Spiritual Teachers of a New Kind
Did you just get dumped, or lose your job?
Did you get in a fight with a friend? Are you depressed because Facebook changed its layout again?
I have the perfect remedy for you: Adopt a cat.
You’ll thank me, I promise. More than just cute and snuggly balls of fur that you can watch on YouTube for countless hours, these magical animals have become so much more to me—as important as any person.
I am not the only one who feels this way. Writers have waxed poetic about cats for centuries. T.S. Eliot—most famous for his “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Wasteland”—wrote an entire book dedicated to cats: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Even the likes of William Butler Yeats and William Wordsworth wrote missives to their feline friends. But I think Charles Bukowski, usually known for his gritty, no nonsense, cranky rants, nailed it with his poem “My Cats”:
I know. I know.
they are limited, have different
But I watch and learn from them.
I like the little they know,
which is so
They complain but never
they walk with a surprising dignity.
They sleep with a direct simplicity that
humans just can’t
Their eyes are more
beautiful than our eyes.
and they can sleep 20 hours
When I am feeling
all I have to do is
watch my cats
I study these
They are my
Yes, my cats are my spiritual teachers, my healers, my companions my forever how-to manuals dressed in skin and fur. Indeed, cats are the perfect poems.
Here are some lessons they teach me, things they remind me to do every day:
1. How to give unconditional love.
My cats teach me to love without judgment, without conditions—with a love that I know I can depend on. All they care about is that I am here, with them, taking care of them. They forgive me when I step on their tails by accident, or rub their bellies in the wrong spot, or make my coffee first before feeding them in the mornings. They don’t care about what mistakes I have made, or my daily follies, whether I have met my deadlines or showed up late for a meeting. They accept me fully. They don’t criticize me or say mean things. The worst they do is meow really loudly because their food bowl is empty.
Indeed, they seem to know when life has been especially harsh. They have a mysterious kind of empathy. Various sources even claim that many cats can predict seizures and other chemical imbalances in the human body. Also, their purrs are proven to lower stress and the likelihood of a heart attack.
Though the intensity of these kinds of talents varies from cat to cat, I know that my cats are very tuned in with me and my emotions. After coming home from a long day, my boss having lectured me, or a friend of mine betraying me, my cats are always ready with a purr when I come into the room, and give a gentle nudge on my foot when I sit next to them. If I am having a particularly hard day, my cat Mike will stay in my embrace for hours, only leaving for a few minutes at a time to check the status of his food bowl. And my cat Mushu will meow and tap me on the shoulder with her paw when she knows I am sad, telling me that she is ready for petting, leading me to their second lesson:
2. How to communicate without words.
Yes, this might be surprising coming from me—a poet and word-lover by profession—but sometimes the most beautiful experiences are found in the quietest moments. We often feel the urge to fill silences with words stacked upon words. We stick to surface streets. We ask, “How are you?” not wanting to know the real answer. We talk about the weather or the latest headline without really caring about others’ opinions. The truth is, silence is not the enemy. We don’t always need words to communicate. Our body, and our ability to simply exist, often says more than words do.
There is a lot of weight in a gesture, in a touch. It is proven that touch is a powerful healer. Many researchers have done studies to prove that a friendly touch can reduce stress, and lessen pain. We certainly don’t need words to communicate the things that really matter: love, trust, respect, the joy of letting your guard down; the freedom that comes when we are able to just be in the moment, fully present. This is the third thing my cats show me:
3. How to exist in the present moment
Cats live in the moment. They see what is right in front of them right this minute with no concern of what happened yesterday, what will happen tomorrow, what will happen years from now. If they see a bird through the window, all they can think is bird, or whatever the feline equivalent of the word “bird” may be. They are rapt. They are focused. When you pet them, they purr, and put their entire selves into that purr, so passionate, so attentive. They are fully aware of what is happening around them, what is happening in their bodies, which leads me to my forth point. My cats definitely know…
Being physically disabled, there is plenty I can dislike about my body: my stiff muscles that don’t move the way I want them to; my weak legs that can’t hold me up; my left foot that turns in the wrong direction.
My cats see none of this. They don’t know what crutches are, so they can’t judge me for having them. They think it is perfectly natural that I crawl on my floor to get around my house; they probably think I am another cat.
They are so unembarrassed. They will bathe in front of anyone and essentially walk around naked and see no reason to cover themselves.
They have no idea what sin is, or what shame is.
My cat Mike is fat. But he eats without guilt, lets his heavy belly hang out; he waddles a little when he walks. But he just doesn’t care. He walks around with his head high, as if to say, “This is me. This is my body. Take me or leave me. What you think doesn’t matter to me.” This is what he knows. And this is enough.
If only we could all be as wise as our cats. Yes, Mr. Bukowski, you’re right: “I like the little they know, which is so much.”
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Ed: B. Bemel