Thursday, December 8, 2011

Evolution of Belief: The Dog Door Swings Both Ways

Winter is taking its sweet time coming this year, trash on both neighbors' lawns being a clue that Great Bear is still awake. I thank Her sincerely for leaving us a more subtle "gift" (harboring mystery plants that Spring will reveal). And so I've found myself awake and in the mood to keep on about getting to the bottom of this whole G~d/D~g situation.

In equal measure as our poopsies adore and serve us, pet owners in the U.S. bow down and tithe to them (1% of our annual household budgets, on average). As much as they look to us for direction and mystical cues about how to behave, we defer to our canine darlings' facial expressions and attention-seeking behaviors. We employ ceremony to groom and feed them, organize family schedules around their needs, and gaze into their eyes with genuine love and longing for soul communion.

That we engineer our pets as worshipful followers is not hard to understand. Human narcissism is boundless in its pursuit to stamp an icon onto every object of worth. But what if we're obsessed with dog breeding - lavishing praise and attention on the results - for some deeper purpose?

Having discovered long ago that domesticated dogs can be made to resemble us in various ways, we now use their fur-covered mirror images to adore ourselves. Tell ourselves how Pretty, Sweet and Courageous we are. Call ourselves Loyal Best Friend. What makes us so worthy of our own (secret) reverence?

Indo-European blood has taken over the whole earth. Still we fight on, pretending we're not Family. We unleash war, oppression, usury and every form of meanness on anyone capriciously labeled OTHER. But these behaviors, and their polar opposites, arise and subside in constant flux. The same person who spits on a homeless teenager on the street may tenderly care for a sick child upon returning home. Our G-dliness must be somehow separate from our situationally expressed genome, something more fundamental and enduring than the ego-binding macro-bodies we inherit from our near relatives.

What do we all possess which changes not - or changes only minimally - over time?

Mitochondrial DNA.

Each cell in our bodies is powered by mitochondria which refuse to forget that all races of humans have come from a single Source: our First Mother, the Great Ancestress.

The first female who stood on the earth as WOMAN, the only person who could lay claim to true Isolation and Loneliness, was holding us all deep within. She survived. She honored her fertility. And now we carry her with us wherever we go. She is IN us each from our very beginnings, accompanies us through our lives, and will lie with us on our death beds. No remote sky-god has ever been able to duplicate these truths. Indeed, Jesus himself had to pass through a woman's body in order to become Emmanuel ("G-d with us").

Dogs held a prominent place in the G~ddess iconography of prehistorical Mediterranean and "Old European" peoples. Canine figurines and images likely represented the Life-Ending/Recycling virtue of the Sacred Female (dogs will make a meal of most anything, including their own scat). Dogs proved easy to domesticate and assimilate, affording them a unique religious-and-social significance. Despite "modern" religious rules against keeping dogs in a household, our two species have proved inseparable.

Are dogs the enduring High Priestesses of our Mitochondrial Genome, reminding us to not leave First Mother standing on the earth alone? Let's take a few minutes to practice Down-Facing Dog while we meditate on this...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Evolution of Belief: When Dogs Pray Part II

Ah. Where was I? Oh yeah: how I became the Supreme, All-Knowing, Beneficent G-ddess of All Dogs (review Part I here).

You see, I feed the dogs. In ritualized fashion, three times a day they line up and each receive from my hand what I decide is the exact-right amount of food. What might make FOOD the key that unlocks a dog's Religion DNA?

When a mother dog is ready to stop nursing her pups, she brings her litter their first solid foods in her stomach. Puppies continue being fed directly from their Archetypical Earth Mother * during a developmental period involving self-awareness, other-awareness and hierarchical learning. Learning to beg for food may be the canine analog of a baby learning her first prayer, "Ma!".

*There are few human cultures remaining where infants are fed and weaned in this way, but they do still exist. And all the ego-scientific crap about animals not having psyches and cultures? Thankfully that blither has all but disappeared from serious discussions involving our antecedent and contemporary Others. As for anthropomorphic falacy: you'll just have to trust that being raised by dogs has qualified me to understand their motives. (wink, wink)

Solicitation for food seems to be the ground water from which doggie-style ritual and superstition have sprung, at least on the hillside. Ignore the Appointed Time to feed them or take them outside? Plan to leave the house (gasp of horror)? They pray.

They pray, they dance, they cry out. A few sing (most badly, two beautifully). They throw themselves at my feet. They rehearse fertility rituals, bring me all the best chew toys, show willingness to slay the Evil Doers, and they chant:

"Feed us! Feed us! Are you listening? Did you stop caring? What do you want from us? How can we get 
your love back? Why is it still raining? Who should we blame for this? If you want me to kill my brother to prove my devotion, I will. Don't leave! Come back! Love me, love me, love me!"

More assertive individuals watch me closely to catch any slight coincidental link between their behaviors and mine. Random, free-form frantic activity evolves into ritualized movement and vocalization which is repeated over time by individuals and telegraphed to all the "follower" personality types. Indeed, it is the less assertive dogs who are most enthusiastic and emotional in their prayers and certainty that I will be moved to act as a consequence. True to current human modeling, Leader dogs egg on Follower dogs, encouraging them to believe-and-pray harder.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I'm G-d.

I'd tell you how I feel about all this, but one of the big guys is organizing a sacrifice of one the wee poopsies as a way to entreat me to get his favorite tennis ball from under the sofa.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Evolution of Belief: When Dogs Pray Part I

Be kind when you pray - to Whomever or Whatever you worship. It's not easy being G-d. I know this by personal experience.

I've lived with dogs my whole life: Siblings, Babysitters, Guardians, Confessors, Friends. And now it seems I've been given a promotion. Not to Sister or Leader, but to DEITY, FIRST CLASS. H. sapiens sapiens is apparently not the only species we should suspect of having DNA code for religious Belief .

Humanity's Belief genes themselves, if we find them, are probably quite complex and variable. Not all people Believe the same things in exactly the same ways. Some people may be incapable of Belief, despite repeated, sincere, systematic efforts of Total Believers. All genes act in concert with other genes, and are subject to environmental influences.

Complicating any one person's spiritual journey is the fact that religious ideals and practices are vigorously presented to children before the age of eight years, before critical thinking can be used to reject unlikely or inconsistent precepts. Is this manipulation of the "magical" child mind the bedrock of Fundamentalism? Adults espousing extremist ethics use over-simplified, childish language and reasoning.

Hafta think about that some more.

Fundamentalist fakery aside, I have been present during several instances of genuine religious conversion: dramatic readjustments of mind and life strategy in people from diverse cultures following their exercise of Belief. Just as though a switch was turned ON. They Believe and begin to live differently, naturally, in accord with their new perspective.

Myself, I cannot make a fairy come back to life by clapping my hands. I've never gotten the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart just by singing about it. My wide and fulfilling spiritual practice is not the product of any single, profound revelation. Rather, it is an unending series of plateaus leading to increasingly open vistas which words cannot attain. My truest spiritual moments consist of Silence and Wonder. Western Belief models do little to support this experience.

I digress. A lot. You've been warned.

Dogs don't give their young religious instruction. They teach them (by example) to be careful, respectful and sensitive members of their immediate social group. In wild conditions, they'd further teach pups to forage and fend for themselves. What meaning is (or is not) assigned to life stages and experiences is left entirely to each individual's interpretation. Dogs don't preach, proselytize, apologize or attempt exegesis.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that dogs are merely Behavioral in their function and outlook. Canids are very keen to detect intention, suffering and other Essential qualities in living beings around them.

We've selected our canine companions over tens of thousands of years to "fit in" with us more and more. We've suited a great variety of breeds to a great variety of functions. Have we also been selecting them for their potential to Worship?


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Always Lead with Hospitality!

It's brain-melting hot here on the hillside. So, while I'm gearing up to get some essays together for your reading pleasure, how about a little refreshment?

The lemon sorbet I buy at the food store costs nearly $5.00 for a quart-sized container. Cheap lady that I am, I knew there must be a better way to cool down on a moment's notice! Don't worry if you're not a "cook": I've included a fancy-free, single-ingredient suggestion at the bottom of the Alternate Flavors.

You need:
- 4 cups water (if you own a counter-top ice chipper, you only need 2 cups of water to make a flavored syrup)
- 2 large (or 3 small) lemons
- 3/4 cup sugar (or equivalent measure sugar substitute of your choice)
- 1 black tea bag (optional)
- 1 sprig mint (6-10 leaves) (optional)
- heat-safe mixing bowl
- micro-plane
- citrus reamer
- whisk or fork
- freezer-safe container with lid

Wash and dry the lemons. Micro-plane ("zest") their rinds into the water. Scrape the yellow, outer rind only; the white rind is very bitter and will spoil your batch. Heat water to the boiling point (stove top or microwave). Stir in sugar until dissolved. Steep the tea bag and mint in the lemon-zest-sugar water; let stand covered until desired strength of flavor. Juice the lemons into your syrup mixture (pulp optional).

I like to prepare my solution the evening before I want to freeze will take about 3 hours for the initial freezing process to begin, so refrigerating the solution overnight gives me the whole next day to work on the ice.

Pour the finished solution in a freezer-safe container (uncovered), and move it to the freezer. When the ice crust begins to form, break it down with a whisk or fork, turning the ice under the liquid solution. Check the solution hourly to prevent it freezing into a giant ice glob. IMPORTANT: If you forget, or get side-tracked, and find your batch is frozen solid, simply return the container to the fridge and let it melt. Begin the freeze process again later. No biggie!

Keep breaking and mixing the ice/liquid mixture until the entire batch is frozen, but flaky. Cover the finished product; it will keep up to several weeks (theoretically!).

Scoop and enjoy! Your friends and neighbors will find you very attractive, I promise.

Alternate Flavors:
- plain lemon
- orange
- blood orange
- lime
- tea (you will need to steep 3-4 bags to get a good, intense tea-only flavor)
- if you don't fancy yourself handy in the kitchen, use frozen orange juice or grape juice concentrate (about 1/2 a thawed container for 3-4 cups water)