One Thousand Words or So

Dogs, the Mind, and Dogs’ Minds

I’m still relegated to the laptop. Dennis ordered the video card, and I’m assuming it will arrive tomorrow or the day after. I could ask him about its ETA, but doing so won’t get it here any sooner. When it shows, it shows.

Today is Wednesday. That means that Stella had dance class, which means that I got about an hour to sit in the car and read. It makes the rigamarole involved with the class itself, which really isn’t terrible, almost worthwhile.

I made progress in two books out there beneath the lamp in front of the car’s sunroof. I’ve been sporadically working my way through An Alchemy of Mind by Diane Ackerman, trying to get myself into the right frame of mind before picking it up. If I remember that I’m to enjoy Ackerman’s wordsmanship (not a word, but I like the sound of it), and that I’m to be grateful for bits of information that get added to my mental file cabinet, I can glide right through her biased assertions barely batting an eye. This evening, I even found something in the pages of Alchemy that’s worth sharing:

One job of the unconscious is to act as a workshop for rough-shaping ideas; crafting notions as new parts or tools become available; storing observations until something relevant appears in the landscape—generally soaking, simmering, and incubating ideas. Gradually, while combing through its inventory, it finds bits and pieces that create a pattern. When it slips knowledge of that pattern to the conscious mind, it’s a surprise, like a telegram slid under the door. Since we weren’t looking for it, and didn’t know about it, where did it come from? Out of thin air. We experience that unreasoned solution as intuition or insight. It may be wrong. Intuitions sometimes are. It may point us in a useful direction rather than offer a concrete solution. There are sudden intuitions (“snap judgments’), and there are gradual intuitions based on a slow, playful accumulation of details. Einstein credited his success to such a wordless state of deep play, in which images combined by themselves or at his bidding. Because it wasn’t exactly conscious, it wasn’t communicable, but he could see it in his mind’s eye.

For maybe a year or more, I’ve been consciously working with this aspect of my mind: upping my intake of words, art, opinions, news, and observations from the world around me. I’ve even called it “filing things away for future reference,” or maybe “collecting thoughts.” I’d have to say that my input levels have always been rather high, but for many years, I tried to gather input so that it would immediately affect my output (it’s the same attitude that had me reading a book the night before a paper is due, then writing the paper). I’ve since figured out that it’s a lousy way to do things. That “soaking, simmering, and incubating” should not be rushed. It’s like making spaghetti and meatballs: if the meatballs don’t spend enough time in the sauce, they won’t be worth eating.

Most of this need to rush came from the pressure I felt from the Internet—well, okay, first it came from the indoctrination I received through school. Nevertheless, everywhere you turn online, you find people showing their work, no matter how unfinished or bad it is, and they all tell you do the same: “ship it,” “just do it,” “start,” “overcome the resistance.” That works for some people and some situations, but not across the board. It took Flannery O’Connor five years to write Wise Blood, Leonardo Da Vinci worked on the Mona Lisa over the course of decades, and it took Beethoven years to compose his symphonies. If Flannery could have finished Wise Blood in a year, it surely would have been a different book than the one that was published. I look back at some of my early attempts at writing fiction and poetry and just laugh. Who did I think I was?

Oh, another benefit of letting things in my brain simmer is that it helps me to reserve judgment and keep my opinions to myself. That, in turn, encourages me to be more open to new points of view and to consider things more carefully than I would if I felt I needed to make a statement about whatever is of the moment.

I’ve written here in the past about starting a 365-day photography project on my 50th birthday, and I still plan on doing it. I will think of the resulting photos, though, as a cross between input and output. Yes, I’ll be posting “finished” images on a daily basis (output), but the practice I get in seeing, framing, composing, and editing will count as input for works I may create further down the road.

Why do I feel the need to differentiate? Because the why is as important as the how, and expectations that are not in line with reality set the stage for disappointment.

I mentioned that I read two books during dance class. I got two chapters under my belt in Let Dogs Be Dogs by the Monks of New Skete and Marc Goldberg. I’m learning a lot from this book and really enjoying it. One passage in particular is worth sharing and remembering:

One of the hallmarks of a contemplative approach to life is learning to pay attention to life’s beauty and complexity manifested in the most ordinary of circumstances.*

Brother Thomas, who was the driving force behind New Skete’s [dog] training program, had this insight into inseeing: “Learning the value of silence is learning to listen to, instead of screaming at, reality: opening your mind enough to find what the end of someone else’s sentence sounds like, or listening to a dog until you discover what is needed instead of imposing yourself in the name of training.”

The Monks of New Skete are Orthodox Christians who live in a monastery in New York. They provide for themselves by breeding and selling German Shepherd puppies and by training dogs. I first encountered them when shelving one of their dog training books at either B.Dalton Booksellers or Barnes & Noble Booksellers all those years ago and always had them somewhere in the back of my mind. Let Dogs Be Dogs is their newest book, published in September 2017. It seemed like a good one to start with. Oh, and they define “inseeing” as “the ability to get inside your dog’s head, to see the world as it sees the world.” So far, I’m finding a dog’s way of seeing the world quite fascinating, and it helps me appreciate the world that much more.


*And, perhaps, filing them away for future reference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *