The other day, as I was dusting off a little glass shelf that had been my mother's, I inadvertently bumped one of the tiny figurines on it--one of a set of blue and white china elephants she had once given me. The disturbance sent all the beloved creatures toppling. As I juggled to keep the whole shelf from falling, I felt a flash of frustration move through me; I might have been tempted to utter a censorable word, except that just at that instant my eyes caught Miss Kitty's. Sitting motionless on the footstool next to me, her inward gaze shifted outward ever so slightly, just enough to neutrally observe my agitated state.
Instantly, the contrast in our inner experiences became palpable to me and I had a sudden insight. "Why, she's praying," I thought, as my mind fell into the calm oasis of her silent meditation. In that moment I recalled something my mother had once said many years ago. It was a musing-aloud about how maybe the world seemed to be in increasingly bad shape because there were fewer and fewer monks and nuns spending time in seclusion praying.
This surprised me at the time, considering that my mother was an action-oriented person, not given to the notion of people sitting around praying and meditating. Nor was she Catholic. Because her words took me by surprise, I contemplated them all the more.
Indeed, spiritual traditions from both East and West have long provided avenues for people to offer prayers or other spiritual practices on behalf of the world. Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and all sorts of lesser known faiths and traditions make this a regular part of spiritual life. Some create special retreat sites, like ashrams or monasteries, for intensive focus on spiritual practices that benefit both self and others. Although the nuances of practice vary from tradition to tradition, one thing they all seem to share is a changed inner state. Prayer, contemplation, and meditation done for extended periods of time naturally result in increased inner peace, which then radiates outward, positively affecting the entire environment.
This is what I felt in Miss Kitty. As I paused to experience the stillness in which she was immersed, an image entered my mind--an image of a global feline force that daily nourishes and sustains us all. Millions of cats throughout the world quietly doing their spiritual duty, emanating peace and contentment.
Countless observers have lamented that we have become a culture of do-ers, no longer cultivating the art of simply being. Humans of the 21st century have lost much of what comes more naturally in indigenous societies that live closer to nature. As a species, we seem to have forgotten the essential spiritual practice of being, which is perhaps the highest form of prayer.
Fortunately, cats haven't forgotten, even after thousands of years of domestication. If we want to know how a "culture of being" vs. a "culture of doing" might change us, we have only to hang out with our feline friends. What happens to us when we absorb their state?
I used to wonder who might have replaced the disappeared praying monks. Now I know: Miss Kitty and her colleagues.
So today, I thank the feline brother/sisterhood for all that they are for the world. And I offer our culture of do-ers this thought: Lest you think your--or your neighbor's--cats may not be earning their keep, think again. They're busy saving the world.
Dr. Pamela Gerloff, a.k.a. "Possibility Pamela," is a writer, visionary educator, and specialist in transformational change. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from Harvard University, where, in graduate school, she began to ask two fundamental questions: Why don't schools change? and When they do, why don't the changes last? Her quest for answers uncovered ideas, principles, and tools relevant to nearly every domain of life. She founded Compelling Vision, her own consulting practice, to share her discoveries. Dr. Gerloff is co-author, with Robert W. Fuller, of Dignity for All: How to Create a World without Rankism (Berrett-Koehler) and on-site educational consultant to Civic Bangladesh, located in Dhaka. Formerly an Associate Editor with Highlights for Children and later Executive Editor of More Than Money magazine, Pamela currently co-manages, with her family, the ancestral farm in northern Illinois. There, she enjoys her feline and bovine friends, including Miss Kitty and "The Tinies," sweet little brown twin calves.