“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.”
~ J. M. Barrie, The Little White Bird
If there is lack of faith in a friendship with your Dog, the friendship doesn’t really exist. Every day, Dogs are being abandoned, surrendered to animal shelters, and even abused because we don’t have faith in our friendship, faith in our Dogs, or even faith in ourselves. Faith is the seed from which every successful friendship grows. Without it, skill, information, and effort will only produce a facsimile of a genuine friendship. With faith, even a tiny bit, there is no obstacle too large, no chasm too wide, and no task too difficult to prevent the deep connection needed for a pure and true friendship to grow. Yet, we live in a culture that ridicules faith as being too precarious, too opaque and too idealistic. Instead, control has become our obsession.
This obsession with control is precisely what creates barriers between us and our Dogs, and prevents us from growing a genuine friendship. Although many professionals, books and social media discuss the idea of friendship, what they are really describing is ownership, and therefore rather than achieving a deep connection, they are just promoting control and exploitation.
Ownership clings, friendship lets go.
When I think about how how I learned what faith is, I am often reminded of the time I went skydiving. I didn’t really want to go, as I had a fear of heights, but it was a case of “open mouth, insert foot”. I was dating a girl who’s brother was a paratrooper, and while we were talking together one day, I mentioned that I would love to go skydiving. My ego was on the line, standing next to this brave, macho brother of my girlfriend. Of course, I never expected to really jump out of an airplane. However, when her brother said, “I know a great place you can do that, and it’s on me!”, I couldn’t back out.
It was very sunny at the small airfield in southern New Jersey, where myself and two other nervous first-time jumpers would spend the next three hours preparing for our jump. We learned about our parachutes, how they were packed, what a drogue is, and the way they the chute would be opened. We also spend the bulk of the time learning how to fall, by jumping off a platform. If we landed wrong we could injure or possibly break our legs. Looking back, this was the first lesson of faith I had, although I was not aware of it. We learned not to look at the ground when landing, because we may reach for it by stretching and reaching out our legs in order to control the fall. Instead, we were told to look at the horizon, and to have faith in our chute and our newly learned ability to land safely.
The time came for the plane to ascend. There were three students, including myself, and our instructor in a small propeller plane with worn out seats and a musty smell. I knew what I was supposed to do, yet I didn’t know if I could actually go through with it. The door opened and we were expected to stand on the outer step, hold onto the wing and wait for the instructor’s signal to let go. The first guy was called up. I never saw someone turn so pale and frightened. As he held on to the wing, I could almost hear his heart beating. He let go, and was gone. Next was my turn. I stepped out of the plane onto the platform and gripped the wing so tightly that I though my fingers would break off. All the preparation I did earlier had come down to this moment. I still had to just have faith and let go. I heard my instructor say “now!”, but his voice was distant and seemed unreal. A second “NOW!”, and I let go of the wing.
The experience was incredible. I never felt so free and peaceful. As I was gently floating towards the earth, and steering towards a large bullseye on ground (by pulling down right and left levers on the chute), I wondered what I tried so hard to hold on to. Not just on the wing of the airplane, but also to my fear of heights and to my desire for constant control. I landed on my feet, looking at the horizon as I was instructed to, but my heart and soul were still flying free.
I had my skydiving experience over 35 years ago, but I still think about it every day.
In trying to describe what faith is, I find it useful to contrast it with what it is not:
Faith vs. Fear:
When we try to control our Dogs, it is often based on fear. Fear that they will misbehave, fear that they will hinder our peace, fear that they will embarrass us, and even fear that they will harm themselves. Too much of this fear will lead to controlling every aspect of our Dog’s lives, and that leaves them no room for their own lives. If we truly love our Dogs, then we must love them and have faith in them as Dogs, and not as puppets or machines. We need to have a healthy balance between fear and faith, and trust that our Dogs are perfect just as they are.
Faith vs. Hope:
Hope is a hollow uncertainty. When we hope for something, we desire a specific outcome, yet we are not sure we will get it. There is a strong element of doubt in hope. Faith is certainty – not about a future outcome, but about a present moment perfection. “In the whole universe, not one blade of grass is out of place.” – Chuang Tzu
Faith vs. Belief:
Belief and faith are polar opposites. Belief is tightly grasping an idea or a concept. Faith is letting go of fixed ideas and concepts. Faith is having a beginner’s mind. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”- Shunryu Suzuki
When we let go of preconceived notions and assumptions about what sharing life with our Dog is, then we are free to experience all the joys, nuances and textures of the relationship. True friendship can never stand if it is forced, and when our fear of falling causes us to grip so tightly, we lose the very friendship we seek in the first place, we find, paradoxically, that only by letting go, can we fly.