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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


At the dog park the other day I watched as my grand dog, Lewis, a day glow green football gripped firmly in his mouth, galloped from one end of the field to the other while being chased by a pack of hounds both large and small. It is not with grand parental pride that I say Lewis was glorious. He pranced, zoomed, trotted out all his fancy moves. He was, in the words of one young woman observing this epic chase, the star of the show. But here is the thing, none of that mattered to Lewis. His grace, extraordinary athleticism, his spirit had nothing to do with any canine ego. Lewis was simply enjoying the moment—the pursuit of the other dogs and the game; to outpace them without denying them the slim chance of snatching the prize from his mouth.

I’ve often thought we humans would benefit from that same lack of self awareness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be so absorbed in the fun of the game on some still warm Fall afternoon that we forgot all about ourselves? To find ourselves, we are told we must lose ourselves. But what exactly does that mean? I suppose in purely psychological terms it means that to discover who we truly are we must first let go of our carefully constructed vanity—the persona we have accreted over the years that puts a noble face on our less than noble reality.

Many cultures equate wisdom with humility and the loss of illusion. Shamans are said to have gained this through life experience and introspection and through the death of ego that accompanies a psychic break, whether induced by life altering substances or personal trauma. But sought or conferred by trial, why do we humans seek to attain that which seemingly offers such insight? Perhaps we wish to be like Lewis, free to be in the moment as our authentic selves. Or, perhaps we seek an imagined peace within the quiet of a life that has moved beyond normal human desires. I am not speaking here of knowledge—that is an entirely different proposition. Knowledge can be obtained without great sacrifice and certainly without reckoning our frailties and self-delusions.

To be sure there is a value in being self-aware, assuming that it leads us to understand the effect we have in the world and on our fellow beings. But in the main, self-awareness is too often a narcissistic impulse, a conscious glance in life’s mirror to catch a glimpse of our own reflection. Neither is it helpful to attune our awareness solely that we might edit our thoughts and actions to conform to some ideal. The goals is to be Lewis, simply to be, without a care for our interaction with the universe but resting in harmony with it, being who we were meant to be. That, I say with sadness, is beyond me and truthfully beyond most humans. We know too much and understand too little to feel the innocence of a dog who gathers in joy in great gulping mouthfuls.

Small children can know this briefly, until the world wears on them and they are disenchanted by seeing themselves through others’ eyes. Like many young children I had an imaginary friend, actually two of them. They were named Peak and Ally—at least that is how I remember their names. It is far too many years ago to recall what they looked like and I have the faint notion that in any event their look was ephemeral, subject to change as the moment dictated. Their world and mine was so innocent, so bereft of self-awareness that it never occurred to me to consider they were a creation of my imagination. I only discovered that through the questions posed by adults wondering who it was I conferred with in such earnest conversation. Their disbelief, however indulgently they pretended otherwise, shattered the link I had to these otherworldly companions and began the process of creating an I where before had stood an us.

The author George McDonald wrote a lovely short story about the relationship between an infant and her guardian angel, the name of which is lost to memory. He characterized the imagined playmate as an angel, the only way I suppose he could portray this being to an adult audience and remain a credible storyteller. I might put it differently. Peak and Ally were me, at least the seeds of me before I learned to look at myself in the mirror. They were a bit scampish, laughed at everything, were constantly curious and fascinated by the world around them but fully accepting and without judgement. Would that those qualities had all remained and lodged within me so abundantly, but I grew up and outgrew my guardians.

Peak and Ally were not a refuge from the world, though they were not of it. They were the joy of childhood, of life yet to unfold unjaded by experience, by knowing too much and understanding too little. Perhaps McDonald was right, they were my guardian angels. The ancient Greeks described Angels as messengers, Angelos. It is an apt description, but one might ask what their message was. I believe it was this: Be. Be a scamp, laugh, be curious, explore the world around you accepting everyone and everything without judgement. That is quite enough and all any one of us should wish for.

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