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Lost dog, found spiritual course

Our Town: Suttons Bay, by Rabbi Chava BahleI recently read this by Gunilla Norris in Journeying in Place:   “I wonder how different life would be for me if I could be as lacking in self-doubt and self-judgment as Putnam [the author's dog].   His whole being demonstrates an assumption that he is a lovable creature, a deserving  creature, and an enjoyable one …   to as act as if one had the total endorsement of the universe behind one’s particular existence would be extraordinary!”

Earlier this week I decided to try to resume some sort of exercise regime — more on this later, dear readers — and began with a walk up to Bahle Park.   When I got there my neighbor Kathy was there with her dog  and another dog.   The other dog, wearing no collar,  came running up to me, jumped up, wrapped her paws around my waist and starting kissing me like we were long lost friends, so glad to see me,   a dear old buddy, and without hesitation it felt that way to me too.

Lost DogIt turns out this other dog is lost.   Apparently she had been hanging around the park for at least a few days, though she isn’t a stray: she is well cared for, knows basic commands and has, shall we say, a caboose that indicates she hasn’t missed many meals.   She is a real lover and seems just as happy and trusting as she can be.

Kathy and I, and later her kids, hung out in a quandary about what to do, so for now the dog is waiting at the vet’s office to be taken (gulp) to the humane society in Traverse City.   This whole story has consumed much of my waking time the last few days; not only the phone calls, going  door to door  and postering, but also a great sense of concern and interest in this wonderful dog,   a sense of reignited delight about the way our animal companions teach us important things.

I love dogs (except two, who shall remain nameless); I love their enthusiasm about meeting people and about themselves.   When they are treated well, they behave like a welcoming committee for every moment and every person they see.   I read somewhere how much better the world would be if we could greet everyone the way our dogs greet us.   Of course, if I were to run up to total strangers, wrap my arms around them and start kissing them, it would be, let’s say, troubling. But I do wonder what it would be like, as Norris says, to  ”act as if one had the total endorsement of the universe behind one’s particular existence.”

We are coming up on the Jewish High Holidays or “Days of Awe,” when we work to reset our inner spiritual compasses to goodness and holiness.   I had some lofty ideas about my goals for the new Jewish year, but now that the universe has plopped this story in my lap, I am starting to consider what it would be like to live this year as if I had the total endorsement of the universe behind my existence.

I hope the dog finds her way, or someone can give her a good home.   She is a good teacher.

  • Todd Sears

    Nice message, Rabbi. And an historical perspective to potentially add irony and resonance to “the way of the dog” theme is to reflect back on Diogenes of Sinope. It is said that Diogenes, known to be a wise man in the times of Alexander the Great, had an encounter with the potentate, himself. Alexander came up to Diogenes, who was lounging in the street as he often did, and said, “Diogenes, we need your skills, your mind, your talents in my court. I ask you humbly, will you come and serve?” To which Diogenes replied, “Please move. You are standing in my light.”

    Diogenes eschewed material wealth, power, pretension, and hubris. He embraced the simple and uncomplicated. Specifically, he celebrated the way a dog lives its life – in total freedom to do the things it wanted to do, in the manner it chose to do them. The Greek word for dog is “kuon.” From, that is derived “cynikos,” or doglike. And from that, comes the philosophical school of Cynicism. It doesn’t mean doglike, today. But perhaps it should.

  • Rabbi Chava

    Thanks for your comment, Todd. For some reason I am reminded of a short story mentioned by Elie Wiesel:
    In Africa two men stand at a river which they are about to cross, when they see crocodiles in the water. One says to the other, “Aren’t you afraid?” His companion replies, “Don’t you know that God is merciful?” “Yes,” said the first, “but what if God suddenly decides to merciful to the crocodiles?”

  • Gerry

    Todd, Todd. I sent a link to this post to a group of friends, including a hospice chaplain, who wrote back that she appreciated the crocodile story, to which I thought, “Huh?” and so I had to come back here and look for the crocodiles and what did I find? We have gone from dogly confidence and the endorsement of the universe to Greek lessons, cynicism, and crocodiles. This is all your fault.

    Chava, Chaplain Park says she has immediate practical use for the Wiesel story, so I have decided to forgive Todd. I, too, am merciful, in spite of having been sent on a wild goose chase in search of Schrödinger’s cat, but that is another story.

  • Rabbi Chava

    One of my favorite teachers, Buddhist Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance, once told this story about being a truly spiritual person:
    If you can wake up in the morning ready to face the day, with no need for caffeine or pep pills,
    if you can greet every person you see with enthusiasm and curiosity,
    if every experience you have warrents joy and fresh eyes and investigation,
    if you can eat with joy and without guilt,
    if you can enjoy simple pleasures every single day,
    if you can treat yourself to a nap without worry,
    if you can lie down at night completely contented and sleep well without the aid of drugs or alcohol,
    then you are probably ….
    a dog.
    All the best dear readers – glad to know you are out there!
    Chava

  • Todd

    Thanks, Gerry. I accept responsibility, like my mom always told me to do. Also, I once searched for Schrödinger’s cat, and all I found was an alternative universe in the shape of a hairball.

    Thanks for being merciful to me, though, what with the forgiveness and all. Sheesh, and to think all I was trying to do was to agree with the Rabbi and affirm that dogs can teach us a lot. Check out this fresco. It is Rafael’s “School of Athens”. Diogenes is the guy in the blue toga lounging like a coonhound, on the stairs under Aristotle and Plato (note DaVinci’s face on Plato, the one pointing upwards):

    http://philosophy.ucsd.edu/faculty/dbrink/courses/31-05/School_of_Athens.jpg

    And there was absolutely no need to bring geese into this. You, Miss Sadie, and the Cowboy have this menagerie thing going on, I think.

  • sll

    now Todd, Todd, Todd…did you ever Think that Maybe these philosophers are coming Out Of the temple and Not In, Maybe Diogenes is just being complacent After drinking some Good wine ! Rafael as an artist could only paint what he Sees….Notice that some women are weeping at Wisdom’s Gate? statues of Love and War, seven steps I think…I must take some time later to visual this……

  • sll

    Chava, Only In Jest, Nothing serious, sorry If you may have misunderstood the directivness of any thoughts by interpretation here. Philosophy the ” Love of Wisdom.” I think that maybe the directivness of something fundamental may have been by some thought considered an error and without being truly Understood is thus Judged without consideration of the contributions given by one jester to exchange with another. How aMazing is this lovely painting seen by its true virtue with an keen Eye…

  • http://www.hundefeber.no Hund

    I love their enthusiasm about meeting people and about themselves.
    When they are treated well

  • http://www.hundefeber.no Hund

    I love their enthusiasm about meeting people and about themselves.
    When they are treated well

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