What the Cat Knows

What do we do when we don’t know what to do? That question was posed in a mindfulness class I took years ago, and it has stayed with me.

Do I reach for my phone, open the fridge, queue up some distracting media?

Do I reflexively find some busyness to occupy myself, so that I won’t have to dwell in an uncomfortable moment of not-knowing?

Or do I open to the possibility that not-knowing can be a rich place, and give it some space, bring it some breath, honor it with a pause? Maybe I need to roll on the floor, look out the window, have a good cry, go for a fast walk, or…

This has been a year of many-times-over not-knowing. I have done all of the above. And I have learned so much from watching my cat, who never falls into a quandary of not-knowing, who always expresses his full nature, which is to say Feline. Or a mix of Feline and Divine, I would say. Just as you and I are a blend of Human and Divine.

Here are seven of the many things Eddie the cat knows:

  1. Seek always comfort. Lie in the sun as often as possible.
  2. Observe everything. Stare out the window or into the eyes of another being or off into the middle distance. There is much to witness.
  3. If sick, be alone and sleep the day away, eat minimally, listen inward.
  4. As much as possible within the constraints of your life, control what you can. If you want to be in a room, shove the door open and enter (or register your displeasure if the door won’t yield to your head-butt). If, five seconds later, the room does not suit your mood, leave. Reenter as the mood strikes. It is your prerogative. You need not explain.
  5. When the urge hits, tear through the house. Life is your playground. Also, you never know what new unexplored cranny you may discover.
  6. When you want a catnap, take it. Who’s stopping you?
  7. Know that, over the course of the day, you can stalk your prey AND expose your soft underbelly. You contain multitudes. Radiate your essence, always.

Of course, life in a human body is not as simple as all that. There are deadlines, obligations, not to mention a cerebral cortex that creates dramas, commentating the livelong day. Still, my cat knows how to bring the essentials into focus. The warm lap. The windowsill. The purr and the yowl and the occasional growly hiss. The sprint and the snuggle, the nibbling at plants and batting at breakables.

The supreme catness of him, no apology or rumination needed. No asking, “what should…” “what next…” because there is only now in this meow.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go loll in a patch of sunshine.

The cat exploring a recent kitchen reno project

Releasing and Emerging

Along my street, the sycamores are shedding. Great scrolls of bark pile in drifts around each trunk’s base. The new “skin” is a tender green. It’s like the trees have hit a sudden growth spurt.

Seeing this always makes me wonder what I myself need to release in order to grow.

Sycamore in process of shedding

Sycamore in process of shedding

Lately I’ve been thinking about the concept of emergence, introduced to me by an Ohio group called Simply Living. Emergence happens when networks form around a common vision, allowing powerful social change movements to arise seemingly overnight. Witness the local food movement.

The term also appears in Marjorie Kelly’s book Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution. She contrasts the phenomenon with top-down policies imposed on a community. Instead, change emerges organically at the local level, rooted in community need.

Once again, it’s trusting the power of smallness.

Simply Living notes that emergence requires “staying present with the work at hand, yet paying attention to emerging opportunities.”

It’s a tough thing to discern, in both working groups and in individual endeavors. Clearly we can’t do everything. What to pursue, what to leave aside? Which brings me back to those sycamores.

My own life has taken a few twists of late, leading to surprises and unexpected opportunities—emergence on the microcosmic scale.

Two examples.

I didn’t expect to take on a new cat just now. He appeared on the block, scared and wounded, spatting with the other neighborhood roustabouts. I befriended him, took him for veterinary attention and a certain necessary procedure.

Note the cats playing poker in the "picture window."

Note the cats playing poker in the “picture window.”

Now Kitley’s fully claimed me—and the little house Judy built for him using (mostly) upcycled materials. He can’t come indoors due to her allergies, so she made him a bachelor pad that’s the envy of the entire Feline Nation, or should be. He lifts my heart, racing up to me to touch noses when I’m puttering outside. He makes me laugh when I’m caught in some bleak mental loop of my own making. And then I’m renewed.

I wouldn’t have thought of keeping him as an outdoor kitty, if not for a friend’s chance comment about home-built cat shelters.

Then there was FoodCon. I was a last minute pinch hitter with foraging and solar cookery tables, which led to a friend recommending me to the organizer of Bluegrass Bioneers. Suddenly I’m a teacher in the “reskilling” portion of the weekend. (Happening Oct. 25-27 in Louisville, KY. Psyched!)

More difficult is the paring away. As I embrace emerging opportunities, I must also release what no longer serves, whether it be plans, possessions, or projects.

I’ve always hated that I can’t do every single project that draws me. “Life constantly reaches out into novelty,” says physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra. It also prunes away what is no longer needed. I’m working on allowing space for these twin aspects of growth in my own life.

And you? What’s emerging for you and your community?