I live with two cats: Mia, a beautiful 6-year-old rescue with long pretty hair, beautiful green eyes, and a fluffy tail; and MiMi, a 2-year-old orange-striped wild cat found as a kitten in the desert. My cats are constant companions. I watch them. They watch me. Despite a huge gap between my species and theirs, we’ve worked out ways to communicate that are quite effective.
I’ve learned a tremendous amount about life and about myself from seeing how they live. Here, in photos and words, are 10 important life lessons I’ve learned from my cats:
1. Live in the present
Cats have smaller brains than us humans do, so they worry less. I see them enjoy a spot in the sun, good food, a nap. They live for what is happening. If they are having fun, they keep having fun until they are tired. Then they lie down. If they are scared, they leave the environment to find someplace safer.
Cats do not spend time worrying about their past or their future. Instead, they make their present as good as possible, and the rest seems to sort itself out.
While people can’t do that all the time, we often tend to worry too much about a future we haven’t built yet and a past we can’t change. This often comes at the cost of appreciating the present we’re living in now.
2. Find amazement in simple things
I buy my cats toys. They ignore most of them. Their favorite toy is a length of orange parachute cord that was a leftover from something I was making. They’ve been playing with it for two years. Both MiMi and Mia play with this cord like it’s first time they’ve seen it (and like their lives depends on catching it). When they do catch it, they carry it over to a corner, chew on it for a second, then forget it until next time. Then, it is all new again.
3. Be careful
Mia likes to jump from one piece of furniture to another. I’ve never seen her miss. Before she jumps, she studies the area she is jumping to in detail. If she doubts the landing place is safe or she can make it, she finds another way. She still jumps, but she exercises care and caution in assessing the risk before she jumps.
4. There are no handicaps
MiMi was found by my friend Billy as a kitten wandering in the desert with one eye out of her head. She was dying. Billy took her to a veterinarian, who saved her life and removed her damaged eye.
MiMi doesn’t know or care that Mia and I have two eyes and she has one. She simply uses her one eye for everything, moves her head a little more to compensate for only having one, without even realizing it. She can do anything Mia and I can do, and she is the most loving and kind cat. To her, having one eye is just the way it is. It is neither good nor bad.
5. If you want something, try to get it, but exercise reasonable caution
One day, MiMi learned food came from the refrigerator. So, she got in the refrigerator. That makes sense. The problem was that I almost didn’t notice her and nearly shut the refrigerator door. It terrified me. I rearranged the food in the refrigerator so she couldn’t jump inside again. I told her that wasn’t a good idea, because she could accidentally get shut inside. I suspect cats don’t understand the complexity of that explanation, and that it is mostly for me. But since then, she hasn’t done it again. Instead, when I open the refrigerator, she runs over and sits between the open door and the refrigerator until she gets what she wants. She figured out how to get what she wants with minimal exposure to risk. Smart cat.
Cats take frequent rests. I have never seen either of my cats tired. They know when to lie down and stop playing. They never get burned out from chasing their piece of string or watching birds outside the house. Cats know they aren’t effective if they are too tired, so they make sure they get adequate rest. They make rest a priority.
7. Seek first to understand
I read this idea in a book by Stephen Covey, but I didn’t really "own" the knowledge until I watched my cats for a long time. Before they do anything of significance, like walking across a room or chasing something, they study the area long enough to gain a reasonable understanding of it. Then they decide how they will respond. Consequently, they rarely get themselves into bad situations or a situation they can’t get themselves out of.
8. Sometimes you have to stand your ground
A strange cat came onto the porch. This was a big event. Mia hissed and growled. MiMi’s tail seemed to get bushier and her fur stood up. There wasn’t a fight, but there was some hissing and low growling and everyone understood quickly that they needed to respect one another. Once the visiting cat understood the porch belonged to Mia and MiMi already, the visiting cat went next door. Sometimes the cat comes and visits, but now the cat sits a few feet away from the screen and rests there peacefully while Mia and MiMi watch.
9. Embrace good things
MiMi and Mia have a fake furry blanket that sits in the sun and gets warm. It may be their favorite thing. They sit together on it, roll around, fall asleep, lick each other, and get brushed on their warm, fake-fur blanket. If I pick it up to clean it, they follow me around until I put it back, and then they get right back on it to be sure it’s still OK.
10. Have respect for yourself, and take good care of yourself
Mia is a very typical girly-girl. She gets her hair brushed every day and purrs the whole time. She never overeats and has a lean and healthy build. She loves to hold her bushy tail up in the air, especially when MiMi and I are looking at her, and move it just slightly to make it wave. She uses her beautiful eyes to get what she wants, and it always works. But she has never taken advantage of it by asking for too much food or too many treats or too much brushing.
MiMi is a tomboy and spends time sharpening her claws and likes to get brushed until she gets bored. MiMi and Mia spend time licking each other every day, because they both know how beautiful they are and how important that is.
These are just a few things I’ve learned from my cats. I’m always learning more. I don’t pretend to suggest everything about life can learned by watching your cats, but I will suggest there are a lot of common-sense lessons there if you are willing to see them.
Tom Demerly is a brand journalist for Felt Bicycles, TheTriShop.com, and in the government services sector, as well as a hobbyist fiction and editorial writer on his blog. He has visited all seven continents and petted cats on most of them. He’s originally from Dearborn, Michigan, and lives in Mission Viejo, California, with his two girls, Mia the longhaired cat and MiMi the one-eyed tiger cat.
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