5 March 2015

On Getting A Dog: Spirituality And The Examined Life

Izzy, Rose, Lenore, Frieda

Izzy, Rose, Lenore, Frieda

Everyone gets a dog differently, and for different reasons. For some, it is a political statement. Others see it as saving a life. Some live a sporting life and seek a partner in the outdoor world, or the world of competitions.  Some people just want company. Everyone has the right to get a dog in the way they wish, in the way that works for them, it is, to me, arrogant to tell someone else how to get a dog. I am not in their heads, their lives, their souls or hearts.

There are so many angry and judgmental people in our world, new technology has given them the tools to be thoughtless and judgmental in new and powerful ways. They teach me to be strong and clear. And hopefully, loving.

For me, getting a dog is a spiritual experience, I am coming to realize that dogs have shaped almost every part of my life, in one way or another, all the way back to elementary school where I stood in the freezing cold and fended off some bullies to be first in line to get a puppy, Lucky, who died of distemper a few weeks after he came home with me. My father told me he had gone to a farm in the country, I never trusted my father after that very transparent lie.

I am also realizing that I have learned – sometimes the hard way – that I have a gift for it, I have learned what to look for and how to trust my feelings. An unexamined life is not worth living for me, whether it comes to love, writing, photography,  life or getting a dog.

For me, getting a dog is a matter of the heart, a process of self-examination and thought. That is what spirituality is about, after all. Every dog I have ever owned has changed my life. Julius and Stanley helped me to launch my career as an author, they accompanied me to the country, Orson led me to Bedlam Farm, Rose helped me stay there, Lenore kept love alive for me, and Frieda helped to bring Maria and I together.

Looking at this photo, taken at the first Bedlam Farm, I see love and loyalty, connection and gifts – the gift of making me a better human being, each time. That is what the right dog can do for me, for you.

Getting a dog is not an impulse for me, not a political statement, not about saving a life, although it might end up  being one or all of those things. I believe that dogs are spirit animals, that is why we love them so much, why they mean so much to us. Something that important – an animal to enter my life for years and change it – is worth thinking about, is worth honesty and self-examination.

I don't wish to live with dogs who are obedient, I wish to live with dogs who understand how to live safely and lovingly in my world. Who will not harm other dogs or animals, who will not harm human beings. My dogs and I trust one another, safety is about trust. My dogs support my life, they do not make it more difficult or distract me from it. My dogs and I have a contract with one another that involves love and dignity, we enhance one another's life, we do not take away from it.

It does not always work in the way in which I intended, but it always works. Poor Orson could not live in the world, Pearl found a better home in Brooklyn, Clementine has a wonderful life in Vermont.

Rose, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda led wonderful lives with me. Now Red. Red herds sheep with me, he meditates with me, rides in the car, does therapy work with me, goes to the gym with me, even the dentist. I would trust him anywhere. And I got him in the strangest way, from a stranger in Virginia. No one ever suggested I get a dog that way, and I never had.

But Dr. Karen Thompson is a spiritual person, a person of faith, and that made all the difference to me. I came to believe her when she said God wanted me to  have this dog, this border collie in need of his destiny,  and what could be more spiritual than that?

I promise to give them every opportunity to live as full a life as fate and destiny intended, and they will respect me and my work and my property. That is not an easy thing to achieve, but I have achieved it nearly a dozen times now, and so I am starting to believe in the way I choose a dog, I will not ever let anyone else tell me how to get a dog – I have in recent years with Izzy, Rose, Lenore and Frieda and Red, that is what I want. No dog can be replaced precisely, but the miracle of dogs is that they can be replaced, unlike people, and we can love them over and over and over again.

So I look inward. What do I want? What do I need? What kind of work will I do with them? How can I use them to touch the lives of other people as well as me? What can I love and why? How much time do I have, how much energy and patience? How can a dog further improve me as a human being, as every dog I have ever owned has done? Only then, when I understand and answer those questions, am I ready to get a dog and commit to a meaningful life together.

This time it is different, this will be Maria's dog more than mine. I have a partner now, we share this passion for self-examination and thought. We talk about this often, we are on the same path. She can speak for herself. This time, something new, something different. Something that feels good.

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Different Agendas: Red And Lulu

Different Agendas

Different Agendas

It is always fascinating to live with two of the oddest and most idiosyncractic breeds of animals to ever roam the earth. Border collies are almost always crazy in one way or another, and donkeys are even stranger. Each day, Red takes his position in the pasture, he doesn't care if there are 10 feet of snow on the ground, rams in his face or donkeys blocking the path. Today, Lulu got it into her head to stand in the path, Red just walked under her and took up his position. Lulu could stomp Red if she wished, or easily kick him across the pasture,  but she doesn't.

They trust one another.

I think she wants to work with him in some way, but I can't really imagine what it is. I love the photo though, it speaks to the different agendas in the animals world.

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The Good Witches. When You Want A Miracle, Trust In A Witch.

The Good Witches

The Good Witches

  I call them the "Good Witches," they meet at least once a week and they usually occupy a corner of the Round House Cafe. In the right light, you can see light and sparks coming off their table, there are always shrieks of laughter, exclamations, whispers and often, some tears.
  I have no doubt that each one of them would have been burned at the stake or placed in a stock at various points in human history.  They eat scones and flowers, muffins and beets, sometimes they dance together in the moonlight or their homes or in offices and studios. They send text messages filled with strange moving figures and sounds, and make the leaves rustle on trees.
  One of them is my wife.
   I have always loved witches, especially when I learned that almost all of them are good ones. They are the world's best healers.
When I was active in Quaker Meeting, we would give  refuge and support to witches being persecuted by jealous and proprietary doctors – the witches were always selling herbs and potions, good witches know how to mend people. I loved them and they loved me, perhaps more than ordinary people did.
  One of them said I had the potential to be a sorcerer, she swore I was an empath and a prophet.
  In The Night Garden,  Cartherynne Valente wrote "never put your faith in a Prince. When you require a miracle, trust in a a Witch."
 It is good advice. One of the witches is Maria, one is Mandy, a massage therapist and healer, the other is Athena, a singer and spiritualist and mystic. The Good Witches communicate easily, they speak in tongues and once in awhile, I think I've seen their eyes rolling in the back of their heads. They love messaging systems, but most of all, they like to gather and stir pots. They talk to animals, change the temperature in rooms, read minds, turned spilt water into mist.
   They can change the color of their hair in a flash, and fill coffee cups without rising.
   They burn herbs and incense and are good friends to one another. When one is upset, the others come running, or just appear, sending messages through the air. They are loyal to one another, and protective.
   They are spiritually connected, they each draw on the emotions of the other. Even I can feel the energy of their gatherings, I try and be nice to them, I bring them cookies and sweets as offerings, I don't wish to be turned into a frog again. Good Witches need other Good Witches, most people do not understand them.
   When I met Maria, she and I were virtually friendless, the few friends either of us had vanished and hid when we got divorced, they did not know what to make of us or how to be around us. Perhaps they could see she was a witch, I just loved her, she seemed quite normal to me. At the time, she was nearly mute, she had lost her voice. She has found it now.
  I am still largely friendless – I do have one or two new friends, to be honest – but Maria has opened up in ways that are mysterious and wonderful. If you look at her wonderful work, it is filled with magic and spirituality, there is no doubt she is a witch or maybe a pagan, it would not surprise me to see  her dancing naked out in the woods in the Spring with flowers in her hair, and birds circling overhead, with the donkeys and the sheep and the chickens, she talks to them all of the time.
 I love to run across the Good Witches, and see them in their Round House coven – the same table always seems to be available, whenever they show up for lunch together and share their secrets, hopes and dreams. It would be wise not to cross them, there are all sorts of blue-eyed barn cats running around up here.


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The Best Thing For Being Sad

The Best Thing About Feeling Sad

The Best Thing About Feeling Sad

"The best thing for being sad, " said Merlin in T.H. White's The Once And Future King, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails." And it's one of the wisest things I've ever read.

In our label mad culture, we need to give everything a name, and depression is the name we give to the feeling of sadness. Technically, to be depressed means to feel sadness, gloom or dejection.  We have, in America, increasingly come to see depression as a  disease in its most extreme forms, a condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal. And it can surely be that. There is real medical help for depression.

But sometimes, we are just sad, and being sad is a natural condition of the human emotional range, all of us are sad sometimes, to varying degrees and for varying degrees. We are often too busy arguing or telling each other what to do to talk about the things that often matter the most to us – how we feel, and how we feel about our lives.

When you are sad, good friends become concerned, alarmed. I don't want anyone to pray for me or worry about me. I know good people can only distract me from sadness, only I can make it go away. And Merlin is right, there is only one thing that never fails. I have learned not to push sadness away, it is the most natural thing in the world sometimes, I sit with it, give it some time, accept it. And then, when I have had enough, I will go and  learn something.

I drifted yesterday into a state of melancholy, a feeling, I think of sadness and dejection, perhaps rejection.  Depressing for sure, but also sweet and cleansing.

As one gets older, you can't help but review your life, and mine is not pretty in many ways. I am not really sure what I am leaving behind, what good I have done, what my life will have meant. I suppose the winter hasn't helped, and a lot of loss.  I have to smile at the idea that even though Wikipedia doesn't even spell my name right, at least I am worth mentioning.

We live in a nation that increasingly runs on fear and embraces it as our national ideology, along with anger. It is in the screens we watch, the air we breathe, the topic of our national discourse.  I may be growing older and trembling in my joints, I might lie awake at night contemplating the disorder in my life and heart. I watch helplessly as our world sometimes seems devastated by greedy and evil lunatics, and I sometimes feel my honor and ideas trampled upon by base and angry people.

There is only one thing to do then, as Merlin suggested. Learn something, create something. Take a picture. Write a poem. Read a book. Write a book. Download some new music. Post on the blog. Encourage someone. Help a friend. Teach someone something they need to know.

Consider what makes the world work, and what might make it work even better. Love a friend. Love a partner. Love a donkey or a dog. Creativity is perhaps the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tormented by, and will never regret.

Creativity is the only thing for me, think how many things there are to create. In sending out images of light, color and feeling to the world, the artist is saving himself, healing himself and the people around him or her.

Creativity and learning starves fear, is incompatible with it, causes it to wither, fade and shrink. Learning is the opposite of sadness. I have a friend I admire who knows depression well, he beats it over the head every day with poems and photographs. That is what heroic means to me.


And then there comes this, a message from Susan, out there in the ether, reading my blog. Susan is a therapist, she knows the Black Dog well,  she has heard all the lectures, seen all the ads about saving and needing money.  Become a slave all your life so you can pay for your nursing home. We won't talk about death in America, but we will surely profit from it.

Because of a chronic illness, Susan has not been able to save all the money we are always being told we will need as we age and die. "Hard not to feel I screwed up even though it wasn't a choice. We are a nation that feeds on fear. It's our challenge not to go there." Wise and inspiring words. In our world, if you don't go to fear, it will find you, that is how marketing works. Be prepared.

"I so respect  how you choose to live your life," she said. "You are a healer to many people, in addition to the critters. I learn from you, feel validated by you, and care about you. May the truth always set you free."

You too, Susan, good friend, you too.




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