spirituality and the dog

And why shouldn’t dogs wear sunnies?

George Vaillant, a Prof of Psychiatry at Harvard, points out that his Golden Retriever exhibits some of the main characteristics we associate with spirituality – Faith, Hope and Joy – the title of his new book, currently at the publishers.

Last week I had the privilege of breakfast with Prof. Vaillant at the LifeCare Centre, North Adelaide.
Prof Vaillant refers to spirituality as positive emotions, located in the limbic area of the brain. So we are born with ‘spirit’. Religion, on the other hand, is located in the cognitive part of the brain and is culturally determined. Of course the two are not independent, and, as we grow older, the limbic and the cortex connect better with each other.


The health professions seem to be taking the lead in helping us better understand spirituality. Perhaps that is because such postitive emotions as peace, love, forgiveness, faith, hope and joy (the “positive emotions” named in the “Prayer of St Francis”) are valued for their place in healing – I can’t envisage a hospital embracing the opposite emotions of conflict, hate etc!

As a University Chaplain, I wonder how these positive life-giving emotions are nurtured in the University. What are we doing that is spirit enhancing, and what must we stop doing because it is spiritually destructive? And how may the spirit- life enhancing be valued, given tangible expression and space to develop?
These questions seem to me to be much more significant and urgent within an institution so committed to the cognitive.

And of course, I could equally ask the same questions of religious institutions.

Could it be that we have become so “reasonable” that we are more likely to find faith, hope and joy in a dog than a fellow worker?

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