by Paul Fetler
My spouse Willie and I lifted the metal lids of three plastic cat carriers. Bibi, Max and Boris’s paws touched our carpet for the first time. As their yellow-green eyes scanned the apartment, their hyper alertness reminded me of space explorers in a Sci-Fi movie landing on an alien planet. Within seconds, the young tabbies – larger than kittens, yet not fully grown - ducked for cover and vanished behind furniture.
A man had discovered them, among a newborn litter of eight, inside a storage van in Bakersfield. Then a rescue team brought all the kittens to Malibu. Now, eight months later, three had entered our home in Koreatown, Los Angeles. Willie and I were overjoyed to adopt them just weeks before the global pandemic erupted.
After about an hour of hiding, Bibi, who has soft white and gray fur, and the most social and demanding (before we knew her, she was originally named Queen B) ventured out first. Max, with coarser orange and white hair, followed a few hours later. As he got more comfortable, we soon found – in an animated Looney Tunes way – that Max lived up to his previous name Solar Flare.
This left only their brother to still come out.
Boris is a rotund tabby with large eyes and thick striped black and gray-brown fur. He recalls John Tenniel’s illustrations of the Cheshire Cat from the original Alice in Wonderland book – minus, of course, the grin. Yet, despite his considerable size, Boris is the most sensitive of the three. He remained hidden for the next few days. Only after the lights were out, and my spouse and I pretended to be asleep, did we hear his gentle kitten-like meow in the dark, between sounds of munching kibble and kicking sand. I couldn’t blame him for being cautious; we simply hadn’t earned his trust. I also recognized a part of myself in Boris.
I empathize with Boris’s self-protective instinct, even when his sister and brother had already safely stepped out marking their new territory. His timid behavior reminded me of instances when I have isolated myself from imagined dangers.
When placed in intimidating new surroundings or given tasks that I perceived beyond my capacity, I too, have at times felt tempted to withdraw. This included explorations that appeared on paper to be relaxing. I still recall wanting to retreat into my guest room from the first meditation retreat I participated in decades ago. Confronted by an unexpected challenge, my back, jaw, and heart contracted, not unlike a cat that is about to do a preemptive strike. When feeling extremely agitated, I have growled in private!
The yoga master Paramhansa Yogananda wrote that God is continually playing “hide and seek” with us. He shared that, in order to be free of suffering, we need to seek reliance on Spirit first within. In this way, we start to wake up to the Divine game, and realize that the obstacles thrown in are meant to help us grow spiritually. This also implies that Spirit is playful. Cultivating a sense of humor, especially with my own foibles, has greatly lightened my awareness.
In addition, Yogananda said that each of our souls are “affected by an inner and outer universe.” During times when feeling reactive, I have found it valuable to pause and pray to see things from a broader perspective. Staying present in meditation has given me an inner security that transcends any creature comfort. Daily practice has made it much easier to recognize the countless aspects of my life, in hindsight, that seem to have been guided by invisible forces.
The vast chasm between what our souls are ready to embark on, to what our egos cling to, can be shocking. However, regardless of the numerous disappointments I have experienced in earthly pursuits, I know I can seek and always trust Spirit. I am particularly struck, often with humor, how setbacks that once seemed nightmarish, eventually led to unexpected spiritual joys.
Boris, two and half years later, once the unseen cat, has no problem taking up space on my yoga mat. Sometimes, while practicing asanas, I resort to rolling another sticky mat out next to mine for him and his siblings to frolic on. Boris, Bibi and Max’s preferred yoga mat, on closer inspection, resembles a moon with countless craters made from their nails puncturing it. While I practice mudras prior to meditation – Boris flops down and paws me for attention. In these instances, my feline friend reminds me that, if we have the courage to face and walk through imagined dangers, we may find delight we couldn’t have imagined on the other side.