Cats are masters of the present moment. Have you ever seen your cat wringing her paws over what to do about a problem or sprinting around the house multi-tasking? The only crazed feline I see in my household is Lexie Lee chasing her favorite feather toy until she pounces on it with sheer delight.
I have been the caregiver of six cats in my adult life, and I have learned about living through them. They taught me one important, life-altering lesson. All the cats focused on the present and enjoyed life immensely when doing so. My beloved cat, Tatianna, savored food when she was hungry or even when she thought she was hungry. In fact, when her face was in the food bowl, nothing else mattered. She was not worried that the last can of food had just been served. She appreciated the dappled sunlight and could lie for hours with its warmth enveloping her body. She learned quickly when and where the sunlight would be streaming into a room. Then moment by moment she moved to follow the sun rays and entertained me with her antics. Light breezes that caught the lace curtains always captured her attention. She liked to stretch out on the window sill and let the curtains flirt and flutter around her. Movements, such as a bird washing in the birdbath, a squirrel foraging for food or a raccoon crushing leaves under foot, caused her to focus intently on the outside and what was happening that moment in her environment. Then when I arrived home, she focused on welcoming me properly by kneading her paws on the top of my shoes the minute I sat down. I, in turn, offered up a kind word, a caress, or a scratch under the chin to acknowledge our special moment.
Cats are not enamored with the past—“Wasn’t that a tasty mouse I had last week?” They certainly are not focused on the future—“When are they going to board me again?” They do not know they are not going to live forever. Cats do not worry about when the next medical breakthrough will help them or save them. They do not know the warning signs of their deteriorating health like you do and do not flop restlessly about during the night agonizing about what will happen next.
From the time you rise in the morning to the time you retire in the evening, you are surrounded by a myriad of blessed moments. Most are ordinary moments such as the car starts, the cereal box is not empty, and the traffic flowed smoothly. Every once in a while you experience extraordinary moments such as your 25th wedding anniversary, a job promotion, or an elected position. Neither ordinary nor extraordinary moments should ever be taken for granted. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s inspirational quote “What a wonderful day I think, turning it over in my hand to its starting point again,” can guide us to focus on the moments of the day. So I made it a practice to acknowledge the day by simply saying, “This is a special moment” or “This is a blessed moment.” Simply ordinary occurrences—Tatianna crawling in my lap, a wink form Tatianna, or Katarina licking Tatianna while she got her fluids—precipitated these frequent comments. Confronting and conquering medical odds were extraordinary accomplishments and also gave us reasons to celebrate and give thanks every day.
When being a caregiver to a cat with a terminable disease as I have been, the present moment is truly all you have. It is all you can really be sure of. This is actually a good thing. That mindset allowed me to be grateful for each day that we started our day together. I was grateful that Tatianna had an appetite and had an interest in household activities. I was grateful she played with her companion, Katarina, and enjoyed spooning with her in the morning sunlight. Once again, it was the present moment that mattered—not that she had become ill or that someday she would have to give up the battle. So I learned to avoid focusing on the past or future thoughts. I could not change the past events and I would deal with the future—when the time came, when that present moment arrived. Tormenting myself by wondering “Will it be next week? Next month? Six months from now? Will it be when I am on a trip or teaching a class? Will the ultimate surrender be unexpected or will there be guideposts along the journey?” were paralyzing thoughts. Tatianna’s way of approaching life always brought me back to the present moment.
Eckhart Tolle believes “when your attention is fully in the Now, that Presence will flow into and transform what you do. There will be quality and power in it. There is joy and aliveness in what you do.” Brian Narelle’s theory is humans live our lives in horizontal time. “This is a plan upon which our lives are stretched out like railroad tracks running across the Great Plains. As I walk along, I often stop to look back and remember events and things that happened to me. These events serve to fuel my paranoia when I again face my future, projecting these memories onto other imagined events to come.” Animals live on vertical time and teach us to stand, to be, to breathe, in this very moment. Keith Smith suggests that “creatures listen to ancient voices that only whispers to us. Their instinct to survive and exist in the moment, to fully attend to the sights, scents, and sounds that surround, speak to an old way of being.”
Throughout Tatianna’s life, she exemplified centered peacefulness—whether she was eating, dozing, playing, hiding, snuggling, or sleeping. Remarkably, her centered peacefulness was with her in dying as well. Her powerful teaching to me was to slow down and smell the catnip! There is an old saying, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, and today is a gift. That is why they call it the present.” Enjoy today with your cat!
Copyright © 2008 Linda A. Mohr
Linda A. Mohr is the award-winning author of Tatianna—Tales and Teachings of My Feline Friend and Catnip Connection blog for Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a professor at Northwood University, and the co-founder of Pet Apothecary. She is a member of Cat Writers’ Association with human-animal bond expertise. Visit http://www.lindamohr.net or http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/catnipconnection