Last week, one of my cats, Tywin, got sick for a number of days. I took him to the vet on Tuesday, and then he got worse.
So, on Wednesday, I canceled all my plans and spent all day trying to coax him out from hiding under the couch or bed in order to force him to eat and drink. You can lead a cat to water in hundreds of ways, it turns out, but you cannot, as the adage goes, make him drink. Since this little guy had never refused a meal since the day we adopted him—October 7, 2014—I knew his refusal to eat was a huge red flag. After a long day, I was at a loss. I took Tywin to the emergency room and he was admitted to the pet hospital overnight.
I was pervaded with a sense of hopelessness when I left him in the hands of strangers—experts, yes, but still strangers—as I was completely unable to communicate to him some basic information like:
This is for your own good.
I will be back.
Of course, he could never understand any it. To him, I was abandoning him, handing him off to people who were poking him and prodding him and putting him in a cage and shaving off his fur. I, the responsible party for these atrocities, was more or less evil incarnate.
Years ago, I read the novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, a quiet novel about an aging pastor in the small town of Gilead, Iowa, and ever since then I've occasionally contemplated what the thoughtful pastor said on cats while musing about his own pet cat named Soapy.
I cannot remember the exact passage, but I remember the gist, and the gist is what I contemplate.
The gist is this: To us, there is a clear limit to what a cat can understand, but the cat doesn't know that. To the cat, he knows everything there is to know about the world.
And what if we, as humans, are like that too?
My cats consider the whole world to be a 800-square foot (that might be an overstatement) apartment. That's it. They have no interest, for example, in arguably the best part of our Brooklyn neighborhood, the 526-acre Prospect Park. Why would they? They'll never go. Right now, Tywin is out on our balcony squawking at the same bird that often perches atop the neighboring building. To him, the six or so birds that frequent that specific rooftop encompass birds as a whole. He knows nothing of the many species of beautiful birds living near my parents' cabin on the Allegheny River I wrote about here. How could he?
And what if I, too, am living with massive blind spots in my worldview? I happen to believe that I am.
I've found through meditation, yoga asana, and spiritual work in general, I've been able to expand my perspective a bit. And once I expanded my perspective—even a little, around certain situations and relationships—I realized I could probably expand it infinitely more. And maybe "truths" I've clung to my whole life, aren't nearly as "true" as they once seemed.
I believe cultivating skepticism around your beliefs and also a desire to expand your awareness are key, because if you don't, you'll likely interpret situations inaccurately, and, thus, create more suffering for yourself.
In the yoga sutras, the first obstacle is ignorance, avidya. All other obstacles stem from ignorance. But how often do you admit your own ignorance? What's more ignorant than being ignorant of ignorance?
I visited Tywin on Thursday before his abdominal ultrasound and how did he react? He bit me (hard) above the eye. At thirty, I have the first black eye of my life, and I got it from my five year old cat. :)
When we are unable to see the the big picture, we often react similarly. Robison writes in Gilead:
"And often enough, when we think we are protecting ourselves, we are struggling against our rescuer."
I wonder if, when we are in difficult situations that are ultimately for our own growth, the Universe [or God or the Divine, etc.] longs to tell us:
This is for your own good.
I'll be back.
But we're too busy throwing tantrums to listen. Why do I have to be poked? Why do I have to be prodded? Why do I have to be taken from my comfortable home and thrust into this hellhole?
In those moments, we're wholly committed to a narrow life view. To constricted consciousness. To the fog of our own ignorance.
Years later, we may admit the hardest situations of our lives are the ones we grew the most from. How often have you heard the narrative, "Getting dumped/fired/rejected/injured ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me..."? You probably have your own personal story or two using that structure.
But when it's happening, in the present, we often have blinders on. We are the equivalent of an ignorant, sick cat, who would much rather hide under a bed and be miserable for days than go to a hospital where vets can actually help him.
This is why expansion of awareness is necessary. It decreases the amount of suffering in your life, since most suffering is self-made. (You'd never make yourself suffer intentionally but when you're seeing life through the lens of ignorance, you can't help it.)
There is an element of humility required. You have to admit how little you know. I think recognizing the fog of your own ignorance is a "first step" on the road to expansion.
"Alas, don't tell me the Christians are lost.
Don't tell me the Jews are lost.
Don't tell me the infidels are lost.
Alas, my brother, you are lost.
That is why everyone seems lost."
[Aside: One could replace "Christians" and "Jews" with any distinct group of people. For example, "Republicans" and "Democrats."]
For all Rumi's poems about love, he also has some that punch you right in the gut. But recognizing your position can open the door. It allows you to take steps toward changing it, toward polishing your lens and expanding it. Writer Anaïs Nin says:
"We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are."
How are you seeing your current life circumstances?
Could you broaden you perspective?
Could you zoom way, way, way out?
Could you expand your view?
Could you welcome expansion?
Breathe it in, breathe it out, feel it in your bones?
I believe the more we expand, the less we suffer. Through expansion, we create space. Space for peace to enter our lives.
with Love and with Light,
p.s. An affirmation I like: "My perspective is expanding each day."
p.p.s. I'm ecstatic to report Tywin returned home Thursday night and seems to be back to normal. :) For the record, I was hardly mad when he bit me in the eye. I texted Stephen something like: "He bit me in the eye! He seems to be doing better!!" Thanks to all those who checked in on him. Hug your pets today. xo.