Quaker Universalist Conversations

“My Center”

Republished from Light & Lotus

T. Hamboyan Harrison (who goes by “T.” online), is a convinced Quaker, member of Third Haven Monthly Meeting in Easton, MD. She is also a Buddhist who has taken formal vows and been given the dharma name Tenzing Chödrön (“Truth light holder of the teachings”) by her sangha, Easton Meditation Group.

Last November, T. shared “Bi-religious Duality” (April 23, 2013), a post from her blog Light & Lotus. She has given us permission to republish the following post as well.

My Center

November 13, 2012

We Quakers talk a lot about “finding our center,” “centering down,” etc. Ask a dozen Quakers what we mean by the term “center,” and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers, though many of the answers would likely mention God, the Holy Spirit, the Light Within, “that of God”….

But when I talk about the “center,” I’m talking about a real place. A place I go to at least twice a week and more if I can manage it. A place where I find joy, and love, and peace. A place where I know I’m needed and know without a doubt that this is where I’m called to be.

And that “center” isn’t my Quaker Meeting or my meditation group. That “center” is an adoption center at a local no-kill and cage-free feline (and canine) rescue called Chesapeake Cats and Dogs.

Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, a no-kill rescue located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on Kent Island

I began volunteering at CCAD 4 years ago. My role was to help socialize the cats, and it’s a role I take seriously. If a cat is shy or skittish, I try to work with the cat, to help the cat understand that people aren’t a threat and that human affection is a good thing. But I also try to make sure that I find the time every time I’m there to pet every cat that needs it most.

And here comes the first challenge

Emily, http://chesapeakecats.wordpress.com/ In an adoption center that at times has housed over 60 cats at one time, how do I prioritize? How do I make sure that when I’m petting one cat, I’m not distracted by the dozens of other cats I want to find time for?

In short, how do I truly be present with each cat?

It’s just mindfulness meditation, in a different form. When I’m petting one cat, I’m just petting that one cat.

I’m aware of the subtle body movements that indicate if I need to change my petting technique. I’m aware of the cat’s condition: has he or she lost weight? does he or she have any fleas or ticks? is he or she congested? What does the cat’s purr sound like? Are they any behavior changes, for better or worse, that I can notice? Are there other cats approaching that may make this cat feel defensive?

And the only way I can answer these questions is by being with the cat, in the moment. And when I fail to stay in the moment, the cat always notices and reminds me to return to it.

Ethel, http://chesapeakecats.wordpress.com/ There are always cats I don’t get to. When I leave, I make a mental note to make those cats a priority my next visit.

But there are also always cats I particularly look forward to. In a real way, some of these cats have become friends to me. Figuro, Snicker, Ethel, and Emily are the cats I’m most attached to.

All of them have been at the center for more than a year; all of them except Ethel have been at the center for as long as I’ve been volunteering there. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I absolutely adore and love these cats.

Which brings me to the next challenge

Snicker http://chesapeakecats.wordpress.com/ How do I love and adore these cats without holding back any affection, but also without becoming attached?

After all, I can’t adopt them all.

When I first began volunteering at the center, I would cry whenever a cat I’d grown to love would get adopted. It’s hard developing a relationship with an animal and then having to say goodbye, knowing that I would likely never see the cat again. I knew that this was our goal, that we wanted the cats to be adopted and never returned to the center, but it struck me as a loss each time.

I asked the office manager, Debbie, how she dealt with this, knowing that she loves those cats even more than I do. She said something like, “It gets easier with time. There are some you’ll always miss and the goodbyes are always hard, but it gets easier.”

And it has. Slowly I’ve become able to feel joy when a cat is adopted instead of sorrow. Slowly I’ve learned how to love without attachment, but without holding back either. It’s not about me and what I’d like. It’s about what’s best for the cat.

And this brings me to the third challenge

How to cope with the death of a cat or kitten.

Figuro http://chesapeakecats.wordpress.com/ This doesn’t happen often (and certainly not for lack of care or veterinary treatment), but it does happen. It’s par for the course for any rescue, whether the rescue is a no-kill or not.

Some cats and kittens we try to rescue will have health problems. And some of those health problems won’t be curable or even treatable. And sometimes, a kitten just wastes away and no one knows why.

There is no answer to this challenge. Only the opportunity to practice and to remember that nothing is solid and every one dies.

All I can do is be sure that when I’m with each cat or kitten, I’m giving them my all: all my love, all my attention. Because there’s no guarantee with any of them that they’ll be there the next time I come in. Maybe they’ll be adopted before then, or maybe I’ve already noticed that this cat or kitten is going downhill and may no longer be alive when I next come in.

The answer to this challenge is in the answers to the other two. All I can do is all that I can do. There is nothing else.

Skiddles, http://chesapeakecats.wordpress.com/

My center may not be overtly religious or spiritual, but it’s a good teacher. When I forget to be mindful or become too attached or my ego starts parading about how important it is, these cats bring me back to center. They remind me of what’s important and what isn’t. They show me what real love looks like. They fill me with joy, happiness, love, and sometimes sorrow, despair, and sadness.

But through it all, I always return to my center. Because it’s where I’m meant to be.


Image Sources

Chesapeake Cats and Dogs

A no-kill rescue located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on Kent Island. Our cats are housed in our cage-free adoption center, while our dogs are all in foster homes. Please give us a call at 410-643-9955 or send us an email if you’re interested in learning more.

Emily, Ethel, Snicker, Figuro and Skiddles.

Comments

There is a Zen saying: “After enlightenment, the laundry.” It’s not the elevated awareness but the mindful way we do mundane things which makes the difference.

I love keeping the kitchen neat and clean. My desk and inbox are challenges to keep empty. An empty desk means that I am ready for new work. My dream life would have nothing scheduled on my calendar. Being empty!

Like the cat who adopted us. We have been rescued by a cat who was abandoned by a former neighbor. She wants to live outside which works for me as my lungs react badly to dander. She is a joy to be around as she just is there for a bit before visiting other fortunate humans. We understand that every visit may be our last as we know we don’t own her nor do we want to.

Thank you for your message, wherever it comes from. I like to think it came from your heart.

Of our two brother cats, Shadow and Sonic, Shadow is the difficult one for me to deal with. He’s almost like two different cats in one. In the daytime, fussy, skittish, not wanting anyone to touch him, hiding much of the time. At night, fussing for attention, loving long, long belly rubs and cuddling. And he changes unpredictably.

Recently, one of the two—we suspect Shadow—has started leaving piles of turds in the middle of the dining room wood floor if the cat litter is more than two days old. Doesn’t matter that for years the two have been sharing this box, content for me to scoop out the solids and stir the litter for three days in a row before I change it. Now that’s suddenly not satisfactory.

And, of course, I get pissed off and shout and complain. And I go around resenting Shadow, whom I’ve already convicted without unambiguous evidence….

…and then I remember that he is a cat. He lives only in the moment, and does only what his instincts and individual peculiarities lead him to do.

I have to stop myself. Center into the moment. Forget anything ever happened before right now.

And go pet him…if he’ll let me.