Be first a good animal

I’ve just let the cats and the hens out with the usual instructions: Have fun. Be careful.  Don’t get hurt. Don’t hurt anyone else (this to the cats, who have the usual unholy feline interest in wild birds).

They don’t listen:  They are off to revel in the joys and risk the dangers of their own animal lives.

Their existence apart from me is largely a mystery: too simple to be apprehended by the endless machinations of a human mind and too complex to be appreciated by my relatively impoverished, under-utilized physical senses. When we are together, though, I feel nourished in a way I usually don’t with members of my own species.

Here I will avoid waxing romantic about unconditional love and otherwise anthropomorphizing animals, who deserve better than to be likened to humans. In truth, I have no idea how my cats and chickens feel about me. feet 005

But this much I know: My animals are masters of careful attention. When they choose to keep company with me, they see, hear and respond to me just as I am in that moment.  They are not projecting their own fears and hopes onto me; they are not preparing a response to what I am doing or saying. They are not inwardly composing a grocery list while feigning interest, nor critiquing my appearance or mannerisms. They are fully with me until they turn that same,  singular attention elsewhere.

This may seem a simple thing, and it is. But simple does not mean easy, and I have yet to meet a person as accomplished at paying attention as the most distracted animal.   This matters.   Poet Mary Oliver describes attention as “the beginning of devotion,” the necessary prerequisite to love.  When another truly attends to us, we feel seen.  Appreciated. We feel as if we matter for just who we are.

More often than not, we humans fall short in this foundational act of relationship; preoccupied by our own wants and needs, we fail, again and again, to be fully present with each other.  How lucky we are, then,  to have animals with whom to share our lives.

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23 comments

  1. to give “singular attention” is a worthy pursuit. Thanks for your writing.

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    1. Perhaps THE most worthy pursuit. Thanks very much for reading and commenting.

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  2. […] Excerpt from “Be First a Good Animal” by Meditatio Ephemerahttps://zenofhen.wordpress.com/2019/01/07/be-first-a-good-animal/ […]

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  3. Reblogged this on Playing God: The Dark Reality of Dr. Ross and commented:
    Happy Valentines Day:
    God is Love and all living beings are mere fragmented reflections of that infinite truth. Love is true and Truth is Love. That is all it is.

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    1. Thank you for this lovely and wise observation, and for re-blogging this post. A Happy Valentines Day to you, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. […] “Be First a Good Animal,” Meditatio Ephemera […]

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    1. Thank you for sharing!

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  5. […] “Be First a Good Animal,” Meditatio Ephemera […]

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    1. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Awww … animals are indeed the master of attention and we are better to be aware of this.

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    1. They are indeed fine role models, in many areas.

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  7. There are those who can’t understand why others have such love for animals, after all, they are animals. You have captured the essence, the reason, in a way that I think even the most obstinate non-animal-lover can understand.

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    1. Thank you kindly! It’s certainly obvious enough to many of us, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. sweetly poetic, Cate
    your cultivated
    awareness
    & relations!
    if only humanity
    wakes up 🙂

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    1. Time’s a’wastin on that one, my friend. Maybe already too much of it gone …
      Thanks for reading and commenting, David; I appreciate you.

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  9. Absolutely profound, Cate. A real key to understanding why my many years of living with animals has so much significance in my life.

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    1. Me, too! We are kindred spirits in a large community of humans who look to animals not only for comfort and joy, but wisdom.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. astrea333 · · Reply

    Dear Cate, I comment rarely, not because I don’t appreciate, but usually because your comments reach me on a level at which words only cheapen the experience. So, please know that a lack of commentary definitely does not mean a lack of love.

    Regarding your post today, I think, “Yes, absolutely,” is the best I can do.

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    1. And more than enough. Thanks so much!

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  11. Having never been an animal person myself I can only wonder about what it is like. But you make me stop and wonder about what I might be missing! Thanks always for stopping to make me think!

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    1. My pleasure. Thanks for reading! Keeping close company with animals has been perhaps the greatest consistent joy of my life. Their attention feels healing, and their fully embodied presence in moment-to-moment existence is a terrific model for sane living. Not to be missed, in my view!

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  12. Yes! And in my experience, each animal has some unique influence on my perceptions/actions … while I proved to myself a while back that yes, there IS such a thing as “too many cats” at given time in given limited space – no way ever “too many cats” encountered in a life! Have learned so much from feline association over 70 years. My husband would like to add chickens to our animal mix (1 dog, 2 cats) … This post is lowering my reluctance …

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    1. I’ve greatly enjoyed hens, but my experience is that almost all dogs will hurt or kill them; loose neighbor dogs have been the greatest threat to my girls. The instinct probably could be trained out of them or managed, especially if one starts with a puppy. But I’ve never tried, having had only cats in the 15+ years I’ve kept chickens. They won’t mess with the hens once they’re grown.

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