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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