Mooka, our Husky mix dog, has a lot of talents. One of them that struck me on our daily two-mile dog walk this afternoon reflected how I feel about religion and spirituality.
In short, prove it.
Mooka does a lot of sniffing as we walk along. More accurately, she both sniffs as we walk, and also stops to sniff when I'd prefer to keep walking. Here she'd just sniff-inspected a small branch that had fallen from a large oak tree in-between our walk yesterday and today.
I'm fine with her doing this because I recognize that a dog's sense of smell is hugely more sensitive that what we humans are capable of.
So we inhabit different sorts of sensory realities. I'm focused mostly on what I can see as we walk on the two-lane rural road that winds through our neighborhood. Mooka also is highly aware of those sights, but she has a smell talent that I lack.
Now, how do I know this?
I see Mooka stopping frequently to press her nose close to some blades of grass, a spot on the road, countless other stuff. I can't sense anything special about those places her nose is so interested in. What leads me to conclude that Mooka has a capability I lack, in contrast to a conclusion that she's a neurotic dog who keeps pressing her nose against random items we pass?
Many reasons. Here's one of them.
Laurel, my wife, is by far the most experienced and capable dog trainer in our family. One trick she's taught Mooka is to find an item that she hides somewhere in our house after placing a few drops of vanilla on it. When Mooka finds it, she gets a dog treat.
It may take Mooka a while to earn the treat depending on how cleverly Laurel has hidden the item. But she always finds it eventually. Thus Mooka passes the smell test, so to speak. As do dogs trained to find drugs, warn of a cancer on a person, or, as I read today, possibly detect the coronavirus.
Thus dogs have an ability that can be demonstrated to be true, even though the scents they're able to smell are undetectable by humans.
Which is also what genuine spirituality should be about: a demonstrable ability to do something tangible. Like, sit still while meditating. Not becoming angry when someone insults you. Helping other people. Uttering kind words when a person is upset.
Yet much of religiosity, spirituality, and mysticism is abstract with no connection to the real world. It is filled with talk of God, soul, heaven, spirit, angels, demons, supernatural powers, and such. When asked to perform the equivalent of a "smell test," religious believers come up with excuses for the absence of any evidence that what they incessantly blab on about actually exists.
Meanwhile, our dog is finding vanilla-scented items quite easily.
I understand the allure of repeating fantasies to ourselves, because those fantasies are pleasing. I did that myself for about thirty-five years, until I realized that there was no substance to the fantasies I enjoyed playing over and over inside my head.
"I am on a path that leads to God." "A higher power is watching over me." "After death I'll enter a higher realm of reality." Like every other religious beiiever, I could talk the talk, but not walk the walk, as the saying goes. Meaning, I had beliefs about spirituality that weren't grounded in reality, because neither I nor anyone else could show that what we believed was in fact true.
Our dog can.
Mooka doesn't simply believe that she can smell scents undetectable to humans. Mooka can actually demonstrate this. And that puts the family canine way above all the religious fakes -- gurus, preachers, imams, yogis, rabbis, etc. etc. -- who talk a good game but are utterly unable to play it in reality.
I've repeated this quote from Thoreau's Walden several times before. Here it is again, courtesy of one of the first posts on my HinesSight blog, "Corn on the cob: my calling."
A passage from the last chapter of Thoreau’s “Walden” comes to mind: “Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe. Tom Hyde, the tinker, standing on the gallows, was asked if he had anything to say. ‘Tell the tailors,’ said he, ‘to remember to make a knot in their thread before they take the first stitch.’ His companion’s prayer is forgotten.”
I love that line, Any truth is better than make-beiieve. Our dog lives it. I aspire to it.