Monday, October 04, 2010

A Poem About Cats

Say what you will about cats, they know what their business is. A cat is never uncertain or confused about its business. A cat knows what its business is and is always, I mean always, going about its business. I watched a cat lying under the front bumper of a car parked at the curb in Stonington, Maine. After some time had passed, it moved under the rear bumper of the car in front of the one it had been lying under. Changed scenery. The cat knew its business and was not to be deterred. Cats are like that.

Maybe it’s napping, and maybe it’s stalking a bird or a grasshopper, or waiting on dinner to come from the can to the bowl. Whatever it is, the cat knows what it is and stays centered in it, focused on it. “Big deal,” you say. “What’s a cat’s business? A cat’s business has no impact on the way the world turns!” That kind of comment works on human beings. You can shame us out of doing our business. “Photography? What does photography have to do with anything? Photography doesn’t feed the hungry, serve the poor, or establish world peace! Jesus didn’t own a camera! What do you mean taking pictures when there is real work to be done?” That would keep me from carrying a camera, but not a cat. A cat wouldn’t give you the satisfaction of acknowledging the validity of your assertions. A cat would steadfastly maintain its concentration on the business at hand.

Now hold that thought while I relate a dream reported by a member of a 12-Step program. “I dreamed I was cranking a mimeograph machine,” she said. “Turning out page after page of the same thing. I woke up enlightened. It isn’t that my judgment is bad. It’s that I’m using the wrong machine!” The irony, of course, is that using the wrong machine is bad judgment. If we exercise good judgment in the wrong way, it’s the same thing as bad judgment! It isn’t enough to have good judgment, we have to execute it in the right way, which means we have to believe in it, trust it, listen to it and let it direct our lives—even when it doesn’t appear to be working.

That’s asking too much. We aren’t cats. We have too much at stake in our lives to allow ourselves to follow a course that doesn’t work. But, here the cat comes back into the picture. What does it mean for something to work? A cat is centered and focused on what is important to the cat. A cat would call that working. A cat is at peace with itself, at one with itself. It has no pretentions, puts on no airs, assumes no postures. A cat never tries to be a dog, or even another cat. It lives in perfect harmony with itself, with perfect integrity of being. A cat would call that working.

But we have different ideas of success. Success is money, in our book, money in the bank. Plenty of it. We don’t get paid to be who we are. We get paid to be who we are not. We do not get paid to do what we like to do. We get paid to do what we don’t like to do. The most successful people we know are the people who haven’t done anything they wanted to do all their lives long. The most successful people we know don’t have a clue about what their business is. They have been disconnected for so long from the business that is truly theirs that they think their business is what they do for a living, what they get paid to do, what no one would do if they didn’t get paid to do it. You couldn’t pay a cat to do anything that wasn’t it’s business.

No one tries to take a cat’s business away from the cat and give the cat some other business. Everyone tries to do that with us. Everybody tries to tell us what our business ought to be. We have so many people telling us what our business ought to be, or paying us to do things that aren’t our business, that we have no idea what our business is, and no idea of how to know.

A cat knows its business. We don’t know ours, or, we don’t trust ourselves to know ours. This gets us to the crux, as they say, of the matter. This is our first order of business, sorting out what our business is. What are we chasing? What are we after? What are we about with our lives? Whatever it is, is it our idea or something someone else has handed to us? We have to sit with the questions and see where they lead. No one can tell you what your business is, but if you don’t trust yourself to know what it is, you are at the mercy of everyone with a guilt trip to give away or a sales pitch to make. Who knows better than a cat what its business is? Who knows better than you what your business is? But, we don’t know. We don’t trust ourselves to know. What do we need, to know?

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