To my dear readers.
The final two parts of the book, How the dog offers us a way into our own soul, and, And show us the way to embrace death, are offered today and tomorrow.
I can’t tell you what it has meant to me to have the many ‘Likes’ and comments along the way; just take it from me that it has been enormously inspiring and motivational and part of me can’t believe that the project that started in November 2013 under the NaNoWriMo-2013 umbrella was completed this November just gone, for a draft word count of a little over 104,000 words!
Come the New Year and the real work starts, that of the Big Edit.
So let me close by just saying, once again, thank you!
How the dog offers us a way into our own soul
“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.”
So wrote the philosopher Democritus. Democritus, born in 460 BCE, although according to some in 490 BCE. He acquired fame with his knowledge of natural phenomena, and preferred a contemplative to an active life, spending much of his life in solitude. The fact that he lived to beyond 100 suggests he lived out what he philosophised about!
Now the last thing I am going to attempt is any rational, or even semi-rational, explanation of the soul; of what it is; of whatever it is. Despite the familiarity of the word, especially within religious circles, the notion of the soul remains an enigma. Indeed, it reminds me of that very clever quotation attributed to the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger: “Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy”, that with a little poetic licence might be rewritten: “In making itself intelligible does the soul become soulless.”
Thus having ‘bared my chest’ in terms of failing the test of knowing what a soul is, in any rational manner, I shall, nonetheless, continue to use the word. Simply because there will be sufficient bonding between me writing the word ‘soul’ and those reading the word ‘soul’, for those same readers to sense where I am coming from.
I’m going to stay with this wonderful concept of soul for just a little longer before adding our beautiful dogs into the dream. Staying with it courtesy of the writer; John O’Donohue. John’s name is not one known to the masses. Yet his writings are, without fail, beautifully moving. John’s first book was called Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom., Anam Cara means ‘soul friend’ in Gaelic. The following passage, taken from Anam Cara, represents to my mind the most exquisite understanding of the human soul.
The secret heart of time is change and growth. Each new experience which awakens in you adds to your soul and deepens your memory. The person is always a nomad, journeying from threshold to threshold, into ever different experiences. In each new experience, another dimension of the soul unfolds. It is no wonder that from ancient times the human person has been understood as a wanderer. Traditionally, these wanderers traversed foreign territories and unknown places. Yet, Stanislavsky, the Russian dramatist and thinker, wrote: “The longest and most exciting journey is the journey inwards.”
There is a beautiful complexity of growth within the human soul. In order to glimpse this, it is helpful to visualise the mind as a tower of windows. Sadly, many people remain trapped at one window, looking out every day at the same scene in the same way. Real growth is experienced when you draw back from one window, turn and walk around the inner tower of the soul and see all the different windows that await your gaze. Through these different windows, you can see new vistas of possibility, presence and creativity. Complacency, habit and blindness often prevent you from feeling your life. So much depends on the frame of vision – the window through which we look.
Those are so wonderful words from John and a brilliant example of his exquisite creativity of thought. They also offer the most perfect ‘window’ to seeing how the dog offers us a way into our own human soul.
What do I mean by this?
When we have dogs in our lives there are many occasions when there is a link between us and our dog; a link that defies logical explanation. Let me offer some examples.
Let’s start with this one. As a human, that is you and me, out of the blue, with no rhyme or reason, you will surely experience finding your day a bit tough from time to time. The odds are that it doesn’t show to your loved ones and, you are pretty sure, that it is entirely an experience that is well hidden inside one. But you and I know you can’t hide it from your dog. You slump down in a chair and your dog comes over and lays its warm snout across your legs or offers a head for you to scratch. In any one of many familiar ways you have a caressing and loving contact with your dog. And you know, you know beyond doubt, that your dog is attracting the angst away from you.
Or how about the time when you might be standing somewhere in or around the house, trying to think how best to approach a task, and your dog comes up next to you and softly leans against you.
Or that most special of links between us and our dog. I have in mind the times when our dog links ‘eye-to-eye’ with us, when those beautiful, deep unblinking eyes of our dog look so deeply inside of us. Those are the times when you and your dog know, you both sense in a clear, unwritten language, the thousands of years of relationship, the very special relationship, that man and dog have had with each other. That at that moment of held eye contact there is a real, tangible connection between your two souls.
We know beyond doubt that dogs have emotions, that they are full of natural goodness and feelings, and that there is some part of a dog’s inner being that links to us and, in turn, that there is an inner being within us that links us back to our dog.
Let me return to the power of that eye-to-eye bond between us and a dog.
In humans, that part of the brain in which self-awareness is thought to arise is called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. That just happens to be located behind the eyes. Ergo, we learn to associate the identity of others with our eyes. Then as we mature, our eyes take on more importance because we develop awareness and a better understanding of the social cues that other people convey with their eyes.
Therefore, is it any surprise that dogs, such intuitive creatures that they are, young and old, soon learn to read us humans and the feelings and emotions that we give out via our eyes. There’s a knowing in my mind, albeit an unscientific ‘knowing’, that dogs, too, give out emotions and feelings from their own eyes.
That loving a dog and, in return, being loved by that dog truly does offer us a way into our own souls.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains un-awakened.“
~ Anatole France
1.089 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover￼￼￼￼￼￼
 Refer Christina Starmans and Paul Bloom of the Mind and Development Lab at Yale University.
8 thoughts on “The Book! A way into our own soul”
I haven’t read any of John O’ Donohue’s works but I will attempt to rectify that. All I can add about the manner or ability of a dog looking deep into your eyes is that whenever we are out working (searching) Ellie will come back to me at some point and there is a moment, a brief moment when our eyes connect. But it is so intense that I always hear a sentence at the back of my mind – trust your dog – I do and inevitably she leads me into the object or person she is looking for
Oh, thank you for your lovely reply. And do read John O’Donoghue. You couldn’t do better than start with Anam Cara. Happy Christmas to you and Ellie a hug!
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I am thrilled you kept at it, Paul. The hardest part, truly, is behind you. Editing is difficult in other ways, but at least you know you finished a draft. That is huge. Merry Christmas!
Kate, I’m doubly thrilled of your interest in my ‘project’. A very Happy Christmas to you, and thank you.
That second paragraph you quote from Anam Cara sent shivers down my spine. I’ve never really been settled enough to feel comfortable accepting the responsibility of owning (if that’s the right word) a dog, myself. I have, however, been ‘uncle’ to a few cats. Selfish creatures, on the whole (any cat will love you if you feed it regularly), but they have the advantage of independence. Some will make eye contact, but I only rarely get the sense of any real connection. And yet…
I have known my current cat friend since soon after he was born. Though I accept that I may be deluding myself, I’m convinced that there’s ‘someone’ in there — a soul, if you will. From when he was a kitten, I would grasp one paw while he was resting, and gently squeeze it several times (I was actually trying to see if I could get him to learn how to count). For a long while, there was no response to my foolishness: but then, one day, I felt him squeeze my hand back. These days he and I connect in this way now and then. I’m still waiting for him to respond to one squeeze with two, though. 🙂
Having missed most of your journey with ‘the book’, I’m very much looking forward to seeing the end result. Congratulations are most definitely in order for having completed a 100k word first draft!
Mr. P, thank you for a wonderfully interesting reply. I suspect, strongly so, that the number of creatures that have some innate sense of the world about them, a soul if you wish, is significant. When I look into the eyes of our rescue horses, now very familiar with Jean and me and their life here, there is a bond that defies translation into words. We feed the wild deer every day, and have been so doing for many months, and it’s fascinating to see how one can now links eye contact with them, whereas a few months ago, a direct eye contact would have had them scampering into the forest.
Re the book, never fear that the ‘end result’ will be on its way to you, best guess around the end of February or early March. Your offer to be a beta reader guarantees that! 😉
O.o what have I done?
Just kidding. Looking forward to it!