I’m pretty sure my cat has a crush on my dog. Let me explain why this is an interesting conclusion.

Nunzio is around 10 years old, and epically anti-social. (There was a purple sign denoting “anti-social cats” hanging on his cage in the New Orleans animal shelter in which I found him – the sign really indicated his crate-mate, Bombadil – Nunzio didn’t even register on the social scales. He didn’t earn the high rank of anti-social. He was a harmless, but accomplished, Feral.) He spent the first two years of his co-habitation with Dexter expressing his profound distaste for him by urinating on Ben’s clothing. It was very specifically Ben’s: in the approximately 50 soak-and-then-washes I enacted to get cat urine out of clothing items, not one of the affected clothing items were mine. Ben, Nunzio accurately registered, had brought Dexter into his life. Nunz had lived 3 tolerable years with me before meeting Dexter. (If Dexter had clothing, I can only imagine what Nunz would have done to it.)

We spend our lives acting on things that we think are true. We act believing we are right, without even registering that our actions are based on a personal, stubborn, and imperfect view of the world. We don’t realize that our actions in most moments could be narrated by a smug voice saying, “Elizabeth thinks she’s right, that’s why she’s acting this way. Little does she know, she’s wrong.” That’s what Nunzio does with Dexter. He thinks Dexter’s harmful, and he acts accordingly. Nunzio is wrong, and Ben and I laugh (lovingly) at him about it, but the joke is really on us, because we’re not superior. We do it all the time.

Good examples of this for me, and for many of us who live in congested Washington, D.C., come while driving. When I’m in my car, and someone does something I deem annoying, my seemingly involuntary reaction is to denounce them as a fundamentally, quintessentially irritating and problematic human being. Anger surges through me. My sudden sole purpose in existing is to annoy them back in some way, perhaps with a stern look that they can see in their rearview mirror, or something of the like. Now, if I encountered that person walking by while I was sipping a glass of white wine at an outdoor restaurant on a mild May afternoon, I would feel quite differently about them. I’d likely notice something charming, fascinating, or at the very least, relatably human about them.

Am I right in the driving situation? Or am I right with the white wine? In most moments, I’m inclined to believe that people are fundamentally good, so I'm inclined to say the way I see them in the restaurant situation is right. But if you’re not that optimistic in your opinions of humanity, then the more logical answer is that you’re right in neither situation: they are neither as awful as they seem while they drive annoyingly, nor as wonderful as they seem when you’re sitting with a breeze and Pinot Grigio.

Yoga has a remedy for this pattern, this wasting time on things we think are true. It’s called non-reaction, or non-attachment, and it challenges us to step back from our quick, intense, habitual reactions to things, and to recognize that when we have negative reactions, we are likely at the mercy of one of the kleshas: in yoga, these are the five mental states that result in our negative reaction and cause our suffering (ignorance, egoism, likes and dislikes, and clinging to mundane life). We have to pull ourselves up short from reacting habitually to be able to notice when we are about to fall victim to one of these. My sister went to a leadership conference that worked with non-reaction concepts. She came back from it ready to tell me about “triggers” in our lives, and eager to point out a couple of mine. (This may or may not have been a trigger for me itself, when someone points out my flaws. Perhaps you can relate.)

We waste time on negative things that we think are true. We can stop this. It behooves us to take a lesson from my cat. Nunzio thinks Dexter is harmful, but he’s wrong. And the only way that humans have a slight edge over other animals is our ability to use our self-consciousness, our reason, to reflect on our actions and then improve. If I could reason with my cat, I’d use my ability to reflect and analyze to tell him that he probably has a fascination, or more likely a crush, on Dexter that he’s misinterpreted as fear of him. And while I often feel superior to Nunzio, seeing as I’ve got this all figured out, I may be much better at giving than taking advice. I have some of my own misperceptions to work on, too. J

  • Elizabeth