Lesson learned from cats: We aren’t as aware as they are

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It occurred to me that most people, me included, are not really observers of life most of the time. We are pretty good at paying attention to text messages and posts on social media, but that’s not what I mean.

Most of the time, we are in our heads, chasing thoughts about the past, the future, who is right, who’s wrong, how bad things are, how good things are, etc. I know this because I do this regularly.

How did I arrive at this revelation? It came to me as I was watching animals, particularly my cats. You want to see observers of every bit of life, watch a cat.

My yellow twin cats were fast asleep under an oak tree not far from the house. They were so still, I wondered if they were even breathing. The phrase, “dead to the world” comes to mind.

Suddenly, an acorn dropped about 10 feet in front of where they lay. Boom, they were awake and attentive. I laughed and kept watching them. After their mandatory stretches (another thing people should do like cats), they started looking around, taking in everything happening in their field of vision.

A squirrel all the way across the yard began squawking and their heads cocked in the direction of the sound. Another one of my cats jumped down from the porch rail and they whipped around quicker than you could say meow.

Everything that happened around them grabbed their attention. Nothing got by them.

Now, imagine it was a couple of humans instead of cats. It would take the entire oak tree falling and barely missing them to pull their attention from their cells phones.

And, even if they weren’t texting away, they would most likely be daydreaming or worrying. Again, I know this because I am guilty as charged.

After the eye-opening cat-watching experience, I decided to take a walk outside with the goal of being more observant of the goings on around me. It amazed me how quickly I could lose my focus and be in my head with a million thoughts that had nothing to do with what I was actually experiencing.

One minute I was paying attention to the sound of birds and the feel of the breeze. The next minute I was unaware of anything around me, totally lost in thoughts about how I needed to be sure and buy more coffee the next time I was in town.

Cats, dogs, and squirrels don’t do this. At least, I don’t think they do. My cats are not worried about what kind of cat food they are going to have for supper. They expect it to be there when they show up at the door. No worrying about it. No stressing that it might not happen.

Another thing that brought observing life to mind was reading the writings of someone who is one of the best observers I’ve encountered in a long time. At least as far as humans go.

Every morning, I read the short writings that Sean of the South sends out via email or posts on Facebook. And every morning, it amazes me how much he sees by simply being present and available to recognize the profound in even the simplest things.

He writes about people he knows, people he encounters in passing, people often overlooked by the world, animals, nature — things he sees because he is willing to look.

His ability to do this and then share it touches everyone who reads his words. That is a gift and it’s a lesson for the rest of us (at least for the ones who aren’t cats).

There is so much wonder in life, so many amazing experiences in even simple encounters. But we have to wake up long enough to recognize them.

Maybe that is how we change the world for the better– by not being dead to the world around us, but by becoming observers of what’s happening right in front of us.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.