Pet cats – What can we learn from them?

pet
Our pet Geoffrey

My wife and I have a pet cat called Geoffrey. We have got to know him quite well – his eating, relaxing, communication, play, and so on. Animals live on an entirely natural level and I realise it would be a mistake to attribute human emotions to them. But is there anything we can learn from our pets about the deeper side of life? Any thing about them that points us to an ideal way of human living?

Contentment in our pet

We often see Geoffrey lying on his side with his paws stretched out in front of him, with a sleepy look on his face and with half closed eyes. Very different from a cat who swishes its tail, has ruffled-up fur or is heard hissing. Sometimes he may roll over on to his side to show his tummy, communicating that he feels relaxed enough to expose such a vulnerable area.

Sometimes I wish I could be as relaxed as our pet and delight in simple pleasures. He doesn’t put himself under unnecessary stress. If a dog barked at him, which happens occasionally, he shows no after-effects. Unlike us e.g. who, when shouted at by an angry car driver, would likely be a bit tense for a while afterwards.

Anyone who has tried to meditate will realise that the mind is restless. Inwardly we jump from one worry to the next, one guilty secret to another. Inwardly chattering away, the mind has a mind of its own, creating unnecessary emotions like anxiety, anger or gloominess. Our cat is showing us the importance of stilling and calming the mind. You can learn to do this, if you don’t do so already, by creating space in your day for quiet reflection, meditation or prayer.

Awareness in our pet

If we change the furniture round in our home or introduce any sort of change outdoors, Geoffrey soon looks into every nook and cranny. Our neighbour once saw him exploring over 40 feet up the trunk of a high tree. They say ‘curiosity killed the cat’ but ours is still alive and well.

I wonder if we are sufficiently willing to explore what is really going on around us.  Are you awake to the ‘here and now’ rather than focusing on automatic habits of thought?

“The past is history,
The future is mystery,
This moment is a gift.
Which is why it is called ‘the present’. “
(By an unknown poet)

Are you sufficiently curious about what others think so as to become a better listener? People convey an enormous amount of information about themselves through subtle movements and tones of voice.

Do you notice things of beauty in what is going on around you? A child playing, moonlight shimmering on the water, a tree swaying in the wind. Are you fully aware of your physical and social surroundings and want to investigate them?

Independence in our pet

You can’t herd cats. Like all of them, Geoffrey shows independence. He is quite happy to spend time on his own each day. He responds to enticement rather than ordering around. A clicking of the fingers and verbal encouragement can get his attention and interest in coming over to me. But unlike a trained dog ordered to ‘heel’, he won’t do as he is told.

A quality of independence is something one needs in order to be a spiritual thinker in the face of materialistic society. Without individual reflection and perception, how can one rise above the social pressures of the crowd.

Non-aggression in our pet

Another quality in our pet cat is non-aggression. The public walk their dogs off the lead along the woodland public right of way that goes right through our garden. Geoffrey has learned to watch carefully. He is quick to avoid danger of being chased. He runs away or climbs a tree when he sees a threat. Only when cornered by a barking dog will he flatten his ears and hiss as a warning to stay back.  He could cause painful injury lashing out with his sharp claws but most cats only attack defensively as a last resort in such a situation.

Some of us have a tendency to show hostility to others after little provocation. It is as if we believe ‘attack is the best form of defense.’  Instead, shouldn’t we adopt a more socially acceptable form of non-aggressive behaviour to assert what we think is right and stick up for ourselves?

Friendliness in our pet

Geoffrey is our only pet and so we are the only social group he has. He likes to come to us for a fuss, perhaps a stroke or grooming or be allowed to lie on our laps. He purrs and sometimes tries to lick us at these times. So we get companionship and affection from him.  When we are in the garden we often find him near by. There is a quarter of a mile walk along a woodland path from our home to get to where our car is parked and he invariably walks with us and stays waiting until we return sometimes several hours later. Then he greets us with a meow with tail up, pleased to see us again, sometimes rubbing his head against our legs.

Some of us are naturally more friendly and agreeable. Others of us are distant and less communicative. But I believe what our pet’s expression of affection suggests is the possible ideal of loving kindness. This is the feeling praised by all the world’s main spiritual and religious traditions.

The lesson here is not just expressing feeling – although that is important – but us having a generosity of spirit, being agreeable, kind, patient, tolerant, considerate and forgiving and even compassionate.

 

“Earth’s living creatures correspond to affections, the mild and useful ones to good affections, the fierce and useless ones to evil affections” (Emanuel Swedenborg mystical philosopher)

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

 

Positive awareness – How to find it?

positiveThere probably were some positive experiences you have had recently. Just small things really. Like the delight of bumping into a friend at the supermarket, a warm glow felt when someone shows you some consideration, or the delight you felt in observing your small grandchildren playing.

But when bad things also happen, how easy it is to forget the positives. The washing machine develops a fault. Someone at work has a go at you. You sleep badly because of a sore throat. If you focus on the bad stuff, you quickly forget any pleasant experiences and instead develop a negative frame of mind. So much so that you are in danger of noticing no hint of anything good and seeing what is bad in everything. So if you have this damaging tendency, how determined are you to start to see things differently? To notice more about the magic of life? And how in practice could you go about this?

Blocks that hinder you noticing the magic of life

You can be inwardly deadened by the noise and pollution of our urban environments, the endless information and the drudge of work. The temptation is to mindlessly sleepwalk through this kind of life; allowing past memories and future fantasies to dominate your consciousness as a way of escaping from the reality of the present moment. Then of course you become absent-minded; too alienated from the needs of the moment to notice the here and now with its ordinary crop of positive, albeit fleeting, experiences.

“The past is history,
The future a mystery,
At this moment is a gift.
Which is why it is called `the present.’ ”
(Unknown author)

Another factor that can hinder us in getting in contact with the positive uplifting side of life is that of materialistic science. The spiritual writer Roger Walsh has pointed out the blinding power of science, saying that we are so bombarded by its way of looking at the universe as a great meaningless machine that we are led into a kind of cynicism regarding any meaning and purpose behind our world.

A third factor I would like to mention, is that of attachment to bodily pleasure and worldly concerns. For example developing an emotional, if not physical, dependence on alcohol, drugs, food, competition for social status, excessive consumption, and over identification with one’s ‘tribe’.  Preoccupied with the material side of life can corrupt any vision of the spiritual.

Exercise focusing on positive experiences

One way of combating these problems is the 15 minute exercise of noticing the positives in your day. Here are some instructions.

1.      In the evening, sit down alone comfortably in a quiet place with paper and pen.

2.      Reflect on the day’s events; what you did, who you spoke with and what was said, where you were and what you saw.

3.      For each of these remembered ordinary moments, pause and consider anything positive. Were you touched by anything good about the experience? Perhaps it was a fleeting or subtle moment when you felt pleased or impressed.  May be you were even caught by a beauty of the situation.

4.      There would have been what was negative mixed up in what was positive. But write one sentence for each time about any positive aspect.

5.      When you have finished reread your list.

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind.” (Ashley Smith)

Benefits of recognising the positive

Looking for the positive each evening can have an accumulative beneficial effect. But to gain this benefit you need to make an effort.

“You need to stop. Wake up. Be more aware. Be conscious and recognise that something good is happening.” (William Bloom)

When you are searching for positives you are likely to feel watchful, more relaxed and better humoured. Try to be mindful of how your mood has changed. Surrender to the experience. If it feels uplifting then think of it as a moment of spiritual connection even if it lasts only a few seconds. It is not true that spiritual experiences are only rare and intense. A positive experience can be common and ordinary such as simply a feeling of uplift from a chance conversation, a brief flash of insight, or a moment of laughter.

As you start to take more notice of good experiences, you are likely to want to search them out. And so many people actively seek some connection with the wonder and energy of life through the natural environment. They find the ambience of some landscapes takes them into a different mood and they become more sensitive to even a whisper of magic. Others hope to find something essentially good and wonderful about life in a friendly crowd or in intimacy with their loved one, or when caught up in a team of fellow workers in full and creative flow.

Swedenborgian point

A relevant Swedenborgian maxim is ‘influx adapts itself to efflux.’ In other words, inflow into the mind is proportional to outflow of the mind: perception from a higher level is proportional to the mindset of the observer. If you look for something you are more likely to notice it. But if you are resistant to the possibility of seeing the spiritual, you will be blind to it.

“Seek and you will find” (Jesus Christ)

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems