From Emptiness to Tenderness
An excerpt from the Introduction of Becoming a Love Dog by Patricia Flasch)
Let’s look again at one of my favorite poems:
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog
for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love-dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
- Rumi - *
* Reprinted with permission. From page 78 of The Illuminated Rumi by Coleman Barks & Michael Green, © Broadway Books, a division of Bantam, Doubleday, Dell Publishing, New York 1997
When I read this poem, I am deeply comforted. The poem allows me to integrate my morning grief, loneliness, and longing. Instead of thinking I’m separate or feeling ashamed of these early morning visitors, now I can feel honored. My longing for God, says Rumi, IS my connection with God. To me this means I am only in one true state. I am with God, because I am always either longing for God or knowing I am connected with God.
To know our grief, anxiety, despair, and the full range of our humanity does not mean that we have fallen out of grace with the God of our understanding but rather that the One we call God is present in the midst of our heartbreaking humanity and offers a point of integration that is very comforting on our path.
Knowing God is present while we experience our deep emotions ends dualistic thinking. My belief and experience is that dualistic thinking causes suffering. As soon as we begin to judge, “I’m good” or “I’m bad” or this experience is “good” or “bad,” we are already knee deep in suffering. We make life “right” and death “wrong,” health “right” and illness “wrong,” thin “right” and fat “wrong,” white “right” and black “wrong,” light “right” and dark “wrong.” We are endlessly comparing and judging our experience. This is painful. We have no room for forgiveness or neutrality. Forgiveness and neutrality open our hearts to understanding and compassion, hence, a possibility of a fully authentic life! Without dualistic thinking, our grief cry simply becomes part of our journey rather than something we must overcome in order to return to a place of feeling connected.
My grief, my despair, my loneliness, and yours are a part of God. As the Rumi poem says, “Your pure sadness that wants help IS the sacred cup,” just as the whining of a dog for its master is the connection. Rumi continues by saying, “There are love dogs no one knows the names of. Give your life to be one of them”
What does it mean to be a love dog? I’ll share what it means to me. And I’ve asked a few love dogs I know, what they would like to say about their own experience of being a love dog:
My simple and personal definition of a love dog is a person who wants God (the God of their own understanding), or inner peace, or truth, or enlightenment, or soul integration, as much as they want water if they are dying of thirst. Love dogs are always seeking, always pining, or alternately knowing that the most essential part of their lifetime here on earth is this holy connection.
Another love dog and collaborative coach of mine, Isabel Parlett, says that being a love dog reminds her of the way our culture views dogs. She says, “Dogs are the perceived symbol of loyalty and unconditional love, and part of our purpose here is to love ourselves the way a beloved dog loves us. Once we do love ourselves with deep devotion, then we can also pass that love on to all those we touch.”
My friend and web designer, David Chittak Caldwell, says that a love dog is someone who comes from their heart, who wants the best for all, who longs to be filled with love, Spirit, and vastness. A love dog hopes to go to that place beyond right and wrong where all is well. They want to love more than they want to be right. Love dogs may at times be angry, fearful, or greedy. But there is, within them, a deep desire and willingness to return to compassion and to serve something larger than themselves.
Another love dog friend of mine from Taos, New Mexico, Jeannie Zandi, a facilitator and soul practitioner, says, “A love dog dares not to be right, not to be first, to admit a mistake, to sing off-key, to not defend or justify their behavior. They dare to skip, to laugh, and to pour the love that shines from their heart all over every woman, man, child, and beast that comes into their sphere. A love dog is one who dares to be clueless, to not have the answer, to not be clever, to be caught off-guard, to fail, to not make sense, to give up, to lie on the ground lower than the most low, singing a happy, dopey tune.”
I love each of these definitions of a love dog. For the purposes of this book, we will use the following: A love dog is one who enters bravely into inner landscapes so that he or she can live with more freedom. A love dog is someone for whom the unseen world is central. This is the world of love, communion, inspiration, compassion, tenderness, truth, authenticity, emptiness, and the Divine rather than victory over another, deception, being “right,” or amassing fortune and power.
Since I began writing this book, I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to “become a love dog” or, if being a love dog is innate. Are we born into our love dog character or do we unfold into our own deep willingness and love dog nature through time and experience and heartache? My experience is that both are true.
On the one hand, I recall that the moment I met my husband—after he drove up in his rusted out green Mercury Comet in Seattle—and I met his eyes, I knew he was a love dog. His bright blue eyes took in the whole landscape, and his eagerness in running across the lawn to meet me resonated deeply in my soul. I already “knew” him in some utterly unspoken yet very real way.
My first thought was, “Hmmm, I’m going to marry him.” That he is a love dog has turned out to be so true. He is always willing to learn, to get help when we need it, to play a sport he’s never played, to take a class he knows nothing about, to read poems late at night, to hold both my heartbreaking humanity and my large spirit in his arms. The rugged places in our nearly quarter century union have been worked through precisely because we are both love dogs. It is our deepest intention to work things out irrespective of the process we go through in facing ourselves in order to sustain our connection.
My beloved husband says, “A love dog is someone who can see the forest for the trees. A love dog not only thinks outside the box, they don’t see the box. A love dog knows their own foibles and seeming failures, and loves themselves and you anyway.”
About ten years ago I was taking a weekend seminar entitled “Abundance and Gratitude” and a wonderful man stood up and shared his feelings. I knew when he stood up that I wanted to work with him. It was a very compelling feeling—like I must work with him or I am supposed to be his “soul coach.”
Though this dear man was very busy and it took several phone calls to get our first appointment, I was relentless. This, by the way, is not my style. Usually one phone call is enough, and if the potential client is not available, I bless them and let go.
This time, I had this feeling that we “belonged” together. At this point in time we have been working together over the course of a decade. Every time we meet, I experience communion. He is a part of my heart as I am part of his. We don’t have a traditional coach/client relationship. It’s more like love dog meets love dog.
My dearest friends will walk through fire when we need to work something out between us. My closest friends have an eternal love for me (and I for them). Their consistent message is that it does not matter what I am experiencing—the darkest night, the worst experience, the greatest terror. They simply listen and offer compassion. If they think I am off course, they speak up about what they see.
The soul and business coaching clients that I have worked with for extended periods of time, often several years, also have that love dog quality. They have a willingness to look deeply at their lives, their humanity, their divinity, and all phases of their process. They take our work directly into their lives. Part of their spiritual practice is to take the tools we work with into their lives and businesses on a daily basis.
It doesn’t matter to me, on a given day, if a client is heart broken, lost, or in despair or if they show up feeling connected and capable of profound movement in their journey. Either way I get to work with a willing love dog heart or I get to enjoy their momentum. I am as happy to be with them when they feel “broken” as when they are experiencing “wholeness.” Either way, we are anamchara—a Celtic word that means “soul friend.”
I’ve been describing the ones who come by their experience of being a love dog naturally. As long as I’ve known these folks and in all the interactions we’ve had, they come from truth and willingness. Our meeting with an open heart in that love dog space continues to expand all aspects of our lives.
There is another category of folks who enter my practice. They are a bit crusty and closed when we begin. Given how thick the veil seems, I often wonder if I should be working with them. In the first few sessions it seems as if their fear is bigger than their Essence. Since my client profile is love dogs, I ask myself, “What am I doing here? Why am I working so hard to encourage them to put down the sword and listen to their own hearts?”
For these folks, though, a miracle begins taking place after only a few sessions, or perhaps a few months. I find that while they could not initially let me in or let love in, it was a cover for a sweet heart. These clients begin to step away from their role in the world. They no longer see themselves as company presidents or vice presidents or ministers or counselors or small business owners. Instead they are showing up as souls. They start looking behind the face they show to the world and begin to look more deeply at what is going on inside.
Their introspection, by the way, does not diminish the roles they have in the world. In fact, most of them become much more skillful in their careers, better friends, more compassionate, more deeply connected partners, and more a part of the larger community. Perhaps these folks are “latent” love dogs. In other words, they are love dogs in their very nature but it had been covered over with human condition so that they forgot. Perhaps these people didn’t arrive here on planet earth as love dogs but a miracle or a shift in perception has taken place, and now they are love dogs.
Both love dogs that arrived on earth in this state of profound willingness and deep open-heartedness and the love dogs that quickly unfold into those willing hearts with just a tiny bit of coaching are blessed beyond words. To care primarily about one’s enlightenment or one’s connection with the Divine IS a wonderful gift, and an essential way to create a truly sacred relationship with yourself.
On a much deeper level, I sense that clients fall in love with me as their teacher. But I am just an outer reflection of what they are really falling in love with: a deep, wise, compassionate part of themselves, their Beloved, the God of their Understanding. I don’t say this from an egoic position. I say it as a love dog on a mission here on earth: to search for My Beloved in everyone I encounter and in every experience I have. And I know there are many like-minded souls who join with me in this Invisible Ministry.
The third category I’m aware of is those souls who are not love dogs. These are the ones who want to be right. These are the ones whose fear is, at least in this moment, so much greater than their love. These are the ones to whom, in my capacity as a psychospiritual counselor, I suggest that “blame” is their biggest issue. They are lost in who is “right” and who is “ wrong” and cannot or will not put down the sword. These folks are not showing up as love dogs at this point in time.
Whether they are interested in self-blame or blaming one another, they are not interested in taking responsibility for their experience. When a client or a student cannot or will not see their partner’s pain and perspective as equal to their own, then they are not operating from that love dog place. Karen DiTrapani, a shamanic coach from the Boston area, says it beautifully: “There are those who have so many pain pictures they do not have access to their love dog nature and cannot howl to find their pack.”
That is not to say that we love dogs never visit the blaming place, but rather for love dogs, blame of self or another is temporary. A love dog keeps working on his or her self until the blame recedes and self-respect and respect for one another returns.
I believe that every single soul on earth beneath EVERYTHING is a love dog, but some of us have veils that are too thick to pierce. Sometimes when I work with a client I can turn myself into a pretzel to deliver a soulful message that they really can’t hear. In those cases, my greatest act of tenderness is to honor their perspective and to let them go with my blessing.
It’s unkind to attempt to force willingness because willingness cannot really be forced. One of my own greatest blessings is that grief and turmoil brought me to my knees at a very young age. Wayne Muller has written that a painful childhood can leave a positive legacy (Muller, Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantage of a Painful Childhood). In my experience, that’s true. We can take our early heartache and be broken by it or it can make us more caring, thoughtful, empathetic, and strong. Pain often leads to willingness. We can use that pain to become love dogs.
Love dogs use every situation in their lives to make them more—more connected, more authentic, more self-knowing, more devoted, and more as a soul. Becoming more, and more of a love dog is a life-long pursuit. It takes skill, patience, intention, tenderness, integrity, support from others, and most of all, willingness. I love working with love dogs. It makes my heart sing. It touches my soul very deeply.
Signs of Being a Love Dog
A longing for something nameless
A yearning for something vaster than the small self
A desire to see past right and wrong (Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”)
An honoring of our own and each other’s heartbreaking humanity
A passion for truth
A desire for healing
An interest in tenderness
A deep integrity
A bodhisattva: One who agrees to come to earth to help and serve until all souls are healed, starting with themselves
A deep interest in living authentically
Easily moved to tears or laughter
Life has become a spiritual path
A willingness to learn from every painful experience, turning dross into gold
An intention to stop blaming self and the other
A commitment to forgiving oneself and one another eternally
A mature capacity for introspection
My Hope for this Book
This book is written in homage to and for love dogs. It is written for those souls who are willing to expand their consciousness. For that reason, I call each chapter a soul note, a message from my soul to yours. This collection of soul notes is a response to a call from love dogs. Each soul note is an outpouring of my desire to offer you, dear reader, support to live your life more fully, tenderly, honestly, skillfully, passionately, and authentically. It is my personal passion to join hands and hearts with all the love dogs who are yearning for a more constant conscious connection with the Divine, are sincere about exploring their own emptiness and want to create a more a tender relationship with themselves.
As humans, we so often get caught in the worldly trance—in making a living, raising children, political unrest, and social chaos—that we lose sight of the love dog within. We are not always loving, honest, giving, and compassionate. But within us, like a pole star, is the desire and willingness to return to love, compassion, authenticity, and communion. This longing will always carry us back, eventually, to Love. This book offers practical tools to shift out of our unconscious patterns into our true nature, our love dog nature.
If you recognize this love dog place within yourself, it is my prayer that the tools and stories in these soul notes will help you live the life you long for.
Becoming a Love Dog
by Patricia Flasch
Available on Amazon