Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Wisdom of Dogs

By Cheryl Oreglia

It's late June, the landscape is bursting with color, I find myself up at the lake alone, with the alleged purpose of prepping the house for the family's eminent arrival, but in truth I'm here to engage the silence, to come to the edge of my imagination, and to write. I brought my dog Shaggy because he doesn't have vocal cords, the perfect companion, teacher, protector (admittedly I'm terrified of the dark, not the dark per se, but to be alone in the dark). Shaggy is the ideal partner except his foul delight in rubbing on dead fish. 
"Everything that's created comes out of silence. Your thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence. Your words come out of this void. Your very essence emerged from emptiness. All creativity requires some stillness." Wayne Dyer
Shaggy lays at my feet wherever I happen to be, looks me in the eye, and appears to instinctively calculate my emotion. If I am fearful he moves closer, if I am restless he gives me space, if I am lonely he gives me a lick, then grabs a ball and drops it at my feet. Play? Can you see the inherent value in this? Why can't I learn to meet people where they are? To have the courage to look my worldly companions in the eye, allow them their individuality, and then drop something in front of them that invites them to play? It's so simple. The wisdom of dogs.

Therefore to this dog will I, 
Tenderly not scornfully, 
Render praise and favour! 
With my hand upon his head, 
Is my benediction said 
Therefore, and for ever. 
And because he loves me so, 
Better than his kind will do 
Often, man or woman, 
Give I back more love again 
Than dogs often take of men, — 
Leaning from my Human. 
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

These are the random thoughts I find lapping at the edge of the lake along with the Canadian geese, grebe, osprey, and American white pelican. It's feels prehistoric, okay that's a slight exaggeration, but there is something very primitive about this setting, as if caught in the process of evolution, much like my thoughts. 

I stand with my feet in the cool water admiring Mt Konocti. She had her face blown off during an eruption (11,000 years ago ~ give or take a few days), but I think she's the most intriguing part of the view. We've all survived eruptive histories, injuries that have left scars on our souls, but must we be defined by the worst that has happened to us? Can there be a greater purpose for our being in the world? Rumi says the wound is the place where light enters you. Perhaps this is how we were designed? I know what you're thinking, I belong in a straight jacket? If the family doesn't get here soon God knows what will spring from my mind and land on this page?
“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” Vance Havner
The view is calming. It is quiet, too quiet for most people, but just perfect for writer types who like to vacation with their thoughts, spend time loafing around their interior spaces, where time no longer exists. As the outside world recedes, the things that come into focus are lofty notions like presence, being, joy, but also judgement, fear, and anger especially when it comes to unwarranted traffic tickets.
"Our discomfort and our grappling is not a sign of failure," America Ferrera says, "it's a sign that we're living at the edge of our imaginations."
I wonder if there will be a day when we are able to resolve our conflicts without ferocity? It's as if we've remained adolescents, unable to matriculate, still confronting our differences with deeply embedded fears. Who am I to talk? When I was stopped by a cop last week, I wanted to jump out of the car, and completely lose my shit. You'll have to trust my version of the story because the officer was not available (asked) for a statement.

I'll admit to making one tiny illegal maneuver, it's been legal for fifty years, but now it's considered criminal. A few months ago someone (a total nincompoop) decided we can no longer drive straight across Leigh Avenue from Campbell Avenue, you must turn right, and drive three blocks out of your way to get home. There's a sign posted and some annoying barriers. What ever. I sort of turned right, made this brilliant u-turn, and glided flawlessly down Campbell Avenue, so gracefully choreographed, it was as if a ballet. But clearly these aesthetics were lost on the police officer, hiding in the shade, on a motorcycle, late in the afternoon. 

"May I have your license please." I dig it out of my wallet, furious but obliging, because I was taught to be cooperative when encountering authority. So as he's writing up my ticket I watch (in truth I glare) at him in my rear view mirror. This is what I'm quietly thinking, "I wasn't driving too fast, on my cell phone, or texting. In fact my hands were at ten and two on the wheel. I wasn't balancing a cup of coffee, eating granola, or fishing my sunglasses out from under the seat. The street was completely empty, I was coming home from the grocery store for goodness' sake, the radio wasn't even on, and now I'll be traumatized every time I think about food shopping. And you can forget dinner. I can't cook knowing I got a ticket buying this damn food. He probably didn't have his ticket allotment for the day and decided to chastise the rebellious locals. In my thoughts there was a considerable amount of swearing, you can only imagine, I would continue, but I believe this sample is sufficient. 

As he approaches my window for a signature I decide to try a little dog wisdom, see him as a person with issues much like my own (except the ticket part), look him in the eye, maybe drop a few playful words. "I'm not good at this yet, like a puppy who pees on the floor, just take me back to the paper," Anne Lamott.  I said thank you as sweetly as possible when he handed me the ticket, and (without a hint of hypocrisy), "you have a nice smile, enjoy your evening officer," and moved merrily on my way (as you can see I'm totally over it). And I'm fairly positive he cracked a smile on the way back to his motorcycle.

I wander down to the dock, wine in hand (yes it's 5:00 somewhere), dog at my heels, to be mesmerized by the movement of the water. There are so many spiders at the lake, webs everywhere, and I'm a bit of an arachnophobic. As the sun goes down, hundreds of spiders drop ominously from the rafters of the dock, to stretch their hairy legs. I might have to call John Goodman.

It's the webs that grab my attention, clinging to my arm when I pass too closely. We are all part of the web of life, delicately attached, but it's sticky, and let's not forget the black hairy spider lurking in the corner. This web of relationships includes everyone, not only our beloved, but police officers with nice smiles, and tax collectors. As Anne Lamott notes the conscious mind seems to block that feeling of oneness so we can function efficiently, maneuver in the world a little bit better, abide traffic laws, pay our taxes on time. Let that stick with you for a while. Okay I'll stop, plus I have to refill my wine.
“There is a patience of the wild--dogged, tireless, persistent as life itself--that holds motionless for endless hours the spider in its web, the snake in its coils, the panther in its ambuscade; this patience belongs peculiarly to life when it hunts its living food;” Jack London
I ordered fourth of July banners for the deck and runners for the tables. They should arrive today, but you never know, it's Lake County, and the inefficiency is alarming. I peek out the front door, no box. I think the table we set is important, the people who gather create a certain environment, the food appears to be the main ingredient, but it's the quality of relationships around the table that matters most. 

I ask myself because Shaggy's not talking: Is this a table you would want to join? Do our conversations dignify each other as human beings? I believe with all my heart that it takes incredible courage to really listen to each other, reserving judgement, not attempting to alter the other's position or belief, but to really learn from each other. Johnny Luzzini says cooking is about imbibing different cultures and putting them in a plate on the table. I believe that is what we call table magic.

In this solitude, I putz around creating space for my family to gather, spraying for ants, removing cobwebs. The box finally arrives so I line the deck with oval flag banners but it's the dusting, sweeping, and scrubbing toilets that has a way of bringing me back to the paper. 

I came across this poem today and thought it sort of tugged at my message or maybe it simply encompassed my thoughts at the moment. Anywho... I'm all fired up about the sheet of flame.
“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. 
This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.” Jack London
I stand at the edge of my imagination and grapple with the view of the future, the rising generations, the emerging story that I want to be part of, to meet them here at the lake, and rest in their presence. This is what joy looks like.
As Rumi claims, God's joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box, from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flowerbed. As roses, up from ground. Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish, now a cliff covered with vines, now a horse being saddled. It hides within these, till one day it cracks them open. 
There is joy in paying attention, observing silently, as Gary Snyder notes, ripples on the surface of the water were silver salmon passing under - different from the ripples caused by breezes. Sometime I'm so intrigued with the subtle nuances in this life that I fail to see the resplendent joy that lingers on the surface. I'm learning, but sometimes I fail, just take me gently back to the paper. 

“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished.” Dean Koontz

Any dog wisdom to share? Leave us something to nibble on in the comments.

I'm Living in the Gap, lakeside, drop by anytime.


  • Paper is a metaphor for empirical, practical, hands-on
  • It turns out that culture is the most powerful force available to us. Culture comes from each of us, from the connections between. Doesn't Seth Godin makes the obvious so powerfully clear?
  • The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web. Pablo Picasso

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