What We’ve Lost

I watch my dog out the back window.

It is a cool day, temperatures in the low 50’s this morning. Perfect weather for a Husky mix, I gather, from Leon’s insistence on being outside. I have a chain staked into the ground with about a 20′ lead on it. This gives my back yard its very own crop circle. At several spots on the rim of this circle Leon has dug himself shallow pits. (In other spots he has begun major construction; I think he’s after burrowing moles or rabbits.)

This morning Leon is sitting in one of his pits. He stares into the distance.

We humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals, especially our pets. “He’s thinking such-and-so,” we like to say, and project onto creatures incapable of language or abstract thought both those things. Typically, we project what we imagine we ourselves should think, given the luxury of sitting and staring into space for hours at a time.

Has a dog Buddha-nature?

Why must we inject our own tumultuous minds into the animal’s innocence? Here he sits, breeze on his face, sun caressing his coat, at one with the universe: simply be-ing. This is what we’ve lost with our highly developed brains: the sense of unity with all that is. Be. Here. Now.

The first chapter of the Tao Te Ching tells us “Naming is the beginning of all Particular Things.” It is the same Truth hinted at in the Genesis myth where the human gives names to the animals. The ability to create abstract symbols lets us attach the sounds “breeze” to that gentle wafting of cool air over the grasses, through the leaves, across our skin in a way that means not only this particular breeze but every breeze simultaneously. Just as I type the letters “d-o-g” and am meaning my dog, Leon, and you read them and form a picture of some dog in your head. The ability to name gives the illusion of control. In primitive human cultures speaking a name gave control: and for this reason one never let others know one’s “true” name. Speaking a name, in those cultures, is casting a spell. It is an aspect of primitive magic which is much more subtle & complex than I am painting with these broad strokes.

On a conscious level we have moved away from that thinking, erecting structures of Enlightened Thought on the foundations laid by our cultural inculcation. Yet, like Schliemann excavating Troy, if we dig beneath that foundation we find buried in the depths all the achievements and refuse of a hundred thousand generations of our forebears. Including the development of language and the illusion that it gives us some control over our lives and the things around us.

Gone is the simple ability to feel pleasure at the kiss of air on our flesh, the caress of sunlight, the myriad smells and sounds of life around us. And we consider ourselves the superior species.


(This is a piece I wrote in autumn of ’09, but the observations are as valid for me today as they were then.)

About Mark Matzeder

By education a filmmaker, by trade an electrician, by avocation a writer and sometime scholar. Occasionally I wring an essay out of some observation I have made or experience I've had and share them here. Sometimes I'll share short fiction. Sometimes a poem. But mostly it's just my spin on this strange trip.
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