A Cat Named Lady

Lessons come when you least expect them.  Sometimes one simple event can provide deep understanding into the nature of the universe.  This is one of those stories:

Recently a pregnant cat made her way to the playground of my son’s preschool.  On April 1st, during the children’s recess, my young son and his classmates were privileged to witness the birth of a litter of three kittens.  This was a wonderful day for the children, and it showed them that:

Life is precious.  From the largest elephant to the smallest mouse, we are all born.  This is the gift of our existence.  It is through this shared experience we are all interconnected.  Remember this when interacting with others, from humans to animals to insects.  Just as you would not want this gift taken from you, do not take this gift from others.

When my wife went to pick our son up from daycare she learned from the school faculty that they were concerned with keeping the new family on a playground of children, for fear of something happening to the young kittens.  My wife is very kind-hearted, especially towards animals, and offered to keep the cats at our house for a short period of time until homes could be found for them all.  We live only one block from the school, so the mother cat would still be in her familiar territory.  Knowing that I have severe cat allergies she set up our dog’s large kennel outside with a bed, litter box, food and water, a roof and walls made out of a tarp, a fan to regulate the temperature, and toys to play with.  The mother cat was free to come and go if needed, but the kittens, too little to get out of their bed, would be protected from the elements.  This is a great example of how we should:

Give freely.  Sometimes you may have a lot you can give, sometimes just a little.  No matter what you have you should give freely whenever you can.  The most basic of things to one individual can be life changing to another.

Everything went fine for the first few days.  The mother cat stayed next to her new babies at all times, rarely more than a few feet away.  They enjoyed the luxury of their warm bed and enclosed home.  The mother cat was very friendly when my wife would come to check on her, and seemed appreciative of her new home.  Late one evening a rainstorm blew through the area.  The mother cat, scared of the storm, moved her babies from their new-found home.  She attempted to move them back to the playground where they were born, but had to stop half way there in a cardboard box on the side of the road.  Though not the wisest of choices, she showed that:

Material gain does not guarantee happiness.  Almost all of us want for material items.  From a soft bed to lie on to a cool new electronic device our nature is to strive and desire for more.  Yet, in the blink of an eye the things that brought us happiness instead can cause us suffering.  Even our own home, with its safety and protection, can turn into our worst nightmare during a disaster.  The joy that we gain from material things is not real.  True happiness can only be found within ourselves.

Early the next morning the kittens were found by a group of neighborhood children.  Curious of the small cats, the children tried to play with them.  In the process, one of the kittens was accidentally killed.  Thankfully an observant neighbor found the incident before anymore tragedies could happen, and returned the cats to my wife.  This event showed that:

We all must die.  No matter if we live in the lap of luxury, in a box down an alley, or anywhere in between, we will all die.  It is not in our ability to change this truth.  Death will come quickly for some and slowly for others.  Young or old, healthy or sick, death can come at any moment.  Make the most of your time here while you can.

After getting the small family back my wife felt an even greater need to protect them.  She knew that our setup was safer than a cardboard box, and as such began closing the door to the kennel.  She spent a lot of her time making sure that all of their needs were taken care of and that they were comfortable, letting the mother cat out only while being observed during the day, and shutting them all in at night.  It was also during this time that my wife decided the family all needed names.  She remarked many times at how wonderful of a cat the mother was and took to calling her Lady, saying she “composed herself like a lady at all times”.  The kittens were named Jinx (a boy) and Trixie (a girl) in honor of their birthday.  The small family seemed very content and enjoyed their new lives, while my family grew closer to them.  Through these actions we demonstrated that:

Fear causes attachment.  We naturally try to protect those closest to us, be it our children, our parents, our spouse, or our friends.  Through this need to protect, we naturally develop fear of what may happen.  The more we fear for these unknown futures, the more we try to hold our loved ones close and keep them safe.  This clinging is attachment.  The more we cling, the more we try to protect, and so the cycle continues.  Remember that taking precautions for safety of those close to us is always a good idea.  Becoming attached, fearing for an event that has yet to happen, and losing sight of the present is not.

As planned, Jinx and Trixie both found loving homes rather quickly; Lady did not.  We realized that if we could not find her a home she would have to go back out on the street.  Our daughter, in an attempt to keep this from happening, convinced her grandparents that they wanted a cat.  We began making preparations for her transition which, due to a preplanned vacation, meant that Lady would have to stay at our friend’s house for a few weeks.  While we were gone Lady enjoyed running around his large loft apartment and the extra attention he gave to her.  All seemed well in her life, and proved:

Good fortune comes when you least expect it.  When you stop clinging to what will be and start focusing on what is you learn that good things start to appear.  The release of worry and anxiety leave space for the positive.  Just remember that happiness is part of a cycle, and does not last forever.  Cherish each moment for what it is and let go of your expectations.  You just might find a spark of happiness where you least expected.

When we returned our friend agreed to keep Lady for a little longer, until we could get her vet visits set up and get her moved to her new home.  Then everything changed.  Within the course of a few days Lady went on a rampage in his apartment, ripping up carpet, shredding the leather on the footboard of his bed, and burrowing her way into the box-spring of his mattress.  This meant that Lady had to come back to our house, and with nowhere else to stay, was put back into the kennel to wait.  She was learning the hard lesson that:

Karma will always find you.  Sometimes it is instantly, sometimes it takes years, but either way your actions always have repercussions.  If you choose your actions correctly, demonstrating positive behavior, then you will be rewarded.  If instead you choose your actions poorly, then you should expect the negative repercussions that will arise.

During this time the layers of my daughter’s manipulation of her grandparents came to light.  They explained that they did not want an inside cat and were leery to take on an outside pet due to the predators that roamed the area where they live.  They felt that they had no choice but to resend their decision to take Lady, causing her to be homeless once again.  This turn of events showed that:

Misfortune also comes when you least expect it.  No matter how positive you are, no matter how much good you do, misfortune can come without notice.  This change is the nature of the universe.  How you react to this change says the most about who you are inside.  You can let the bad times overwhelm you, make you depressed, and hold you to the past, or you can appreciate the challenges for what they are and focus on your path forward.

All alone, Lady would sit in her kennel every evening, calling out for someone to release her.  You could hear loneliness and sadness in her cries.  She wanted to be free to run and explore, not locked in her cage every night.  My wife was desperate to find a home for Lady.  She knew that she could not keep monitoring her during the day and locking her up at night.  Ultimately she realized she might have to let Lady fully back outside into the world, but was scared of what would happen when she did.  Would Lady get hit by a car?  Would she run away and never come back?  She loved Lady and wanted to give her the best she could, but circumstances were fighting against her.  She was so attached to Lady that she couldn’t turn back, and this was causing them both to be unhappy in the process.  It is true what they say:

Attachment causes suffering.  When we love someone we want them to be safe and happy.  This is a positive response and should be cultivated.  The danger is our love and affection can easily become attachment instead.  We fret over if they will reciprocate our love.  We wonder what will happen to us if they were to go away.  We then become so focused on this attachment that we lose sight of the present.  No one knows what will happen in a year, in a week, tomorrow, or even in the next minute.  Grasping and attachment is not love.  If you truly love someone you have to be open enough to let them go.  In this freedom both parties involved have the opportunity to give their love openly, without expectations.  This breaks the cycle of attachment and suffering, and allows for two individuals to be stronger when alone and closer when together.  The purest expression of love is to love in such a way that the other person feels free.  When you give your love freely and expect nothing in return you are liberating yourself from suffering and allowing love to find its way back.

My wife finally decided that Lady needed to be released back into the neighborhood full time.  Since then, Lady proves she feels the closeness that our family has towards her and spends the majority of her time near our house.  She is usually found right outside our door, happy and ready to be petted.  You can tell that she does love being near our family, and we in turn love her.  When I see her I am thankful for the lessons she taught us.  We are better individuals and further along on our path to enlightenment all thanks to the lessons learned in the story of a cat named Lady.

Coming Out of the (Religious) Closet

One thing that plagues the hearts of most individuals more than anything else is living a lifestyle that is different. As human beings we strive to be accepted and loved. When we have a trait that is different than what is “normal”, we experience stress, anxieties, and suffering as we try to hide our true nature. Many people spend years in denial of who they really are, just to be accepted. This could be anything from an eclectic taste in music, to someone with a different sexual preference than the norm, to even a religious preference that doesn’t fit into social standards.

For me it was my choice in religion that brought about my suffering.

I was blessed with very understanding parents. From a young age religion was never forced on me and was never an issue. My family was predominantly Christian, so I was raised with the common beliefs of heaven and hell, Jesus dying for our sins and the like. I was given two different views of the Christian faith, as my mother’s family is Catholic and my father’s Baptist.

In high school I began to rebel, as we all do. I lived in a conservative East Texas community, where everyone went to church on Sunday and it was common practice to have prayer before the Friday night football game. To stand out I grew my hair long, listened to heavy metal music, and tried to make those around me uncomfortable. I realized then that I had a hard time conforming to the “Christian” way that my classmates were so enamored with, but did not know how to express it. I turned to Anton LeVay’s “Satanism” as a means to express my discord with my core beliefs.

Moving from high school to college, I realized that pure rebellion of this type was not what I really wanted. I felt like there was a gap for me in the traditional Christian viewpoint, but I struggled to figure out what that meant for me. It was during this time that I first found Taoism through none other than a beloved children’s character.

The Tao of Pooh, written by Benjamin Hoff, was an eye opener for me. It laid out the basis for an Eastern religious thought in terms that my conditioned Western mind could comprehend. It brought me peace of mind that I had never experienced before, and made me feel for the first time that I was starting down the right path. From the Tao I branched off into Zen Buddhism and through study of both I found contentment…for a while.

Still very young and easily influenced, my roommate at the time introduced me to the Kabbalah. He was studying through one of the “secret societies” and felt that his life was gaining positive momentum from his studies. I felt envious of this, even though I had found my own path.

Since I was showing interest in his studies my roommate set up a phone meeting with one of the people from his temple, so that he could answer any questions I had before I took the plunge.

I will always remember that phone call. The first topic that was discussed, before anything else, was my practice of Taoism. He referred to it as “spiritual suicide”, and asked why I would want to do such a thing to myself. He then described all the benefits of joining their group and tried to get me to confirm when I would be sending in my membership fee.

After the phone call it just didn’t feel right, but my roommate was a good person and I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to fit in.

Maybe it was the hard sell, maybe it was a lack of money, maybe it was just destiny, but I never officially joined their group. I was, however, inundating myself in Hebrew Scriptures, strange magical circles, and trying to invoke all manner of angels with odd sounding names as I read book after book on the subject.

I tried desperately to merge this Kabbalistic thinking with my Buddhist and Taoist practices. For many years I continued down this path, finding links between these and other different religions, until I lost the ability to classify myself by any one belief.

I knew to my core that all these different religious beliefs were all trying for the same thing: enlightenment, inner peace, and a secure place for their “souls” in the next life or afterlife. Many times I said “we are all trying to walk up the same mountain, the difference is what path we take to get to the top”. But instead of seeing the beauty in the interconnectedness that I found, I instead let my desire for belonging take over. I tried to walk every path at once, and began referring to myself as a “deity whore”. If all the paths were equal, then why did I have to choose? Why couldn’t I be accepted by every faith?

This, of course, was a fool’s gambit. My ego overtook my beliefs, and I let myself fall into its traps.

I was the religious “jack of all trades”, able to speak just enough about any religion to sound educated, while completely missing the true nature of them all. I tried to show other people the merit in my way, and led them down my same path, thinking I was doing the right thing. It is true what they say…the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

It wasn’t until one of my “students” called me out on my warped world view that I realized how far off the path I had traveled.

My world crumbled. Once again I began challenging all of the beliefs that I held so dear, and realized that in trying to be accepted I had lost my true self.

As with all destruction in our lives, once the dust settles we begin to rebuild.

Now understanding some of the traps and pitfalls I dedicated myself to the one constant that I held since early adulthood: Eastern thought, specifically Buddhism. I focused my practice and my mind on one goal, but found yet another trap…

Internally I have become a much better person. I have had my setbacks and frustrations, my ego has driven me to do things that I know I shouldn’t, but through it all I have stayed my course. Along the way I have found yoga as a partner to my meditation, and felt my body, mind, and spirit connect as one.

Externally I’ve hidden this change, which I know now is due to clinging to that basic principle: acceptance. I’ve created a rift between what I feel and what I show, what I believe and what I say. I’ve hidden my true self away in the hope that I could avoid feeling like an outsider.

This is my coming out.

Through this blog I will be detailing my journey along the path. Hopefully along the way I can provide a positive message to anyone reading, maybe some humor and light-heartedness when available, and above all love to you, my reader, and myself.

For the first time since high school I am not afraid of who I am inside. With this I let go of my clinging to acceptance, my want to fit in.

I am a Buddhist.

I am a Yogi.

No matter if you hit me, abuse me, curse me, spit on me, shun me, or deny me I will return to you no anger and will provide only love.

I hope my journey helps you in some way as you walk your path, whatever that path may be.

Namasté