God Spelled Backwards

Jean Houston believes pets are more than just furry friends -- they can be our spiritual guides and soul companions.

Jean Houston, a renowned scholar, philosopher, and teacher, has worked as a consultant to the United Nations, UNICEF, and other international agencies. She is the best-selling author of "A Mythic Life," "The Possible Human," and "Jump Time." She was a protégée of Margaret Mead and Joseph Campbell, and currently serves as co-director of the Foundation for Mind Research and the founder of the Mystery School -- an institution dedicated to education and the exploration of human potential.

In her latest book, "Mystical Dogs," Dr. Houston explores the ways in which the dogs in her life have guided her on each stage of the mystic path. She spoke with Beliefnet about how we can learn from our animal companions.


You say animals are part of the sacred flow of nature, while humans, on the other hand, are stuck in this "once-removed spirituality." Are dogs spiritually superior to humans?

[laughs] That's a funny question. I wouldn't say anything like that. I would just say that they are closer to nature and thus seem to be on a continuum with the natural flow of things. Obviously humans are much more complex in their spirituality, and in a sense it's almost the difference between the spirituality of a child and the spirituality of a grownup. Because as grownups we have eros, and aesthetic joy, and passion, and complexity, and the shadows of life that inform our brightness. And I think the same thing is true of animals; it's just that I think they serve as wonderful guides because of their simplicity and the naturalness of their being.

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You seem to be saying that we go backwards spiritually as we evolve; why do you think that is?

I think it's the humdrum dailyness of everyday, isn't it, the muchness of our lives, a serial monotony; the living for the object, the goal, the thing. And of course, in our time, the too-muchness of it. At least in the West we've put so much of our emphasis on outwardness rather than inwardness and have disturbed the ecology between inner and outer spaces. This is why I think we turn so much to our pets because they remind us of our deeper nature, of what is truly important. And also in a strange way of what we can be. They rest us deeply and give us sudden joys that we have forgotten.

Have you seen the bumper sticker "Lord help me be the person my dog thinks I am"?

[laughs] Yes, I have that. And it's not a bad idea, that we could become what they see - what with their loyalty, their goodness, their constant presence, their availability to us even when we doubt ourselves. Not to [mention] the fact that they take us on our walks and keep us in shape and restore us to nature and the natural flow of things.

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Interview by Lisa Schneider
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