Kinship with All Life
by J. Allen Boone
1954, Harper & Brothers, New York
This is one of the five books that had the most profound influence on my own spiritual growth during my childhood (which, for me, lasted until I graduated from high school, a few months shy of my seventeenth birthday). I’m reviewing it for this blog, because at present, it seems that “animal communication” comes under the heading of “paranormal phenomena” in our mechanized, urbanized, excessively-explained world. of course, my goal thorughout all these blog pieces, is to demonstrte that one person’s “paranormal” is another person’s “normal.”
Kinship with All Life is a deceptively small book, containing some really vast ideas within its few pages. In it, Boone chronicles his own spiritual odyssey, from a very material-minded Hollywood-based writer and producer, to a pioneer of intuitive animal communication. The catlyst — or perhaps a better word is guru — for Boone’s spiritual journey, was the canine movie star Strongheart — a German Shepherd Dog, a champion in Germany, extensively trained in police and military work. He was imported to Hollywood as something of a speculative venture by a screenwriter-producer/dog trainer team (Jane Murfin and Larry Trimble), and soon became a sensation, starring in a number of silent films.
At one point, both Murfin and Trimble were called out of town, and Boone volunteered to step in as Strongheart’s caregiver. At first, he was far from keen on the responsibility. But almost immediately, Strongheart demonstrated such phenomenal intelligence, that the reluctant dogsitter was forced to completely reevaluate his attitude toward dogs, particularly this one.
From the moment Strongheart walked into Boone’s house, he took charge of him and his life, even enforcing what times Boone should get up and retire. Soon, he discovered that the dog was also able to “read his mind,” even when they were separated by solid house walls. He even details a couple of incidents in which Strongheart was able to read other people’s minds, and then exposed them as fraudulent-minded criminals.
Before long, Boone became convinced that there was an important mental connection between himself and Strongheart, but that he was lacking some essential understanding that would make it a reality. This sent him on a unique spiritual quest, reversing the traditional “man as trainer” role, to become, himself, a dog’s “student.” He began to study his four-legged companion’s behavior in detail, noting down all his “qualities of abiding worth,” which emerged from an innate zest for life, and a talent for living in the moment.
For me, the most moving passage has always been the one in which he describes discovering that Strongheart is actually meditating as they sit together on a mountain ledge ” … motionless but intensely alert … ears straight up … eyes and nose aimed forward … to my amazement, Strongheart was not watching anything below him … his gaze was focused on a point in the sky considerably above the horizon … something was holding the big dog’s attention … And it was giving him great satisfaction, great contentment, great peace of mind … ”
What Boone at length discovered in regard to animal communication, was the absolute necessity to set up a “two way bridge,” and be as humbly open to being taught by other creatures, as we expect them to be, with us. In his view, once we can honestly accept that a being’s outward form is irrelevant to that being’s inner nature, the possibilities for love, trust, and learning from one another, are infinite. In Boone’s words, ” … the Mind of the Universe is constantly speaking through all life and for the greater good of all life … thus did we cross each other’s boundaries, only to find that there were no boundaries … except in the dark illusions of the human senses.”
Interspersed throughout the book, are anecdotal encounters between Boone and a number of other people who, in his view, had much greater insights into animals than he himself ever achieved. these include an old “Desert Rat,” a woman herpetologist, an Indian chief, a Bedouin chief, and a scientist who has an uncommon rapport with micro-organisms. What he finds they all have in common, is a perception of the creatures in their lives, as being no different from themselves.
He also details his own memorable experiences of communication with a variety of living things, including a skunk, a colony of ants, and a housefly. In all these, he uses what he has learned from Strongheart and those remarkable human acquaintances, regarding equal, “horizontal” relationships. (This is in contrast to asymmetrical arrangements, in which the human is placed on a much higher plane of perfection, intelligence, and deservingness, and delivers all communication downwards, to the “lower” animal.)
Boone went on to write other books (Letters to Strongheart; The Language of Silence) about his lifelong journey of remarkable connection with animals, all of which began with what he learned from this one profound friendship. His accounts have the ring of truth; no-one could make up a story as idiosyncratic as Boone’s deep bond with “Freddie the Fly,” detailed in the final chapters of Kinship.
Boone’s relationship with Strongheart was undeniably life-changing. And for me, discovering this book at a young, idealistic age, his story was also life-changing. Still, some proudly skeptical readers may find it easier to dismiss his claims as self-delusion, rationalization, and wishful thinking. This is surely the more comfortable view, because if Boone’s assertions are true, and every living thing — even a common “pest” such as a housefly — is capable of self-awareness and rational thought, then those issues place the issue of vegetarianism (and the vegan ideal of living a life of harmlessness to other living things) quite dramatically at the center of any discussion of spirituality and ethics.
*The other four books being Felix Salten’s Bambi and Bambi’s Children (no resemblance to the execrable Disney travesty, beyond a shared name); and Beautiful Joe and Beautiful Joe’s Paradise, by Marshall Saunders.