Raising Cats: an Exercise in Non-Attachment

Unlike dogs and children, cats don’t care about your approval or disapproval. Some people think this means that cat’s don’t love you, or aren’t happy to see you. These people have clearly never raised a cat.

When Firefly or Igmu walk up, flop on my lap, and start purring like mad, or when they slow blink at me (a sign of trust and affection), I know they love me.

However, when they lay down on my keyboard or book, bite my ankles while I’m trying to work, or continually knock over the trashcan (Igmu), I’m forced to recognize that they really don’t care about my displeasure. All they want is a little attention, and negative attention is as satisfactory as positive attention (as long as it isn’t violent, obviously).

Because negative attention is perfectly acceptable to them, the only really effective punishment for my girls is to simply stand up and walk away. At first, I did this often.

I would be working when one of them would come bite my ankles. I would stand immediately and walk into the bedroom. A stern rebuke for interrupting me while I was working – or so I thought.

I would then count to thirty (or to ten if I was feeling impatient), walk back, and resume working. More often than not, my assailant would be waiting for me, ready to pounce my ankles again. I might get a few minutes of work in before the attack, at which point I would stand up, walk into the bedroom and start counting.

Some days it felt like I was doing some strange calisthenics rather than actually working. Sit, work fingers for two minutes, stand, walk ten paces, sit, count, stand, walk ten paces, sit, work fingers, repeat. It sounds almost meditative when I type it out, but certainly didn’t feel meditative at the time.

FullSizeRender (3)Other days, I would work with one hand while using the other to slowly twirl the cat dazzler (a long plastic rod with a longer strip of felt on one end) to keep my kittens occupied. This wasn’t a very satisfying solution, however, because working with one hand is less than half as effective as working with two, and the cats quickly grew board of this joyless play and returned to my ankles.

IMG_1080When my temper reached it’s breaking point, I’d pick them up (a mistake because that’s only reinforcing their behavior with touch), carry them into the bedroom, and shut the door. Sometimes they’d accept this exile gracefully and go to sleep, sometimes they’d scratch at the door and meow piteously until I relented and let them out again.

It was a frustrating state of affairs that occasionally drove me out of the house and into the local Starbucks, or Fiddleheads, to work.

Then something changed. I can’t really tell you what it was, or when it happened, but now, instead of becoming frustrated with the kittens, I give them attention.

Please don’t misunderstand, I didn’t neglect them before. I played with them when I could muster up the energy and enthusiasm, and I cuddled them as much as they would let me, but always on my schedule – my terms.

When I felt able to play, we played. When I wanted to cuddle on the couch, I would scoop one up and bring her to the couch – though it should be noted that I would quickly release said kitten if she tried to escape (or, as Hannah and I gleefully call it, “eh-sca-pé!”).

Now, however, I try to be more open. When I’m working and Igmu nips my ankles, I’ll reach down and pick her up. She doesn’t bite hard. She was just letting me know that she was there and wanted some attention. I’ll hold her for a little while and scratch her under the chin, or behind the ears. She might be satisfied with that, or she might need to run around a little, in which case I’ll get up and play with her for a few minutes. Then I’ll go back to work.

Often, that’s enough. Five minutes of my time and full attention, and she’s ready to go nap in a sunbeam (literally). I then go back to work feeling affectionate and loving, rather than frustrated and angry.

The truth is: I don’t need to so attached to what I’m doing.

Focus is good. Discipline is good. But so is the ability to switch off your work brain and pay your full attention to someone who loves you.

Of course, like many of my personal epiphanies, my ability to live up to this one comes and goes. When I’m reading on the couch and Firefly walks up and sits on my book, I’m not always able to switch tasks, but I want to be able to.

I want to be flexible, compassionate, and loving, both in my home and in the world. Thus, I’m grateful to my girls for this exercise in non-attachment to activities. May it help me connect with my best self.

Om Shanti.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed this post thoroughly, not having cats myself it was an interesting insight into what it would be like raising them. I had an interesting idea for a post, but if you do not think it is “good enough” you could just reply with your thoughts. Here goes: In todays modern world, what do you define as art?

    • The Ink Slinger says:

      Thank you for reading my article! And, wow, that’s a pretty deep question that I don’t really feel qualified to answer. My immediate reaction is something like, “art is an object or experience that makes you think or feel.” However, such a definition wouldn’t be terribly helpful because it’s so broad. What would you define as art?

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you for responding! Sorry for making my question a little broad, but I agree with your definition. With the expansion of technology, newer mediums can be thought as passing fads and ignored (in this particular case I am thinking of video games and new genres of music). I believe art is an experience that makes you feel a powerful emotion or connection to something else. Thank you again for responding, I look forward to reading your next post.

  2. That’s a really good way to look at it! Perhaps I ought to pay my bird more attention. He does the same sorts of things…

    • The Ink Slinger says:

      It’s definitely challenging. After a long day of other obligations, sometimes I want nothing so much as to flop down on the couch and read while not having my ankles chewed. What I try to remember is the cats don’t have other obligations. They’ve been waiting around all day for me (or Hannah) to pay attention to them.

  3. A.c. Huayra says:

    Hi there Zac, two times in a row my cats from my Aunt’s house have joined me upstairs to watch the daily Mangal Artik ceremony take place transmitted online live from Mayapur, India!

    These two little dudes have atypical personalities, one of them is a part-time monitor and potentially a ventriloquist? and the other is a hurricane survivor and a developed instructor regarding cat affairs.

    Honestly, for better or for worse, I am not their provider, and regardless the cats are nice to have around for company.

    Basically. When the cats sight other cats, what is their behavior?

    Also, thanks sharing!

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