Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cats are Minimalists

In which we consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the contentment of cats, and the price of that which is truly important.

It feels, today, as if spring might actually be on the way. After months of ice and snow, weeks of temps in the zero to ten degree range, nights plagued by tornadoes and days of gray skies, today, today it's sunshine, blue skies, and fifty-three degrees Fahrenheit. The upstairs windows are thrown open. There are tiny buds on the forsythia bush; brave green shoots are giving it a go in the bulb garden. I cross my fingers; I allow myself to give way to hope.

Looking out the back window, I see the Colony Cats are soaking in the rays, as well. Handsome is stretched out in all his elderly golden glory along the deck railing, basking in the southern sunlight. The four house cats have claimed perches by the open windows. They loaf, pictures of contentment. Not a worry in the world wrinkles their furry brows. I envy them. I pause and ponder, wondering what I might learn from their ways.

As I write, it's the first of the month, and so a part of today was spent in the onerous task of paying bills -- mortgage, utilities, communication, transportation, credit cards -- while trying to be sure enough is set aside to cover food, cat kibbles, cat liter, vet bills, prescriptions. This necessary task always puts me in a bad mood. I have to make time, afterward, for gratitude. Time to think over the abundance in my life, to shift the focus away from what I don't have to the many joys I do. As my great-grandmother would have said, to "count my blessings."

I contemplate the cats in their contentment; I observe how they enter fully and wholeheartedly into the joy of this sunshiny day. They pay no bills; they owe nothing and own nothing. I stop and consider if this is part of their secret, for who would deny that cats are enlightened beings?

"Behold the birds of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say to you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

Would life be simpler if we had less stuff?

I hate to clean house; it seems always to me to be a terrible waste of time. I clean, I cook, I wash dishes, I do laundry, taking precious minutes and hours out of my schedule, time I so desperately want to spend on other activities. Within days it's all to do over again. And again. And again. It's a horrible frustration. And yet, I despise living in chaos, in clutter. When my surroundings are cluttered, which they most often are, it's hard to focus. It's like the physical clutter and chaos spills over into mental and emotional chaos and clutter. Sometimes, I leave the house to escape it. Out I go to the organized, clean space of coffee house or library to get some relief.

Sometimes, I think the answer would be to have a housekeeper.
Oh, what luxury! A friend of mine has just recently taken a job as a personal chef to a family with much more financial resources than I have. She's off to other cities and grand adventures. How I envy the thought of such luxury; a chef to take care of my cooking; a housekeeper to take care of the house. In order, though, to have those luxuries, I would have to work much more, much harder, have a much, much larger income. Is that really the answer?

I think of the cats. No personal chef. No housekeeper. No mortgage. And yet they seem centered, contented. There is another way.

The river of life often sweeps strange and beautiful driftwood into my life. One such treasure is a website and blog once recommended to me by a friend who is also a professional belly dancer. The site is called Rowdy Kittens: social change through simple living and is maintained by Tammy Strobel. "Imagine what the world would look like," Tammy writes,  "if we pursued our dreams rather than a consumer focused lifestyle."

Indeed. Imagine.

When I first found Rowdy Kittens, I was intrigued. I read what Tammy had to say about herself and Rowdy Kittens.. I read what she called her downsizing story.  I read what  The New York Times had to say about her story as well. By now I was not only intrigued, I was impressed. Tammy and her husband had taken the  100 Thing Challenge, the challenge to reduce their personal belongings to only 100 items each. They had succeeded! I looked around at my nine rooms full of stuff and my mind boggled. They got rid of their cars, so I knew we were kindred spirits. The Spousal Unit and I had gone car-free in 2001. The Strobel's story challenged us to go further.

Eric Brende tells an interesting tale in his book "Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology."  Eric and his wife Mary spent a year in a community that "even the Amish consider primitive." Eric challenges us to consider the case of The Horse. We post neolithic humans have a society built on grain agriculture. Grain is good; it can be stored over the winter so we don't starve. Our ancestors apparently considered this to be a step up over the freer, but riskier, hunting and foraging system. Raising grain, though, is hard work. Harness the horse and the work load is reduced. But then the horse has to eat, so we need to put more land under cultivation. This requires more work. So we need another horse. Which means we need more grain. More grain equals more work, which means another horse, which increases the need for grain. You get the idea. Once we're on the treadmill, it's hard to get off.

The "American Way" has become just such a treadmill. Earn and spend, earn and spend baby. As George Carlin told us, "That's the whole meaning of life. Tryin' to find a place for your stuff."

Hamsters will run happily on a treadmill. Cats now, cats are a different matter. Cats on a treadmill? Hard to  picture. Is that part of the secret to their contentment?

I'm not ready, yet, to go all the way down to only 100 personal items. I'm not ready yet to go "zero watts." But I can do better, perhaps. The Spousal Unit and I unplugged our clothes dryer last summer. A clothesline did just fine, and the clothes smelled great. After an honest appraisal of just exactly what we do keep in our refrigerator (condiments, mostly), we are considering taking the no-refrigerator challenge.

Cats are the masters of minimalism. They own nothing and they owe nothing. They eat when they're hungry, and they sleep when they're tired. Not owning much stuff, they are rich in time. Something we could all use a whole lot more of.

"Earth gets its price for what Earth gives us;
The beggar is taxed for a corner to die in;
The priest hath his fee who comes and shrives us,
We bargain for the graves we lie in.
At the devil's booth are all things sold,
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold.
For a cap and bells our lives we pay,
Bubbles we buy with a whole soul's tasking.
'T is heaven alone that is given away,
'T is only God may be had for the asking.
No price is set on the lavish summer;
June may be had by the poorest comer.
And what is so rare as a day in June?"
~~James Russell Lowell, "The Vision of Sir Launfal"
 stlcatlady is a poet, blogger, and freelance writer of short stories, news articles, and other such oddments, many of which center around her favorite subjects: felines , philosophy, and folklore. You may contact her by sending email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com. Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Your kitties dat you care for do bring you more contentment den all the riches in the world.