I’ve always been a cat person, though I’ve been around both of cats and dogs my whole life. To be completely fair, the dogs weren’t allowed inside most of the time, but I thought there were perfectly acceptable reasons for that. But even if I had grown up with some little yippy, indoor dog variety, I think I still would have ended up a fundamental cat person.
I came to a new realization about exactly what it is I love about cats this morning as I was watching one cat in particular. She was stretching herself out in the morning sun, settling down for a prolonged period of sustained and serious, well, what’d you call laying in the sun. Cat-napping, I think, does not truly capture what cats are doing most of the time. Maybe they’re sleeping, but if you watch them closely, as often as not, they’re just laying or sitting there. They are feeling the sun, closing their eyes, and being. Now, to our deep American sensibilities, you might see this as a blatant example of laziness. I mean, they’re not even resting, which has some utilitarian purpose in that you’re preparing yourself for the next round of running around like a maniac. No, they’re just laying there, in the sun. How un-American can you get?
Watching this cat this morning, I developed a new appreciation for how good cats are at just being. Part of this is that my own cat, Julie, is a little deficient in this area. She’s good at being, but also good at being perpetually pissed off and annoyed at the world, and humans in particular. But even Julie has her moments, usually on the back of my living room chair, where she obtains a supreme state of being. And this is it. Cats are not particularly American in their value systems or way of life. They are Buddhist. They practice non-attachment.
This is harder to see when they’re meowing to be fed or coughing up hairballs, but obvious in the many other moments of the day when they do nothing more than sit, usually in the sun, and exist. And gradually, I imagine, they become completely content with the present moment. The feel of the sun, the sounds around them. That most of the cats I know seem to spend large chunks of their lives engaged in this activity leads me to think they must be Buddhist at their core.
Dogs need humans, and in complex and complicated ways. They don’t just need you to feed them and walk them and take care of their general health. They need you to be there, and to pet them, and they need to know what you’re doing, and to sit next to you, and sleep with you, and to know whose in charge. Dogs are nervous bundles of energy and need, the two driving each other much like the whole chasing your own tail, another thing dogs need to do. It’s exhausting, and yes, dogs sometimes lay in the sun and relax. But as soon as the relevant human moves, dogs are on the move again, restlessly seeking…something.
Cats could care less where you’re going, or what you’re doing, or what you’re eating for breakfast. You are their roommate, not their best friend, and the feel of the sun is quite frankly, a little bit more important to them in that moment. I like this not because I like the abuse of living with someone who doesn’t fawn over me constantly. I like it because it’s non-attachment. Cats seem to be saying to us, “Sure, I like you and I enjoy your company sometimes. All in all, it’s nice that you clean up my hair balls. But in this particular moment, laying in the sun feels pretty nice, and this moment is all we ever have. Haven’t you figured that out yet?” And then they would roll their eyes at us, if cats could do that, which sometimes I think Julie can.