A Spiritual Practice Involving Imaginary Animal Friends

By Tracy Keenan

September 11, 2018

Imaginary animal friends can be delightfully helpful in practicing discernment, self-control, and letting go, among other things.

Years ago, I had a Great Pyrenees, a giant, slobbering, snow monster with a sweet and patient soul. Big dogs remain puppies for longer periods than little ones, and their destructive chewing phases go on longer, too. My big old dog liked big old objects, the more expensive, the tastier. I would be sitting at the kitchen table writing or reading and a soft grinding sound would dawn on me from below, slowly emerging in my unconscious. I’d look down and see Bearly gnawing – on a new boot, a book from my reference library, a briefcase, and one time, my Bible. (The latter I caught quickly. He had gently torn out a corner of the page where Samuel is being called by God. My dog had good taste in Bible stories. I still have that Bible and its torn page. Not a word was lost.)

After my initial yowl, I would call upon my dog training lessons, and reach gently under his jaw, hand open and ready, and firmly say, “Give… give… give… drop it…” until he dropped the item reluctantly into my hand. I’d examine it for damage while he continued smacking his big old dog lips, eyeing me with regret. He could still taste whatever was so good, and I would look around for something with which to replace it. A pig’s ear, perhaps, or a rawhide chew toy. I’d give him the replacement, and sometimes he’d take it, but often not. He just needed a moment or two to come to terms with the letting go.

I don’t know about you but there are times when I find myself gnawing over a tired old issue – an old grudge, a recurring annoyance, a tiresome drama. What I call “gnawing” is worrying, blaming, replaying, agitating, or otherwise letting myself chew the edges of something without actually addressing it. It releases angry juices, gets my heart rate pounding, catches my thoughts between its sharp teeth, and won’t let go. Worst of all, it is destructive chewing. It does not ask healthy questions or come up with possible solutions. It deepens resentment. The problem is, how can I intercept it and effectively stop it?

The other day I was doing just that as I was driving along in my car, and the inner gnawing dawned on me, rising to my consciousness. I hadn’t even realized I was doing it. It was something about which I have done all I can, and still, I was letting it take over my mind’s space again. Suddenly, remembering my dear Bearly, I said to myself, firmly and aloud, “Give… give… give… drop it…” I could feel myself reach for the tired old over-thought topic, and at the same time could feel myself reluctantly let go and then smack my lips, still tasting the rant in my head. (In these scenarios, I get to be both the owner and the dog.) I offered to replace it with some better thoughts, and eventually, I took them, one of those healthier, more productive chew toys.

Bottom line: it made me laugh, it helped me to let go of the destructive gnawing, and gave me another tool to use as these things inevitably emerge.

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