It was Gurdjieff who said that one of our aims should be to not die like a dog. Let’s unwind this one.
How does a dog live? Dogs have no self respect. This is both endearing, but also quite sad. Give a dog a bone and it is happy. Chastise it for pissing on your new authentic Armenian carpet with secret knowledge embedded in its patterns, and it will skulk in a corner. Although, maybe your dog knows something that you do not. In any case dogs exhibit pure emotion that is wholly determined by circumstances. Most people live their lives this way. There is nothing within them that is their own. If things go well people tend to be happy, when things are not going so well they get angry, despondent, sad, resentful. All of these states are passive responses to the environment, and dogs and many human beings share these states.
You might also have noticed that dogs are always trying to please, usually to get food. They are happy with the crumbs from the table and grateful for the least sign of approval. Most of us behave like this too – desperate for the approval of others and happy to receive crumbs – especially from our latest guru. We live life like beggars, or dogs desperately searching for a home, expecting others to supply the things we think we cannot procure ourselves. And a whole population of people whine endlessly about this shit show we find ourselves in.
Life is without a doubt hard and brutal, but that doesn’t mean we have to become passive victims. In the words of Stephen Hawking – “there is always something we can do”, or more generally we can be active instead of passive. Dogs are never active, they simply respond to immediate circumstances.
Things we need so we don’t die like a dog are courage, intelligence, understanding, self-respect, the ability to moderate our emotional states, and above all the skill to transform passivity into activity. Yes you will die – have the courage to offer your neck to the executioner for a second time when the first blow does not decapitate – as mentioned by Epictetus. Have the self-respect to not expect roast pigeons to fly into your mouth, or look for someone to “save” you. Work on your understanding to get a real view of life instead of the ones spun out in Hollywood. Above all acquire the skills and know-how to moderate your emotional states. In this way you will not die like a dog.