Excerpted with permission from "Mystical Dogs: Animals as Guides to Our Inner Life" by arrangement with Inner Ocean Publishing.

To some, this equating of the mystical experiences and dogs may seem foolish, even sacrilegious. "Mystical Dogs??!" a friend of mine exclaimed in some heat when I told her the title of the book I was planning to write. "That's nonsense. How can you possibly put mysticism and dogs together? It's like putting rabbits and football in the same group, or elephants and space stations, or."

She began to search for ever more impossible duos when I interrupted, "Have you ever had a dog?"

"No," she admitted. "My parents wouldn't let me. Once I brought home a puppy from a friend whose dog had 15 babies, but they made me give him back. And then I grew up living in the city and all."

"Geraldine! What do you think your life would have been like had you been allowed to keep that puppy?" I challenged. "Just do me a favor and imagine being seven or eight and having this dog for your companion."

Geraldine, who is noted for her imaginative gifts, thought for a moment and then said, "Well, I do have some idea, come to think of it. I used to visit an aunt and uncle on their farm. They had three kids and several dogs, and we'd go running together. But if I had had my own dog, well. I think I would have had entry into another world. I would have had a different kind of playmate, one with whom I wouldn't have had to be so careful about what I said or did. I would not have been so locked up in myself. I would have played with my dog in his world -- learned to bark, rolled around in the grass with him, had secret places that only he and I would have known. I would have touched him a lot, and he would have brushed up on me, wanting to be patted or scratched.

"We would have had all kinds of adventures," she continued." He would have taken me into a dog world. We would have gone wild together. We would have run and run until we were exhausted and then lain panting in the sun, having experienced the elements. The power of our physical bodies would have felt so alive, so full of possibility, and yet one with everything. And then we'd have figured out some more games to play.

"As I'd follow my dog as he went snooping around, I would have been more alert to the sights and sounds around us," Geraldine visualized further. "I would have gotten something of dog mind and senses. And at night he would have curled up with me in bed and we would have awoken together, his cold nose poking at me to get up and have wonderful new adventures. I would have sneaked food to him from my plate, and we would have shared secrets and special games. If I was unhappy he'd have been there with me, trying to make it all right. We would have been great friends -- best friends. And I would have known what it is to love totally and to be completely loved in turn."

What Geraldine was unwittingly describing were some of the stages of the classical spiritual journey, the road that mystics of all times and places have taken in their pursuit of the larger reality. We have been on journeys with dogs for thousands of years, as hunters, companions of the road, friends at the hearth. But if you look at the nature of this companionship, it goes far beyond the platitudes of a boy and his dog. It is a mystery that shakes paws with the infinite and guides us to the farther shore of our nature's highest promise.

For what is mysticism but the art of union with Reality, and a mystic, a person who aims at and believes in the attainment of such union. In its classical spiritual form it is a heroic journey, and valiant efforts are required to follow the path. Many of the spiritual teachers of the world have likened our lives to "a sleep and a forgetting." The mystic path, rather, is predicated on awakening, on going off robot and abandoning lackluster passivity to engage cocreation with vigor, attention, focus, and radiance, characteristics we might note we often find in our animal friends.

Thus the mystical experience is perhaps the greatest accelerator of evolutionary enhancement. Through it, we tap into wider physical, mental, and emotional systems, thereby gaining entrance into the next stage of our unfolding, both individually and collectively. Once the province of the few, the mystic path may now be the requirement of the many -- a unique developmental path for self and world.

In a lifetime of studying the art and science of human development, I have found no more powerful, practical, and evolutionary practice than what is known as the mystic path. When I have studied or talked with seekers who have had this experience, they have told me of a joy that passes understanding, an immense surge of creativity, an instant uprush of kindness and tolerance that makes them impassioned champions for the betterment of all, bridge builders, magnets for solutions, peacemakers, pathfinders. Best of all, other people feel enriched and nourished around them. Everyone they touch becomes more because they themselves are

more. Perhaps we have needed the changes and accelerations of our time to put the flame under the crucible of becoming so that such inward alchemy could take place.

Mysticism seems to rise during times of intense change and stress. Add the sufficiency of current shadows and the breakdown of all certainties, and have the ingredients for the current universal pursuit of spiritual realities. We live in a time in which more and more history is happening faster and faster than we can make sense of it. The habits of millennia seem to vanish in a few months and the convictions of centuries are crashing down like the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. And yet, the deconstruction of traditional ways of being may invite the underlying Spirit of which we are a part to break through.

So how can we birth this miracle within ourselves? How can we foster our natural birthright of spiritual presence? For many years I have been a student of the varieties of spiritual experience, but for many more years than that I have been the student of dogs and cats. Bringing the two together has given me an insight into the nature of both that I otherwise would not have had. It have involved the necessary bridging of nature and spirit, instinct and intelligence, and ultimately, the discovery that the animals have been there before us and have innate knowing of God, or the One Reality, which is the life and unfolding of the universe. I do not mean to suggest that animals follow the human version of the mystic path, but rather that they are so naturally a part of the One Reality that they restore us to something like our original condition, one in which we discover the steps and stages of the path that leads us back to who and what we really are.

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