Sunday, May 30, 2010

Feline Spirituality

Why Time Spent with Cats is Never Wasted

“Where’s that lazy cat of yours?” a friend asked not long ago when he had been in our house for ten minutes and had not yet seen Lizzie, our gray tabby.

I almost responded by saying, “cats aren’t lazy,” but I knew that would sound defensive or, more likely given my career, professorial; he had not come by for a lecture. So I said something innocuous and changed the subject.

What I could have pointed out is that cats, unlike people, do not have the advantage of choosing between work and idleness; laziness is not an option since they are born to do nothing but be. I know they can be useful hunters, but nearly all the domesticated cats of my acquaintance have so few opportunities to catch rodents that they revert, full-time, to what they do best: living in the present. This is what I envy about all animals: their ignorance of time.

And this is where they are, in their seemingly useless fashion, of most use to us as models of inspiration. Lizzie, a house cat, spends her entire day in a kind of reverie, listening to the sounds of nature on our porch and observing every detail of her environment. Even when she appears to sleep, her ears are alert for any sound that might interest her.

It is impossible to say for sure what occupies her mind during these reveries, but I believe that, like other cats, Lizzie is a contemplative. She has found what many of us in our increasingly noisy world seek: inner peace. It is no wonder that so many writers have had feline companions since they are quiet (most of the time), like solitude, and are known for their sensitivity and intelligence. And, being contemplatives, they live lives of monastic simplicity.

Whether cats actually inspire writers or help them focus remains an open question, but I continue to recommend a cat to anyone who wants to be more centered and less scattered. As the French writer Colette wisely declared, “time spent with cats is never wasted.”

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