“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”–Thich Nhat Hanh
The tail twitches and crouching ensues. Hips raised, ears flattened, the tail twitches more rapidly.
He remains immobile and continues his focus.
“LJAAAY,” said with slow emphasis on the A-sound.
A look is tossed over his lowered shoulders, signaling he doesn’t feel like listening.
Hand reaches for the spray bottle, and John, my husband, walks towards LJ, trigger aimed. That is all it took. LJ, our solidly black cat, takes off in an attempt to avoid being squirted, but he’s not to be conquered. Not yet.
He circles back around the dining room table and reenters the same room through another entry point as if we can not see him. Meanwhile, the desire of his pouncing antics, Tippi (Tail), our 14 year old gray cat, with the exceptions of tuxedo white on her chest and tufts of white on the tips of her paws and tail, sits peacefully undisturbed. The only sign that she is aware of his shenagings is the very slow whishing of her tail along the top of the carpet.
LJ prepares to pounce once more; however, John rapidly squirts water in LJ’s direction. Although John isn’t trying to precisely hit LJ, the sound and sight of the water sends LJ scuttingly out of the room.
Tippi looks towards where the water missed its target, turns her head back to its original position as her body sighs towards the floor in a perfect cat loaf. Her tail encircles her body once more.
Throughout LJ’s attack, Tippi remained peaceful, never hissing or spewing. While her tail signaled her awareness, she did not otherwise bring attention to LJ’s negativity. Instead, she chose to remain at peace with it. Vigilant, but non-reactive.
John and I have watched this play out repeatedly, yet no matter how many times LJ attempts to attack Tippi Tail, she rarely responds out of anger. To be sure, Tippi will occasionally respond if he corners her. Mostly, though, she remains peaceful and at ease.
LJ is a bit younger than Tippi and has not moved from the self-absorbed stage of life. He wants to be the center of attention on his terms. If the humans in his home, family members or visitors, aren’t paying attention to him, he finds ways to draw attention to himself.
For example, if Tippi decides to sit with one of us, due to her arthritis, we find ways to offer her assistance to climb up beside us, such as slightly lowering the reclining portion of a chair or couch. As she tries to lift herself up to position, LJ will haughtily cross the room and attempt to “beat” her to the desired person. If we move a step stool near the bay window, in order to assist Tippi’s assent to the cat beds in the window, LJ will try to block her attempts in order to claim the bay window area for himself.
Nonetheless, Tippi Tail finds ways to persist with grace and equanimity. Her peace remains (mostly) unflappable. Neither does she appear to hate LJ, nor does she appear to be jealous of his presence. Instead, she seems to understand with a sense of compassion and patience that he can’t help what is inside him–his tendencies to compete, invade, dominate and exploit perceived weakness.
Due to her serene perseverance, there reigns an unspoken peace between the two cats . . . most moments. The more peaceful and tolerant Tippi becomes, the more LJ is learning to become that way. It has taken years, but there are times I will wake up in the morning to find both cats sleeping at the foot of the bed–not necessarily near each other–but in the same approximate area. Furthermore, it is not unusual during cold days to find both of them soaking up the morning sun in the same room and within the same area, albeit, not touching each other.
Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote that, “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over.” When LJ sees Tippi with one of us, he suffers jealousy because he perceives that she is getting all the attention and love. If he sees that Tippi wants to be in one of the cat beds in the bay window, he suffers fear because he is afraid there isn’t enough secure space for him in the sunlight to cozy for a nap.
While they both lived their early lives as stray cats, it is possible that something happened in LJ’s past that causes him to remain stunted and insecure. Then, again, due to the fact, Tippi is older, and lived with us longer; perhaps, she feels solidly secure with her position in our family. It could also be that she remembers a time when she was the younger cat in the house, competitively trying to exploit the weakness of one of our former cats, in order to gain our attention. Possibly, she has simply outgrown those impulsive years.
Whatever the reason(s), Tippi seems to understand that within LJ are potential seeds of love, compassion, playfulness and peace. However, she also appears to sense that LJ is dominated by seeds of willfulness, anger, fear, and insecurity. Due to age, circumstances, and/or experience, she is mindful of these seeds both within herself and within LJ. Therefore, it often appears that she uses this insight to mindfully choose her actions–modeling peaceful behaviors, and only fighting back in order to keep from getting hurt when he corners her.
Of course, I have personified my cats in order to make a point. To live in peace and harmony with others, we must recognize that all humans have similar needs/desires: food, water and shelter, safety, esteem/value, love/belonging and so forth. There is often fear and/or a feeling of lack when humans sense one of these is missing. Additionally, everyone has the potential to develop and foster seeds of insight, self-awareness, and self-control, but not everyone focuses on developing these, much less developing them at similar rates.
As the story of Tippi and LJ illustrates, it is important to be aware of our own insecurities, fears, and impulses in order to exercise self-control. Recognizing our own proclivities with compassion and understanding, allows us to offer that same consideration and empathy for others.
While this is never easy, and it takes practice, by learning to be less-reactive and modeling more appropriate ways of speaking, engaging, and responding to others, the more we can reduce conflict. Of course, this is not to say we passively agree or accept all behavior and actions; rather, it is important to recognize that not every word, action, and deed with which we disagree needs a response. Furthermore, if a response is required, how much more productive and beneficial they can be when given with considered insight/thought, self-control, and discipline
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all learn to do what Tippi does with LJ– pursue patience, tolerance, and think before acting.