What I Learned from My Cat
Updated: Nov 6, 2019
Chapter Four: The Formula for Understanding Our Feelings
I have the good fortune to dwell with an awesome spirit residing in a cat’s body, named Griffin. Griffin is a Maine Coon cat, a long-haired, tufted eared, mouse killing, couch cuddling, wet food devouring machine. For the ten years he has lived at our house, Griffin’s summertime routine was to bound out of the house in the morning for his outdoor adventures. If my husband or I popped home for lunch, then he would magically appear home, too. He returned every evening for his tuna treats and his half-can of wet food, followed by lap snuggles.
One day this summer, Griffin bounded out of the house and didn’t return. For two weeks, my husband and I went out every evening, shaking the canister of dried tuna treats and calling his name. We plastered flyers all over town, stalked the animal shelter, and snuck around people’s yards looking in garages and sheds for our cat.
Then, three weeks passed and we stopped looking every night. We talked about him every evening saying how much we missed him. Our conversations became more tinted with closure, like “he was the greatest cat”, “I hope he didn’t suffer,” and “he lived a good life.” In our way, we were saying goodbye to our best buddy of 13 years.
Then, 28 days after he disappeared, I was drinking coffee in my living room on a Sunday morning. I heard a familiar meow outside our glass doors. I couldn’t believe it. Griffin had returned. He was skinny and starving and very happy to be home. I’m pretty sure I woke all of my neighbors with my shocked exclamations, of “Oh my f*cking God!”
During the time that Griffin was missing, I noticed something very interesting about my thinking. When I was thinking about Griffin, I felt very sad. My thoughts were drunk with sadness and worry about whether he was suffering or hurt or if he met some violent demise with a fox or mountain lion. When I was caught up in thinking about my missing cat, I would be completely heavy with grief and sadness.
At other times, when I was caught up in thinking about other things, I was perfectly happy.
I only felt sad when I was in the midst of thinking sad thoughts. The formula wasn’t that missing cat = sadness. I saw very clearly how the invisible piece of thought played a role. Missing cat + thoughts about missing cat = sadness.
This might seem very subtle at first glance. But once this idea starts to sink in, it’s life-changing. We are always experiencing our thinking about a circumstance, and not the circumstance itself. It’s revolutionary. Mind blowing actually.
What it doesn’t mean is that I will never feel sadness again. What it gives me is an understanding of where my thoughts and feelings come from. Now that I know that my sadness is coming from my thought, I actually feel freed up to feel my sadness more. I’m liberated by knowing the source of it.
It’s like how understanding how gravity works allows me to play around with my balance and falling down, especially in yoga. It’s not like, oh I better not try Tree Pose, I might float off into space. No, I know that I may wobble and fall, but gravity will keep me tethered to the earth. Knowing where our feelings come from allows us to feel them even more deeply. Our feelings are not going to leave us untethered and unbound to the earth. We don’t have to be scared of them anymore.
Because of this, when Griffin was missing, I allowed myself to rest in the sadness. I wasn’t fearful that I would always be sad or that the sadness would overwhelm me. I knew that my sad thoughts were the cause of my sadness. At the time, I really wanted to think about them and feel sad. He is such a cuddly guy! When he returned, it was my happy thinking about the fact that he was safe and sound, and happy to have his cuddles back, which made me feel joyful.