It's 5:30 AM and I am awakened by the swift moving thud of paws walking over my body to get to my side. Jake is purring like a '57 Chevy on steroids. As he thumps down next to me with his back up against my stomach, I instantly know what he is up to. He is looking for affection and he wants it bad. His passion is absolute and unremitting. He rubs his nose into my hand like he is transposing my scent into his body by making it somehow his own. He whips his head back when I pet him to magnify the touch of my hand on his head. With supreme trust and total abandon he lays his neck open for me to rub it. It's the kind of surrender that touches me, an act of total exposure of the most vulnerable area of his body. Sometimes I wonder why he is so attached to me. I am bowled over by his determined openness. I wish we were all more like him. Our world is too often indifferent, even cold. Our relationships quickly become stale if we don't take an active role to enliven them. So what can we learn from Jake about how to love?
What Jake Has Taught Me About Love:
1. He is unabashed in his ability to express his feelings. When I come home, he makes sure he comes over and rubs up against my leg to say hello. Jake is clear as a bell about his needs. When he wants something, he expresses it; when he doesn't, he doesn't try to pretend like he does. He's honest to a fault. There is something very clean and clear about that. He is undoubtedly a cat, in that he has his schedule and he lets us know when and how he wants to be fed and taken care of. Cats are extremely adept at telegraphing their needs, leaving no doubt whatsoever. So many situations would run more smoothly if we always knew exactly what our partner wanted. How many of us have heard the refrain: "You should just know that about me." Cats never take that into account. No guessing games with Jake. We often don't talk about how we feel and what we want. We expect, assume, clam up and withdraw rather than letting it all out.
2. Jake is nothing if not totally exposed. He goes right for it, revealing himself to the core, and making no bones about it. Jake is unabashed in his ardor for me. He is courageous. I believe that love requires courage, and the ability to tell it like it is. We hedge our bets; we slip and slide so we won't get caught with our proverbial vulnerability showing. We are afraid we will be hurt. My therapist used to say that there is no such thing as a safe life: either we take risks with our feelings or we miss out. He also said that if we want to love hard, we have to work hard. Jake works very hard and loves hard. We can learn from that.
3. Jake lives a balanced life. He makes time to play. He sleeps when he is tired and eats when he is hungry. No games, no martyrdom, just Jake doing what he needs to do. He seems to know what he wants at each moment and makes no excuses. He doesn't ask permission, he just goes. In our relationships, we need to check in with one another, but the more we do things because we think we should, the more it ends up not helping anyone. The Zen masters teach us the "Art of Selfishness." The theory is that if we do for ourselves, we can give the greatest gift of all to those around us: our happiness. Jake is a very happy guy.
4. Jake does not love unconditionally. What I give to him, he gives back but in spades. His return is double my output. He understands what I am doing and will go the distance in a heartbeat. At times I do get very busy and can't give him the kind of attention that he would like. At those times he will fade away and become more distant, like he accepts my absence but is not going to carry on to the extent that he would if I was there for him. He is always ready to respond when I come around. All relationships require attention and effort toward being the kind of person who is worthy of being loved. If I was mean to Jake or yelled at him, he would avoid me. I would expect that. We are all like that. The more we love, the more we are loved.
It's not hard to understand why some people become animal people. They have given up on humans as a source of affection and love. Spirituality is all about being in harmony with nature, and knowing that the animal and natural kingdom has a lot to teach us about love and the pace of things. We have lost touch with our natural way. We have become success-driven, media-oriented and overstimulated. We have forgotten the importance of human touch. We have become inured to the plight of others and think only of the bottom line. We tend to think in immediate terms rather than listening to our hearts while looking down the road toward our future. Jake reminds me that I am a living being and a part of nature, and that we are all in this life together. The sooner we understand that and start taking good care of ourselves and those we love, the better off we will be. It makes sense to open our hearts when we understand that the future of our planet depends on it.