How I Discovered the Monks of New Skete… and More
I created this dog blog to generate even more interest in my book Learning to Live with Fritz which was ‘authored’ by E. Rawlins, my opera diva mistress. Note the use of the quotation marks above. I was the voice dictating, editing and rewriting her manuscript to make sure she got it right. Finally, I was satisfied that her comical memoir was self-critical and entertaining enough to appeal not only to dog lovers but to opera buffs and individuals interested in the spiritual aspect of their hairy housemates. Let me just cut to the chase: Buy the book or download the eBook… you won’t regret it!
Now I can get to my real topic of the day: How I found out about the Monks of New Skete, their German shepherd dogs, training manuals, books and general philosophy… including their beautiful practice of Inseeing, the relationship of human to companion animal… soul to soul. Yes, you read this correctly… as in non-separation.
Once Ms.Em was interviewed by Susan Owensby, a snazzy, upbeat American journalist for RFI (Radio France International).
Susan hosts her own unpredictable and eclectic radio show: The Sound Kitchen… where you never know WHAT you’ll be served! It is an international listener interactive radio program; it features essays on various topics written by listeners from all over the world, interviews with artists, scientists, peace activists, and offers an exciting weekly quiz.
The subject of the interview was E.’s poetry collection: Rather Light Candles Than Rage Against the Darkness and featured her reading of “I don’t know how to hate you” (page 67) a prose poem describing a cultural collision and its surprising outcome. *
It was The Sound Kitchen’s Susan Owensby who contacted E. by email after reading Learning to Live with Fritz.
“Your book stirred up so many emotions! Sad, happy – even the little green monster (why didn’t Burton or Taylor or Heloise send ME messages?), but after a good week’s’ digestion, this is what your book has brought to me: the readiness to have a dog again. You have certainly heard of The Monks of New Skete – the dog Brothers? I just remembered them the other day. Anyway, I just got their books and am loving them … You should read them.”
Of course (!) E. learned about the Brothers from the fabulous Ms.Owensby… but it was I… I was the one who consistently whispered reminder after reminder… until E. actually bought the Monk’s books and saved our sweet Freddy’s future… just in the nick of time.
Although through E.’s ineptness… Freddy has become a true chickaholic, this could work out to be (hopefully) his greatest character defect. He will certainly be socialized and more lovingly trained with the helpful guidance of the Brothers and Ms. Owensby on our side… that is if I have anything to say about it.
*Listen to Susan Owensby’s The Sound Kitchen Sunday 30 May 2010 – Interview and poetry reading with E. Rawlins
Inseeing: Puppy Training a la The Monks of New Skete
Puppy Freddy is at this moment (I try to get my teachings about living in the NOW… as often as possible) benefiting from my magnificent discovery! After consulting the books on puppy training by the dedicated Monks of New Skete, (who have been breeding and training German Shepherd dogs for over thirty years) I persuaded Ms. Em to do their inseeing exercise. You can try it too. Get down of the floor and look around … then look UP!
By doing this you get into the puppy perspective. Do you see the huge, looming potted plant with those enticing, droopy leaves? Notice that electrical cable-salad… all multicolored and twisting deliciously around the desk. Ah yes! The DESK… where something omnipotent rules the huge space that is your new human’s den? Are you able to see (and curb your instinct to investigate) those yummy-smelling leather contraptions that your human wears over his two back paws? Is this impossible to imagine? Try it.
This is the visual part of the empathy exercise that the Monks of New Skete advise those with a new puppy to practice. They have labeled this process: “Inseeing.” This term implies far more than just the visual aspect of interacting with your puppy. Here is a definition I found taken from an article by Morgan Van Wyck who has raised and trained his golden retriever Deva the New Skete way. Check out his article adapted from the Shambala Sun Magazine (Please note that all bold type is my idea of what’s important here).
The monks and dogs of New Skete
by Morgan Van Wyck
“The monastic experience calls one to go beyond words and to live, as Brother Christopher puts it, “a life without division.” It is an important point, since only in this way can one appreciate the extent to which, in the process of raising and training dogs, the monks have also enriched their own spiritual practice. Frequently, for example, the monks speak about the discipline of “inseeing,” a term they borrowed from their readings of the German poet Rilke.
Father Laurence, the abbot of New Skete, regards inseeing as the true meeting place of the contemplative mind with the natural world: “Inseeing is being willing to look at another living thing in a way that allows for seeing it in and of itself. It is respecting this ‘other’ for what it is, without trying to change it or own it. In this struggle to deepen one’s understanding one is enriched, given life, no matter how limited one’s success in this endeavor.”
This sounds good doesn’t it? Oh, if E. could have done that with me. If she could have found it in her heart to respect me, to look into me or just once in a while take the time to ask herself why I was behaving badly in certain situations. Had this been the case, there would have been no reason for her to write our book: Learning to Live with Fritz. Why? Because I am sure my dizzy opera diva and I would have gotten along better. I would have felt understood. I would have appreciated the peacefulness, the moments of silent human-canine communication. I would not have felt the need to teach such dramatic lessons. This empathy between us did not exist because Ms. Em was too involved with her divorce and her move back to Europe to save her flagging career. Along with those two life-changing events… meeting and recognizing the greatest love of her life was paramount in her mind and heart. She was an emotional basket case. Need I say more? She thought of me, merely as a traveling companion and mascot. I had to get her attention, didn’t I?
I cheerfully acknowledge torturing and embarrassing her so often because this was the only way I could teach her the lessons she so desperately needed to learn. All my tutorials were intentionally crafted to teach her about Being Here Now and living in the present moment. Be honest. This moment is the only moment that you-and all humans living on Planet Earth have. Can you change anything you did or said five minutes ago? (… and don’t you wish you could?) I rest my case.
All I was saying to E. was… “Slow down. Smell the flowers. Stay present. Concentrate on what you are doing, saying, hearing and seeing … right now.” Voila! What could be easier to comprehend? However, as any Zen Master will imply (but will never outright tell you)… the simplest lessons are the hardest to ‘get.’ I wanted her to THINK about who she was toting around with her. What impact was I (the tiny, bellicose and despotic Maltese nutcase) making on her psyche? I tried to make her see that the way she was scurrying around trying to make all the pieces of her life fit together… was pure nonsense. She never thought about what I might have been trying to tell her! E. didn’t think about this until I was long gone and she felt the vacuum of my absence. Don’t let this happen to you and your dog … please.
Inseeing means to take your dog seriously. Your dog is not a plaything, although he loves to play. Your pup is not your possession, although you paid a lot of money for her, or rescued him from a shelter. An Inseeing statement of purpose might go like this:
“We are in this together. Let us join forces for friendship and companionship and live our lives from this moment on as equal partners in sharing and learning about each other.”
If E. had known about Inseeing she might have discovered something about herself and I would not have taken such drastic measures to get her attention… but then, as I said before… our book would not have been written and this blog would not exist. Now I ask you… hasn’t everything turned out perfectly? You bet. Ms. Em learned all about unconditional love and I received a much deserved bonus of ruling over this Dog Blog as Whispering Fritz! Spiritual journeys are rarely trouble-free and as straightforward as we would like them to be.
The Monks of New Skete: How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend
Well, I did it. I got puppy Freddy picked out, picked up and taken home in spite of E.’s nervousness about the entire gigantic (it took seven years for me to convince her) project. This is Ms. Em’s chance to do it right this time instead of producing (through her crass know-it-all tendencies) another crazy little dog. Almost all dog trainers, whisperers and psychologists agree that it is never the dog creating the behaviors these experts are called in to analyze and/or to remedy. In Learning to Live with Fritz the dizzy diva plays a mea culpa role. She freely admits all the errors in her thinking and takes full credit for the emotional traumas she unwittingly caused
(her dog Fritz) in attempting to explain why I turned out the way I did. I was the despotic, dominant, Boss Dog who taught her how to love unconditionally. I pushed her to her limits. I entered her life with my eccentric and willful personality fully trained … but as a strict teacher … never as a dog. I have to admit, I did a sublime job on my unwilling student. In the end (by Jove !) she got it
Since I have been concerned about the new pup in E.’s life, and her certain influence over the innocent creature’s developing personality … I took a worldwide survey of dog trainers, dog lovers, dog books etc. until I had the answer to a very important question: Who has compiled, through experience and dedication, the perfect attitude on training a puppy? What E. advises in (our) Chapter Five: Name the Puppy, Train the Puppy … is basically how not to train a new canine family member. Quite a lot of her advice is astute, usable and admirably self-critical. However, the analysis of mistakes (often genuinely hilarious) and the conclusions drawn from a woman’s misadventures with one preprogrammed pup was not answering my question.
Wherever I looked for the perfect training manual … I found shortcomings and a serious neglect of the one most important element in the human-dog
relationship. The spiritual aspect that (like it or not, accept it or not) exists between a dog and his “owner.” Finally I found what I was looking for from the profoundly spiritual and utterly practical Monks of New Skete and their publications. BINGO! Everything I wanted E. to know has been researched and illustrated in a manuscript revised and updated in 2002. I have to admit that I scanned the reviews for the one I liked best. Library Journal says it all: “How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend is the most readable book on the dog training for the layman that this reviewer has come across. Any person who has ever thought of owning a dog should read this engaging book from cover to cover.” I have to agree. Imagine how delighted I was upon discovering that the monks have also published a book entitled The Art of Raising a Puppy!
Granted, Ms. Em has pleased me with her courage to go the distance on her (my) dream. I can’t say that enough since it was my idea. I worked diligently to persuade her to see why the puppy project was essential for her continued lessons in living in the present moment. On the other hand … I have observed brand new errors in judgment as she attempts to train her beloved Freddy. Trying her best to please the new arrival (already a big mistake) she has unwittingly taught her pup a new word (and unfortunately the incomparable taste of) ‘chicken’ – Freddy has become a trembling mass of insistent instant gratification. Unfortunately for Ms. Em (extended kitchen duty) Freddy is now a genuine chickaholic and refuses all food presented in his supper dish without the expected freshly cooked chicken breast chopped small and sprinkled over the top of his Royal Canin mini bites for puppies.
This is for you Freddy:
My dear Pup,
You have probably noticed that the lady who took you away from your mother completely adores you but is at this time … acting a bit neurotic. You are about to be saved from the ineptness of a frightened mistress trying her best to please you and make you her friend. This is all wrong! She now has come full circle and is sure that she does not know it all … now she is afraid that she knows nothing! Have pity on her. She is thoroughly confused. She is especially nervous about your training and about how you
will turn out. Please understand that in her present state of agitation that it is impossible for her to do anything right. She will be making major mistakes with you. My only advice is: Relax. The cavalry is coming. I will find a way to get her to buy (or download) the above mentioned books, and this time … read them.
Your true friend,