but his head and chin gliding across
    the lake, diminishing by the minute as he swims
    out of sight. Peeved geese still sound the alarm, alerting
    every creature for miles around of imminent harm.
    Poor fisherman finally leaves, out-of-sorts and empty-handed.
    Near dusk my prodigal dog returns, spent & waterlogged.

    Yet grateful for his excursion. He’d have failed obedience
    school for certain but with age he learns to heed my voice
    and run toward instead of away from us. During storms he
    draws near for comfort, each day abides in our presence,
    never more content than to sit at my feet in sacred idleness.
    His gaze says it all: you are mine and precious in my sight.
    My dog’s life showed me what divine love looks like.

  3. I was taught the sweetest gratitude when I knew I had to put my senior mini dachshund down and my very senior rat terrier down. While I was sad I had the most immense feeling of gratitude for their many gifts to me. At the times of their deaths I felt peace. My dogs have taken me to where no dogma can.

  4. I don’t have a dog now, Iam 82 and live in a fifth floor apartment, so feel it is too limiting for a dog. The one extraordinary companion dog became almost, you could say, a daughter. Long time ago now, but still missed, we walked for mile’s. She was always near enough for me to touch, playful happy, a comfort when times were very difficult, and all without saying a word. Knowing when tears were near, leaning against my knee, pushing her nose into my hand in sympathy. Would never have seen that as the model if quiet contemplation then, but your post chimes with my experience of that companion I had through one of the hardest times in my life

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