“Contemplation is a long, loving look at the real.” – Walter Burghardt
This is the first winter our female cat Perfect has spent downstairs in our house. After the arrival of our dog in the spring of 2015, she confined herself to the unheated upstairs of our house and endured the entire winter of 2016 in frigid seclusion. This, then, is the first winter in a long time that she’s been truly warm.
For days on end, after creeping downstairs and courageously concluding that the dog might not eat her after all, she slept in the corner behind the stove, moving slowly in and out of a heat induced coma. Once the residual cold was finally cleared from her body’s memory, she edged away from the stove and started sleeping on the top of a bookshelf and then, finally, settled on the top of my asparagus fern.
The first time I saw her there, I took a picture, because my daughter’s first kitten – Tiger – slept there too before she died an untimely death in the jaws of our neighbor’s hunting dog. It seemed a strange coincidence that Perfect – Tiger’s replacement – would then find her way to sleeping in the same planter some two years later. I took a picture to show my daughter when she arrived home from school, not wanting her to miss it, but then Perfect took to sleeping there regularly and I became increasingly fascinated by her commitment to such an obviously ill-fitting perch.
Tiger was a kitten when she slept on the fern and I have a picture of her tucked in behind the plant’s fine green fronds. Perfect is two to three times bigger than Tiger was, and yet she seems deeply invested in the idea that she fits in this planter. All day long she sleeps on top of it with her back-end hanging precariously off the edge as heat from the stove nearby swirls up around her.
“Look at Perfect,” I say to the kids and my husband, marveling at her persistence. Later I ask, “How can she even sleep that way? There’s no way her body’s fully relaxed.” And yet she stays, committed to the idea (do cats even have ideas??) that she fits and therefore committed to the discomfort of sleeping there.
Observing the cat, I can’t help but think of my own willful obstinance, my tendency to – at times – ignore the realities of life, even at the cost of my own discomfort. How often do I ignore the truth of my own limits – spiritually, physically, financially? How much time and energy do I waste ignoring the truth of any given situation?
This has been one of the major growth points for me in the past five years – the invitation to accept reality as it is. Mine is a personality gifted with ideals and vision and, with that vision, comes the temptation to live at odds with reality – the refusal to accept what is. And yet, every journey only begins where we are. Anywhere other than reality is not solid ground, it is fantasy that leaves us precarious at best (like the cat with her hind end hanging off of the planter) and in grave danger at worst. Over time, I have discovered that fear is most often what keeps me invested in illusion and freedom is the biggest gift that comes with returning to reality.
There are a couple of phrases I hold onto to help in me when I find myself wandering away from what is real and investing in illusions either about myself, others, or the world around me. One is, “Remember the Real” and the other is the simple concept of “Return.” The more I live in the truth of what is, the closer I find myself to God. The more I engage what is with a loving, honest gaze, the more I find myself positioned to live and love well right where I am.
What ways do truth and illusion impact your life? How does looking at reality with a ‘loving gaze’ impact your willingness to accept what is?