Are you a dog person or a cat person? Dogs and cats have been a roommate to mankind for millenia. Why is this? Do we see something in them? Do they see something in us?
I think we do. I think they do. I think what is shared is a kindred affinity for play.
Dogs and cats both play but they play in very different ways.
As any cat owner knows, introduce something new, feathery and fast moving into its environment and the cat will seem at the mercy of its own spontaneous delight. Eyes rapidly darting about, the paw starts swinging as if it feels the lord’s presence and before you know it, a full body slam into a wall because the cat can’t contain its own delight and joy.
The cat is a solar animal. Leo the lion is a solar archetype, with its golden mane portraying the rays of the sun. To play like a cat or to play in a solar way is to play spontaneously with whatever is presenting itself into your field of experience. This is the secret of a good actor who responds to the created circumstance of the stage, the changing existence that buzzes around him. The audience is swooned in the presence of creative spontaneity. When a comedian responds creatively to a heckler the audience often laughs the hardest because the spontaneity is so enlivening.
Philosopher Henri Bergson saw laughter to be an evolutionary strategy. He said that in general we laugh at “something mechanical encrusted upon the living.” A person walking down the street isn’t funny, but when their flow of vitality turns into a clunky mechanical breakdown of them slipping on a banana peel, we are cajoled into laughing. Something mechanical encrusted upon the living.
The cat guards against us becoming robots. The cat in us will laugh at a robotic response, like those of a deadpan comedian because it recognizes something that it fundamentally does not identify with: a robot.
The cat stays supple and stretchy because it refuses to become automatized. The cat felt like sleeping on your bed last night but not tonight. He came over when you called him today but won’t tomorrow. The cat will not be automated. The cat stays supple and spontaneous, and at the delighted mercy of bright fast moving feathers.
Dogs play differently. While a cat couldn’t care less about bringing you back the ball that you threw, a dog is overjoyed to complete the cycle of that game. While a cat acts like he didn’t even realize that you came home after 8 hours, a dog is bubbling over with the joy of your return.
Dogs love the rules of the game. They love committing to them, learning them and mastering them. Unlike the cat, rules don’t encroach upon the dog’s sense of freedom. On the contrary, the rules allow their freedom to soar. They become experts at fetch. They become our faithful soulmates. They enjoy the privileges of venturing out into the world because they follow a set of rules; don’t run away, don’t bite, don’t pee indoors.
The dog is a lunar animal, as symbolized by the wolf who howls at the moon. The moon is all about finding a sense of inner security, through the home, the family, but also your private inner life. The moon is the subconscious, who plays just like a dog.
Before the dog of your subconscious knows the rules of the game, you struggle to stay balanced with the bike. Falling down teaches your subconscious mind what works and what doesn’t. Once the rules are learned you are able to ride effortlessly, without even thinking of it. The loyal, rule-loving dog of your subconscious allows you to put your mind on other things while he rides the bicycle. What a good dog.
The dog is skilled, effortlessly, and with each new skill he better navigates his world.
Everyone wants to be effortlessly skilled and everyone wants to have more fun. But the time involved in learning a new skill often daunts a person away from even beginning. Having fun is generally reserved for ‘free time’ on a rare Saturday afternoon, under the right weather conditions.
But the wisdom of the sun and moon declares that time, married happily to the body is free. Learning and laughing are by-products of spirited time as a light builds inside.
Fun and finesse are what come out of our most precious birthright: spirited response.
With a spirited response, one builds light inside and stores energy. This is the uphill march of evolution, a move against entropy. Moving against the flow of entropy is the most basic characteristic of life.
At some point in the grand evolutionary chain of life, a molecule wised up and decided to store energy instead of lose it.
It is misdirected to place all of the capacity for the growth of spirit onto the growth of money. This leads immediately to what philosopher Erich Fromm saw as a catastrophe, as humans begin to alienate from their true natures because they see themselves and others as commodities. Love becomes a cheap transaction instead of an art. A thing instead of a verb. Life itself begins to turn to stone.
This is not the way. Growth has to be centered on the spirit, which is centered in the body, and relates to its world in search of truth.
Growth of the spirit promotes unity in the complex fragments of personality. It finds a worthy direction for a powerhouse of unknown energy deep within. The powerhouse builds and builds based on all actions taken in the past, and the past stretches back until no one knows. Nature has many secrets. Not only does nature have secrets, its mystery is worthy of our deepest understanding and fiercest protection.
Just as the very nature of our planet continues to be threatened, so too does human nature.
We ignore listening to the needs of our planet just as we ignore listening to the needs of our natures.
To underestimate the need for an individual’s growth of spirit is to turn our backs from the future of humanity.
Discovering your place of spirited response seems at first so private, and maybe even self-indulgent, but it points true north towards a better tomorrow for everyone.
Finding that relationship where reality coaxes forth a spirited response readies one to find a rightful place in society. This is not selfish at all! In a world whose inhabitants are growers of spiritedness there is an important role for everyone.
As Joseph Campbell put it “everyone talks about saving the world but you’re not here to save the world, you’re here to save yourself. But in doing that you save the world. A vital person vitalizes.”