Sitting on my front step in the early August sunshine this morning, I looked up to see my neighbour’s cat peering round the front gate. She stared at me with amber eyes and I stared back, and for a while we were locked in a mutual exchange with no words and no content. We just gazed, quietly, intently.
I felt myself settle and calm, the inner whirl of thoughts, expectations, hopes, judgements and plans falling away for a while. For a few moments, an inner silence, a simple graceful accepting being here. Belonging.
And then she moved on.
Part of what made this possible, I think, is that she wasn’t – and couldn’t be – caught up in all the stories I had about myself this morning, and all the habitual ways I have of getting myself seen in just the way I want to be seen.
We mostly have no idea how much this is what we’re up to when other people are around. The way we speak, the way we move, the eye contact we make or don’t make, our facial expressions and gestures, what we’ll listen to or not, what we choose to say and withhold, the moods we end up in, the way we beckon – sometimes ever so subtly – for just the response we’d like to get from others.
‘See me’, we’re saying, ‘notice me. Show me I’m ok. Show me you see me the way I want so much for you to see me (as kind, powerful, ruthless, worthless, helpful, troublesome, loveable, intelligent, creative, skilful…). Answer my longing. Show me I’m not on my own out here.’
And, of course, pretty much everyone else around us is up to this too, so that we’re engaged – in addition to what we think we’re doing – in an endless dance of manipulation, manoeuvring and seeking to have the world be just so for us.
It’s happening at work and at home, with your clients and with your friends, and however much formal power or status – or none – you have at your disposal. It’s part of the dance of being human, of being in relationship with others.
And the cats don’t buy it, which is why, for a moment in their presence, we get to put down all our striving and efforting and just be, in touch for a while with the silent part of us that’s always there and that doesn’t get caught up in our games and our posturing.
I think this is why people with pets – particularly mammals, with their deep capacity to be in relationship with us – often find them so soothing. By not playing our games or being enmeshed in our stories, they open up a space in which every part of us can be welcomed, in which we can be still for a while, in which we can quiet the neediness we hide even from ourselves.
And whether we have cats or not, well all need some of this in our life… a place and a way to belong, just as we are.