When Emerson wrote so beautifully in his essay on Friendship: “Let us be silent – that we may hear the whispers of the Gods,” he probably wasn’t thinking about Dogs. Yet, if we are to have a true friendship with our Dogs, then we must first learn to listen to each other. This doesn’t imply obeying each other, rather it means being quiet enough to actually listen and hear each other’s ideas, concerns, needs, and feelings. It means following Stephen Covey’s excellent advice to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (7 Habits of Highly Effective People).
Listening is a skill that needs to be developed and cultivated. Our culture is becoming increasingly self-absorbed and self-centered. We care more about seeking the spotlight for ourselves and less about shining our light of attention on others, except when it serves our own interests. We love to hear our own chatter – and we chatter in so many ways. Social media has become a Mecca for our narcissistic voice. Texting and emailing enables us to talk without having to listen to the response. When responses do come, they have been reduced to a few symbols and emojis. This begs the question: If we are all doing the talking, then who is left to listen?
Covey goes on to say, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.” How sadly true this statement is.
“Talk, talk, talk: the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words.”
~ William Faulkner (Mosquitos)
Perhaps all our talking is another way of trying to be in control, which our culture is obsessed with. But, as I said earlier, if we want a genuine and deeply connected friendship with our Dogs we must learn to let go of control, step back from ourselves, and simply listen. This act of letting go and listening is an act of faith – faith in our Dogs, faith in ourselves, and faith in our friendship.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.”
~ Zen poem
Listening means silence. It is following Will Roger’s sage advice to: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” This results in being completely and wholly receptive to our Dogs. It is in this silence that connections are forged and where friendships grow and flourish.
“In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
Only through silence can we listen, and listen we must. To truly know our Dogs we must silence the endless chatter. We must silence the voices that try to tell us how things should be. We must silence those voices of the “experts” that try to define our Dogs, without ever stepping foot into their space – their sacred space reserved only for those who’s mind and heart are open to receive. That space is for us and our Dogs alone, as friends and as equals.
“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
~. A. A. Milne
This sacred space requires us to have empathy, humility, acceptance, trust, faith, and especially presence. Our complete attention to each other provides the sunlight where our friendship can grow. Without it, our friendship will whither and die as a flower planted in the shade.
“The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention.”
~ Richard Moss
Erich Fromm (March 23, 1900 – March 18, 1980), the humanistic and social psychologist and philosopher wrote in his book, “The Art of Listening”, that there are six basic principles to listening. I’d like to list them here, and under each one I will offer my own interpretation of how it may be applied to our friendship with our Dogs.
Fromm’s six principles:
- “The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener.”
(This is focus, attentiveness, presence and mindful awareness of each other.)
- “Nothing of importance must be on his mind, he must be optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed.”
(The goal must be understanding, not what we can gain or lose.)
- “He must possess a freely-working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words.”
(We must have a “beginner’s mind, and not analyze everything.)
- “He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his own.”
(We must feel how our Dog feels, and embody their experience.)
- “The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him — not in the erotic sense but in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself.”
(This is transcending the self, having faith, and letting go.)
- “Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.”
(This is unconditional love and acceptance.)
Although it may feel uncomfortable at first, this type of listening with our whole being creates a safe space for our Dogs and ourselves. It is the fertile ground, the terra firma, where our friendship will grow and bloom. It is where we “embrace each other’s souls”; what the Aztecs called “apapacho”. For true friendship is silence. It doesn’t need a string of words to bind us together. Constant talking separates us. It as Kahlil Gibran so eloquently put in The Prophet: “For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.”
It is only in this silence, that we can truly communicate, connect and heal one another.