To live in the moment – this is one of the great struggles living in the great and ever-advancing culture we know today. We share an age of unprecedented progress and growth, but with this gift comes difficulty in finding balance and harmony with our self-grown empire of concrete and light.
There is a typical progression through the different phases of life that our culture usually follows. A carefree childhood where our creative and chaotic nature explodes from us in a cacophony of curiosity, where we are taught to control, and usually suppress, the adventurous nature of our unbridled youth.
This is followed by a transition into pre-adulthood. In our teenage years we are no longer children, but not yet adults. And yet these teenage years lace our personal experience with the arrogance of knowing everything – how misguided our poor, naive parents are. They cannot hope to understand our struggle.
And so into young adulthood where we usually learn, after some stumbling out of the cocoon of our formative years and into the abyss that is the “real world,” that we actually know very little and our parents may have had a few things right after all. It turns out that being cool isn’t a very effective mode of operation when you’re ensuring the health and welfare of a growing family.
And once we find ourselves awash in the infinite confusion that becomes the rest of our life we are usually confounded by the sheer overwhelm of trying to keep everything together. Whether you’re poor and struggling or successful and prosperous it takes an immense amount of work simply to keep the gears of the machine turning.
The more I strive to learn about the world, the more I find similarities in things that once seemed completely disconnected from each other. Analogies here, parallels there – it would seem that there is no end to the rich tapestry that is the web of experience.
I’ve spent a great many years struggling with my own perception of success and peace. By success I mean that I feel as if I’m doing something that is indeed worth doing. And there doesn’t seem to be any escape from the desire to make an impact and leave some sort of legacy.
And peace. By peace I mean that you are able to find moments that are free of inner conflict, however fleeting. Not free of trouble or strife, but free of our own tendency to chastise our own behaviour and tear ourselves apart, if only inside of our own thoughts.
There were years I spent trying to live in the moment, but there was a tragic irony to it as the things I chose didn’t truly bring peace but instead escaped the moment and left but a few trace memories of confused regret. Instant gratification is a drug by definition of the experience. No waiting, nor a willingness to wait, the desire to feel good now becomes paramount and is a pursuit with no end.
Through a lot of effort on my own part, and enough success to make it worthwhile, I have carved a pretty good life for myself. All of my basic needs are taken care of and the only real worries I have are those of a privileged life.
Within this life, among the loved ones that either always were or have become my family, there are two cats. Two wonderful, loving companions to me and to each other from whom I have learned much.
They are idiots. I love them, but observing house cats to derive wisdom won’t lead you towards any insight into higher thought. There are a lot of things they get right, but intellect and long-term planning are not included in those virtues.
And long term planning has historically been one of my weaknesses. While I have always easily dreamed of big things for my future, I wasn’t always so good and putting the pieces together that would build a bridge to that imagined (yet very real) potential.
While reflecting on my own decisions and growing my perspective on my choices I stumbled upon a realization. I have almost always had pets in my life and it didn’t take me very long to see the beauty of their existence. Free of worry and self-consciousness, they are fully able to just be who they are. The great teachers of zen, cats have no trouble being completely in the moment. But my realization of late tied together a life of instant gratification and the decision making metrics of my cats.
I was thinking about a life led by impulsive decisions and what it means to live a life guided by want. These fantastic furballs that lie around my furniture and constantly expect fifteen meals a day are not driven by any value system that could be learned from education and meditation. If they want it, they go after it.
They’re smart enough to know that there are some things they aren’t supposed to do. For one, they know they aren’t allowed on the kitchen counter. And so they are sneaky about it and only do it when I’m not home or they’re sure I don’t know they’re doing it. Like a rebellious child they know the rules but only adhere to them enough to avoid reprimand.
This kind of behaviour is mirrored by those that never quite outgrow their rebellion. The grown-up teenagers that spend all their time and energy out to party and hook up with other short-sighted peers, there is little attention paid to the damage you could be, and are, doing to yourself and those that would wish to have a deep connection with you.
When all choices in life only go skin deep, connections with others can’t go much deeper. You either let the world in or you don’t.
The cats can’t make that decision. There are no heart-to-heart discussions with those goofballs. They undeniably have an abundance of love and connection, but they don’t have a list of goals set to accomplish before the next new year rolls around.
But, of course, we can. And when we don’t choose to be mindful of our future it will inevitably take a path that very likely does not conform to something we would have desired. You can’t choose not to choose, for that is a choice in itself. To throw your life’s path to the winds of chance and hope it turns out okay is a guarantee that the best it can ever be is just okay.
It took me a long time to accept that dreaming of a future and having potential does absolutely nothing to earn those dreams and make them a reality. For a long time I thought that maybe I had a fear of failure but just the other week it clicked that perhaps I do not have an appropriate level of fear of failure. If I were to truly absorb and appreciate that there are decisions that put off or even eliminate the things I would like to do then perhaps it would be easier to avoid those poor choices.
And so I was looking at my sweet and wonderfully pudgy caramel tabby’s calm gaze and thought about their life of absolute impulse. While they show some signs of restraint and forethought, it is very limited and they are basically walking emotions that are trying to satisfy themselves.
And I thought about the decisions I have made and continue to make that align with this approach to life. I was thinking that every time I procrastinate, every time I put off going to bed because I feel like staying up, every time I eat an entire bag of chips because I “can’t help myself,” I am making a statement that the future I dream of is not really that important. I will defer my discipline for another hour, another day, and maybe tomorrow I will get it right.
But in those moments I am living much like my cats – only for what I want right now, I let the want become so prominent that it starts to feel like a need. Suddenly I’m willing to relinquish a good future to let the pressure off of my cravings. Next thing I know I’m trying to avoid the consequences of my choices so that I can justify them. If nothing goes wrong, then I must have done something right – if my cat jumps on the counter and doesn’t get caught, then they can’t get in trouble and in their eyes nothing bad has happened.
Except when I come home to a broken glass on the floor and a half eaten tray of butter. They did their dirty deed, caused some damage, and ran away from it as fast as possible. And, like those hairy gents, I have also had experience choosing self-damaging ways to spend my time and subsequently trying to run from the consequences.
But there is no running from the life we choose. We all make our beds and then have to lie in them, hopefully we make an intentional, deliberately chosen bed that we actually want to lie in.
So I keep this in mind when I start to go off the rails and act impulsively – if I want to behave this way I will have an enjoyable five minutes, or hour, or weekend, but sooner or later I’ll have to come back and see all the metaphorical glasses that I’ve knocked off the counter. How much broken glass must I clean to get my life in order? And how many times do I want to repeat this chore?
For my dudes I will always clean up what they break and have a heart full of forgiveness because you can’t explain to them what they’ve done and they mean no harm. But for myself I must have vigilance against neglectful choices, because I do have the capacity to understand what I’m doing and though I may mean no harm, a life of impulsive and neglectful action unavoidably harms everything I may wish to be in the days ahead.
And so I view my cats with admiration for their unbridled love and curiosity, and I take that as a lesson to live as open and honest as they do. But I also must keep in mind to do it without jumping on the counter, so to speak, and breaking all my own glasses over and over.
And you – what have you learned from your pets? Hopefully, if nothing else, it’s to laugh at them when their curiosity leads them into a situation they can’t get out of without your help. Yes, i will untangle you from the venetian blinds.
Because cats will easily make you love laugh, and it’s hard to find a brighter side than that.