I reached that proverbial age when a mammalian female is known to desire spawning a mini one to coddle and nurture. As if some interstellar force overtook my body, my feet propelled to the door and I was teleported to a concrete room buoyed by cotton paws and glimmering pink noses. A trio of kittens rolled over my feet and across the room like tumbleweed. A kitten with a nipped ear beamed onto my lap. Ready for tummy time, he settled into my puff jacket and rested his head on my chest. His emerald eyes twinkled as he gazed at me while his whiskers fluttered, sending galactic signals to the universe that love is love is love. I knew that I would return home, with this kitten, a better human than when I left in the morning. After a decade of dwelling with this sentient creature, I learned that cats have much to teach us about being better people for humanity.
- Do not dwell on the past
Not dwelling on the past does not mean forgetting your past or history of lived experiences. Found abandoned in a warehouse in Washington DC, my cat lives life as if it were a gift every day. Humans can take a lesson from the way cats artfully promenade through their time on earth, seizing each new day as an opportunity to pursue fresh feast and merriment. Any obstacle to that pursuit is shrugged away as a momentary nuisance. Not taking any offense personally, cats live in the present and do not let the burden of the past weigh them down. Whenever I risk filtering my life through rechurning past grievances, my cat settles by me to quell the flame of emotions and remind me to focus on worldly concerns that are within my control — for instance, giving him a new can of feast.
2. Maintain curiosity
Curiosity is the desire and motivation to learn what is unknown, uncomfortable, or even the consideration to challenge your own assumptions. A wet blanket of complacency seems to drape over our existence today, where coddling a uniformity of thought is easier than accepting challenges to it. Cats remind you to keep curiosity alive and to find amusement in discovery. Even though confined to a 1000-square foot apartment, my cat observes his surroundings from different vantage points that refreshes his world view. He jumps on different shelves and ledges to get a different perspective to stack data points on his ball of prey. Cats inherently know that a change of perspective makes a huge difference in how they see and appreciate the world. Often dulled by cynicism and mental fatigue, humans can take a page out of the cat’s playbook to refresh their exuberance for understanding our surroundings.
3. See the best in people
We live in an uncertain world, and sometimes trying to make sense of the immense inequality and suffering that exists triggers a primordial instinct to assume the worst in people. Unfortunately, when you assume the worst in people, you get the worst, and there is boundless proof of that online — real and contrived. Seeing photos of the Trump brothers proudly holding a dead leopard and giraffe in their Lilliputian hands, with other beautiful animals slain beneath their gestapo boots would make any visitor to earth conclude that the cruelest mammals are humans. Or the fact that people want to believe that there is not only a cabal of pedophiles amongst the high powered echelon in society, but that they also engage in some twisted spiritual cannibalism, indicates the desire and extent to which the imaginative faculty of humans would summon the worst in us to outmatch the genuine evil that exists in our mortal world.
Fortunately, my cat reminds me that humans are capable of doing immeasurable good. He knows this from the humans who chose to rescue him from the abandoned warehouse, the humans who rehabilitated his broken foot, and the humans who nourished him with love until he was adopted into his forever home. To him, humans can only do good. I imagine that Abraham Lincoln was channeling an archetypal feline instinct when he wrote his first inaugural speech, in which he called for the nation to be touched “by the better angels of our nature.” More than the faith in human goodness that we give each other, cats know that we can collectively come together to replace fear with hope, hate with tolerance, and vitriolic rhetoric with purrs and meows.
4. Practice daily self care and mindfulness
Self-care is essential to one’s mental health and wellness. For many of us, we consider self-care as an indulgence; something we do only when we have the time. But cats do not wait to pamper themselves. In the middle of a raucous play session, my cat would pause to throw his leg over his neck and zealously and unabashedly brush himself with his tongue until his fur is as sleek and burnished like a marble statue. He jumps back into playing, reinvigorated from his self-care hiatus. Cats are also no slackers when it comes to napping, strategically finding the perfect sunlight patches to take a delicious nap for the fourth time before noon. When he gets really serious about finding me-ow time, he slips into the closet or under the bed to quench his somnolence. Although it would be socially unacceptable for any of us to stop mid-sentence to groom ourselves in public, or slink away mid meeting to catch a quick snooze by the sun-lit windowsill, prioritizing self care and making it a part of our daily lives, like cats do, may help clear our heads and strengthen our capacity to support and be fully present for others.
5. Understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Like humans, cats share the same set of basic needs that must be met in order to achieve lifelong happiness and fulfillment. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, these needs include living in a safe and secure environment with access to resources, forming social bonds, developing self-confidence, and participating in continuous mental stimulation. Providing these basic needs has created a happy, healthy, and stress-free kitty who can confidently adapt to and confront new challenges and changes in life. When we brought home a screaming human baby unannounced, my cat, after eight years of being the king of the Serengeti, embraced the intrusion to his habitat with curiosity and affection. Never feeling threatened that his worth or territory is being compromised, my cat constantly reminds me the importance for striving to help all living beings meet these basic needs as the foundation to foment trust across people and species.
I am grateful that my cat has prepared me to be a better human as I navigate this complicated world with another human in tow. When I watch the two siblings playfully tussle on the couch, letting out a mixture of meows and impish laughter, I know that my cat is imparting in him a sensibility for compassion, connection, and a commitment to discovery. One day, my cat will inevitably leave this sentient earth and be beamed back into his nebula. However, the faith and aspiration my cat has for the goodness in humans will have indelibly seared into the psyche of my son, so that my son will live into the expectation to do good for humanity as our feline brethren has done for us.