The year was 1656. On a cold winter night, Christiaan Huygens looked at two of his newly invented pendulum clocks hanging on the wall. The pendulums swung at different rates and rhythms, and as he watched them, he soon fell asleep. A few hours later he awoke, rubbed his eyes, and squinted to see clearly through the dying candlelight. Suddenly his eyes opened wider and he could clearly see that the two pendulums were now swinging in unison – they were synchronized. This is because, as Huygens discovered, the vibrations of each clock influenced each other; they “sympathized” with each other. A similar phenomena also happens with stringed instruments. When one string is vibrates, the other strings begin to vibrate as well. This is known as “sympathetic resonance.” Although he didn’t know it at the time, the sympathetic synchronization that Christiaan Huygens had witnessed is an example of what we should strive for in our relationships with our dogs – kenzoku.
Kenzoku, a Japanese word that means a deep and connected friendship, is an effortless relationship. When kenzoku exists between ourselves and our dogs, we have a seamless and harmonious connection that is free from stress and conflict. Everyone can achieve this, but it requires openness and acceptance and the letting go of ultimate control. Sometimes this relationship happens immediately, however most of us must go through a few stages in order to reach this level of friendship. I achieved kenzoku with my dog Cosmo before he died, and I am well on my way to achieving kenzoku with my present dogs, Bhakti and Bodhi.
The first level is that of understanding each other. I’m not speaking so much about communication here, but more about knowing whom the other is at the deepest level – beyond surface and one-dimensional names, labels and classifications. It’s knowing each other by what we do and especially how we feel. Like the popular expression, “I feel you, brother!”, we need to feel how our dogs feel and have them feel how we feel. This is a connection on an empathic level.
Understanding alone will not create kenzoku. Knowing each other is often not enough to bring the connection to that level. For example, most people “understand” what the posted speed limit signs say, yet they are not necessarily concerned with the message. When we understand our dog’s feelings and they understand ours, but we have different agendas in mind, conflict and friction will arise. In other words, when our expectations don’t match reality it creates stress. There is a gap between what we think should be and what is. Sometimes this difference can be resolved in a mutually beneficial way. Finding synergistic solutions to conflicting ideas is an excellent way to build a deeply connected relationship. However, that’s a topic for another time. In this essay, I’m speaking about differences that are unchangeable.
Sometimes our dogs have innate personality types and behaviors that will always persist. If we try to change them, it would be like painting new paint over old paint. Eventually the old paint will break through. In another example, it’s as if you were trying to move a mountain just by pushing on it. You try and try but nothing happens. Eventually, you will have to give up. This is not a bad thing! This is the next level which I call acceptance, where we finally come to the realization that “it is what it is,” and then we are free to move forward. It becomes a liberation; an act of faith. Accepting the mountain and climbing it allows us to see further. It is precisely this surrendering that frees us to open our minds and see clearly.
This is what brings us to the next level… agreement. My favorite book as a child (and still is) is Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham. The story is a great illustration of these levels I’ve been discussing. Sam-I-Am tries to convince an unnamed character to try green eggs and ham, however he keeps refusing until he eventually surrenders and tries them. He accepted that Sam-I-Am was an unmovable mountain. Then, (you know the story), he discovers that he likes green eggs and ham! This is the level of agreement. In Zen this is called “satori”, which means sudden enlightenment. It’s like the poem by William Blake who said, “The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” This unnamed character had to “…persist in his folly…” until he let go of his expectations, and only then did he truly “see.” At first, he was at odds with Sam-I-Am, but now he agrees and resonates with him.
Kenzoku is a wonderful place to be with our dogs. When we accept, and finally agree and embrace the differences in each other, our friendship becomes deeper and more connected. We become more receptive to each other on a day to day basis. Eventually, our different feelings (vibrations) influence each other until we become synchronized. It seems that we each know what the other is thinking and feeling, and become two halves of one whole.
Carl Jung spoke about the “synchronicity phenomenon”. He said these meaningful coincidences were “…the coming together of inner and outer events in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect and that is meaningful to the observer.” It’s like when you are about to take your dog for a walk and before you can even move from your chair, your dog is standing in front of you waiting. Coincidence? I don’t believe so. I believe this is exactly what happens when we are synched-up with our dogs – when we have kenzoku. This is when there is no need for dominance nor coercion, no need for manipulation nor bribery, no need to “train”. Our dogs and us become a unified field that acts as a single entity at times – and even when we are each doing our own separate “thing”, we still remain connected. To paraphrase a quote by Hugh Prather, “Kenzoku, the magician, knows this little trick whereby our dogs and ourselves can walk in different directions and yet always remain side by side.”