Reflections: A Good Dog Story and the Acquisition of View

Dogs are animals that act out of their nature.  They don’t think about socialization.  They are dogs.  They have dog nature as opposed to cat nature.  I had a dog named Po II, nicknamed Po-dog, who was introduced to our “pack” as a puppy.  One of his elders was a strong willed cat.  Po-dog was a strong willed puppy who looked up to a strong willed cat.  Consequently, he learned to rub himself on furniture the way a cat marks territory, to climb trees when he could (fallen trees), and to do his best imitation of purring.  At my cabin in northern Minnesota he would follow our cat onto various fallen trees, and return later to practice.

Squirrels also provided perceptual education.  As young pups my two dogs experienced a conundrum.  They would chase a squirrel to the base of a tree.  The squirrel would scamper to the opposite side and my two young dogs would stop and look at me with a puzzled look in their eyes.  Where had the squirrel gone?  It was like the squirrel employed some cross-dimensional shift and disappeared.  Within the perception of those young dogs, the squirrel had actually disappeared – left and gone from their universe. As they got older they must have perceived the squirrel moving toward the blind side, and determined that the squirrel had gone around to the other side of the tree.  They could continue the chase, but then the elusive squirrel would climb higher, no longer able to disappear, but still out of reach.  (At first, Po-dog thought he should be able to climb after them.  But this didn’t linger; dogs are quick in accepting their reality.)  This canine discovery is an example of an expanding universe, when something you couldn’t see becomes visible.  I like to think that our personal universe is likewise open to expansion.  In point of fact, the universe is expanding – in more ways than one.   As such, it is ever expanding Potential.

So far, the acquired behaviors of my dog can be understood, at least in part, by the process of imitation and experience.  What follows is unusual.  For all his 11 years of life up to that point, Po-dog had accompanied me to my isolated lake cabin in Northern Minnesota and sat with me for long hours by the lake as I read or wrote.  That’s not the unusual part.  Over all that time I observed numerous crayfish parts: claws and shells.  Some animal, a mink perhaps, was using my reading spot by the lake as a dining room and left the exoskeletons behind (the “leftovers” were too broken and scattered to suggest they were molted remains). That’s not the unusual part either.  One summer day I had the idea to make a crayfish sculpture.  I took body parts, mostly claws, and attached them to various places in the bark of the cedar tree next to my chair.  Crayfish claws are small, the area secluded.  I’m fairly certain that no one saw my little sculpture – not even from the lake, where stones and boulders prevented the rare boat from near approach.  Less than three weeks later, returning to my cabin, the sculpture was gone without a trace.  That surprised me.  Po-dog went immediately to the spot on the tree where the claws had been placed and began sniffing intently.  He actually climbed up the tree with his front paws to investigate to his satisfaction.  Watching my aging dog thoroughly investigate only that portion of tree where I had made my claw sculpture, I had the intuition that the crayfish claws had all been chewed by a small animal.  Po-dog was picking up on the animal’s scent.

Now comes the unusual part.  When he was done sniffing, he put his front paws back to the ground and looked directly over to where the crayfish claws accumulated, barely visible in the broken and root layered ground.  He then walked into that area and started chewing crayfish claws.  As an 11-year-old dog, he had acquired a new behavior out of thin air. To call this a type of telepathy is not precise enough. There needed to be a link.  My explanation: the link began with my intentional creating of the claw sculpture, marking the site with intent. I had a silent response when it had gone missing.  In a flash intuition, Po-dog picked that up and investigated.  His next link was scent. Po-dog connected with the animal that had recently chewed the crayfish claws from the cedar tree where I had placed them.  He had acquired the behavior from the animal no longer there.  How else could he have adopted such an obscure and foreign behavior? This is an example of active acquisition, following the scent of something in the air and acquiring the source behavior.  Or to put it more in more spiritual terms, coming into contact with and connecting to the threads of a new perception.  My Po-dog knew something of both Cat and Mink.  I feel it made him just a little wiser.

Now for an example of the dark side of acquisition.

In the film documentary THE HERO’S JOURNEY, Joseph Campbell told the story of a friend of his who was in a concentration camp in World War II.  Campbell states that his friend was brought out to listen to Hitler give a public speech, marched out and made to stand at attention.  According to Campbell, his friend stated that it was all he could do not to raise his arm in the gesture of Heil Hitler.  Campbell says that it is the power of a well-constructed ritual that created this hellish urge.  I don’t disagree, but would like to take it one step further.  It is my contention that the power of externally streamed perception, transmitted through the larger group consciousness, is what demanded compliance of those not already participating.  The words, ritual, and rhythms of group behavior – all those present and participating in the speech – was reinforced by a larger group consciousness that swarmed through the country.  It was that group consciousness that was creating a force of acquisition.  Standing alone, it takes a spirited will to remain in opposition.

We acquire much of our view though participation in our social milieu.  The process of socialization does not stop in childhood.  It continues throughout our lives. We are constantly influenced by the threads of our association: our friends, family, the media we take in, our communities (physical and spiritual), geography, the books we read, the movies we watch… Sometimes a “choice” is a product of cultural transmission. On the other hand, adventures of the mind can turn acquisition into a self-making choice – discovering new threads of consciousness that expand our universe.

Photo by Michelle Neely

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2 Responses to Reflections: A Good Dog Story and the Acquisition of View

  1. michelle says:

    that was truly exceptional and thank you

  2. Irina says:

    Jim, I LOVE this essay and will share it with family and friends.

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