“Do Not Overlook the Obvious.”
I took a Big Black Sharpie and wrote those words above my computer screen when I was a young newspaper reporter. I’d made a couple of pretty DUH-level mistakes in quick succession and needed a reminder to double- and triple-check not only my facts but my assumptions before publishing something. So I asked the Sharpie for help.
It worked in the short term. Then, over the long term, I learned that the Sharpie comes in handy not only in the newsroom but also, well, everywhere. I’ve come to know that if I let my perception go slack, things can get by me, no matter how obvious. In fact, sometimes things are so obvious that they don’t even occur to you — it’s like they’re hiding in plain sight.
Today’s example involves cats.
A couple of months ago I experienced back pain so severe that I had to work from home for almost three weeks. It wasn’t really an injury, but rather something that showed up over the course of a few days after some medium-level activity. Part of my recovery involved seeing a guy in Berkeley who does body work. A friend had described him as part massage therapist, part spiritual guru, and part psychotherapist. I’d never seen him, but I had recommended him to other people who later said the same thing. And they were right. As he works, he asks you questions about your life, looking for things that might contribute to the pain you’re experiencing but that you might not have considered — things that seem DUH-level obvious as soon as you hear yourself saying them.
This living, breathing Sharpie (whose name is Bill) helped me connect some issues and events with the back pain, which is now gone. He also told me a story that helped me in a way he might not have intended.
At the time, I was beginning a meditation practice in the Buddhist tradition, something that Bill has done for years. He talked about times he would sit in meditation for hours when he lived in Mendocino County, an area on California’s redwood coast where I’ve found artistic, romantic, spiritual, and motorcycle bliss for decades. On certain days, he said, his cat would come and sit with him. The cat would lie down alongside his leg and purr, often for the whole session. Afterward, Bill would get up, but not before thanking the cat for sitting with him.
Okay, time out. Let me talk a little about meditation. It’s a way of "retreating" from your daily routine to focus on simple, basic things happening in and around you (such as breathing) that you otherwise would miss. I do it soon after I wake up most days. It’s also a way to step back and observe the furious pace of the human brain — the "monkey mind," as some have called it — and to acknowledge that you’re thinking but not judge what you’re thinking. After a while, the monkey mind begins to quiet, and you can see roots and causes of feelings or tendencies that seemed hidden before. It’s how Siddhartha Guatama, otherwise known as the Buddha, reached the ultimate state of enlightenment. Buddhists believe that all of us have this potential, if we focus enough on feeling the connection within ourselves to everything.
In other words, any of us can be a Buddha if we don’t overlook the obvious.
A few days after I saw Bill the body-work guy, I sat down to a morning meditation session in my favorite Big Red Chair. A few seconds later, Thomas walked in. Remembering Bill’s story, I encouraged Thomas to jump onto the arm of the chair. After he’d settled, I explained to him what I was doing, that I wanted him to stay, and I carefully picked him up and lowered him into my lap.
Purr. Purr. Purr.
Talk about DUH-level obvious!
A cat! Meditation! They’re, like, the same thing!
Think of a cat giving you that lazy "I love you" slow eye-blink, or a cat stretched out on the floor in the sun. A purring, half-dozing cat is about as "in the moment" as it gets. On this day, having one near me, giving me affection and a rhythmic purr, helped me quiet the monkey mind and have a great session. While it hasn’t become a routine, Thomas has joined me several times. Each session has been different, but they’ve all been successful.
I can’t say what I would have done if Bill hadn’t shared his story. I might have been tempted to take Thomas out of the room because meditation is supposed to be a quiet and peaceful experience. But doing anything other than welcoming Thomas would have been a mistake. Meditating with a cat (DUH!) can be a quiet and peaceful experience, and also a chance to connect with another living thing. Thomas was an in-your-lap reminder that we are all part of the same Great Big Universal Purr.
That’s one obvious thing that I will never overlook. Thanks for sitting with me, Thomas.
Has your cat helped you feel more awakened or enlightened? Has it furthered your spiritual practice? Lowered your blood pressure? Helped you see things differently? Tell me in the comments.
Do not dwell in the past. Do not dream of the future. Concentrate the mind on Cat Dandy:
About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is associate editor at Catster and Dogster.