By Felicia Donovan
A dear friend of mine recently sent me a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s EAT, PRAY, LOVE, which I am devouring for its beautiful and reflective prose. I confess to a twinge of jealousy over the author’s ability to travel on this wonderfully spiritual journey, for I too, have been doing a great deal of self-reflection about my own spirituality of late.
I do not have the ability to travel to the Ashrams of India to study under the loving wisdom of a Guru. I cannot abandon my family for three months to discover the delicacies of Italian pasta, nor would work excuse me to go to Indonesia for four months.
What I have, then, is the House of the Divine Canine – a dwelling that is filled with the spirit of animals who offer me daily glimpses of a holier, more reflective life through their closeness to a more natural world. I share with you some of the spiritual insights I've gained through my observations of this canine world.
The Bow: It begins with the bow, long recognized as a form of supplication and submission to something greater. I watch my dogs bow to each other as an invitation to play; or as a welcoming gesture. It is the human equivalent to the handshake or tip of the hat, simple gestures we have long forgotten to show respect to another person.
The Meal: Unfortunately, our Nation has forgotten how to consume. We remain one of the most obese societies because we forget that food is first and foremost, meant for survival. Look at dogs roaming in the wild and you will rarely ever see an obese dog. Why? Because they eat to survive. They find their food sources and within their own hierarchical structure of alpha, beta, etc; they eat what they can to survive. Is it any wonder that at the same time we are faced with a crisis of obesity amongst humans, we now have the same crisis amongst our domesticated animals?
The Alpha: Dogs understand that there will always be a “top dog” and that this cannot be circumvented. "Alpha" is a title has to be earned. As long as the others respect that title, all is well. When a less dominant dog gets pushy, the alpha pushes right back to reassert itself and all is orderly once again. In the spiritual world, there is almost always a “top dog.” Is it any coincidence that “dog” and “God” are reflections of each other?
The Howl – Is there anything more eerie than the howl of an animal as it reaches deep into its soul and cries out? It is this ability to let go and go deep that we humans have forgotten how to do. I'm not suggesting everyone arch their neck and let out a deep cry, but animals are not shy about their need to cry out and call to others - for help, to make them aware of something, to invite them to gather. It is a part of their social nature. Animals, nor humans, were meant to be solitary creatures.
Finally, I believe my dogs - all animals, in fact, – embody a spirit that transcends what we, as humans, can ever experience and that the animal spirit, in whatever form of divinity it manifests itself as, is ever present. How else can you explain why things are immediately better at the site of a wagging tail or a good lick of the face?
You think I'll ever make it onto Oprah with this dogma?