The Reality Institute

Why-to begin with cats:

This collection will begin with a discussion of cats.  One might ask, “why begin with cats?” I thought I’d begin with something relatively simple that almost anyone could relate to.  Though you may not personally have an opinion about cats, you will probably be able to relate to the topic and may even be able to understand why anyone would have an opinion about them after reading it.  

On a personal note, cats have played a major role in my life and development.  My whole life, I’ve had cats as pets.  My family even had up to five at one point.  I’m named after my mom’s childhood pet, Michael J. Cat, and my first word was “meow”.  If you begin your own collection of why-tos, you can begin with any topic of your choosing.  

Why-to wonder why-to own cats:

When I see a housecat, someone’s pet, I’m often at a loss for how that creature was made.  It’s so small, yet has the will of one of the big cats of the animal kingdom.  The cat could easily be taken out of the home, made forty times larger, and placed in the savanna to hunt wildebeests.  But, through selective breeding, these ferocious hunters have been made into small, harmless companions.  What could possibly explain this surreal turn of events?

Why-to own cats (in the Stone Age):

The earliest known examples of cat domestication are from the Neolithic era, the Stone Age, around 10,000 years ago.  They’ve been depicted on pottery and their remains have been found interred with the buried bodies of humans from that time period.  In early settlements, cats were most likely used to catch the mice and rats that certainly infested supplies of grain kept by people.  

And human beings, with a tendency to seek connections in their surroundings, saw these commensal domesticates as, perhaps, having a divine purpose.  We can easily imagine a Stone Age human, living a meek and brutal life with the spark of consciousness just peeking through a murky haze of basic, reflexive awareness.  We can see that person developing alongside a cat, a warm network of tender fur and limbs – perhaps the only comfort in an otherwise painfully bare, Stone Age existence – and we can see that person endowing the cat with a divinity, for these creatures reacted to human behavior; their eyes tracked the movements of human hands, mysterious tails drifting this way and that.  Reasonably, the eyes of cats were most likely thought of as the eyes of a god that determined whether or not this Neolithic person would live or die.  For people in that time period would certainly get sick or never return from a hunt, murdered by a ravenous predator, or they’d simply starve or freeze to death.  Though the concept of the nuclear family was far from being created, Stone Age humans had to have some feelings of grief in these circumstances, some pain associated with loss.  And there must have been confusion, a great deal of confusion.  Bewildered screams were hurled in all directions and rough hands grabbed at thick tufts of hair on the tops of heads.  Early humans panged for an explanation of who would die when.  Naturally, they turned towards their enigmatic associates.  By deeming the cats gods, the Neolithic humans brought order to chaos, life and death.  Cat ownership became a religious ritual, for worshipping them might limit suffering in the present world or ensure safe passage to the afterlife. Consequently, we see the gods of early religions depicted with these animal forms.  

But a lot of time has passed since this initial domestication process.  Aside from the occasional Wiccan, most human beings no longer worship cats or attribute much of a divine purpose to their creation.  There must be something else about the lasting and ubiquitous trend of cat ownership that suggests other non-religious, yet very legitimate, reasons for taking part in just such a historically relevant activity.  Let’s think about it.

Why-to own cats (in the modern era):

Any cat owner living in the countryside or a tropical rain forest will state the obvious fact that cats can eliminate pests, such as rats, snakes, and insects.  But, cats are also often found in urban and suburban environments where roach spray is plentiful and snakes are seldom seen.  Anyone in the latter situation can tell you that the reason for this is that cats make excellent companions.

Their independence allows you to neglect them or obtain affection from them whenever you want. They’re not needy like dogs; apart from feeding and some small amount of diversion, petting is all they really require to maintain a state of contentment. They look cute when they’re asleep and intriguing when they’re awake – a permanent smile fixed to their faces.  Nothing much is more adorable than a very young kitten.  And their predatory nature makes them smarter and more interesting than rabbits or some other, more docile pet option.  They also lick themselves clean so that you don’t have to.

Why-to own cats (for esoteric reasons):

In Tuesday Lobsang Rampa’s Living with the Lama, Rampa’s cat, Mrs. Fifi Greywhiskers, is said to be writing the book herself.  She narrates her journey starting as an abused housecat purchased as an act of conspicuous consumption by a wealthy socialite up through the end of her life as an aging and cared for member of Rampa’s family.  Throughout the story, Mrs. Fifi Greywhiskers references esoteric practices such as astral projection and telepathy.  She has the ability to actually penetrate the mind of her owners and speak universal truths about life.  Whether or not Rampa’s cat actually could do these things or was even capable of writing the book, the tale does present some interesting possibilities.  More importantly, it illustrates the importance of treating animals with love and decency.  Not just because they may possess magical powers, but because they, too, are living creatures trying to survive this thing called life.  

Why-to pet cats:

Pet a cat, paying particular attention to its response, and you’ll begin to appreciate its existence.  A cat is small and specific cats will crawl gently into your lap.  You can easily read a book or watch television while simultaneously drawing affection from your furry friend – scratching a finger beneath its chin and behind its ears, feeling the vibrations of its purring beneath your hand, making their way up to your brain, and tightrope walking along the spindles there.  The tactile sensation is pleasant, but more enjoyable is the affectionate reaction an animal gives to your touch.  This direct positive response to your hand is a simple sign of gratitude from the cat.  It is a signal to you that you exist and do good things in the world.  The affection and pleasure is, then, mutual and relatively easy to achieve.   

I can personally attest to the pleasures of cat ownership.  I have no elaborately carved or smelted idols dedicated to the species, but throughout my parents’ home in River Forest, Illinois, there are plush replicas of Siamese cats that do pay some homage to my childhood pet, Ralph.  At this age in my life, it’s difficult to determine whether or not Ralph really was all that special, but to my child’s mind, he seemed to possess a strong aura.  Gingerly walking on kitten socks and mittens, he’d approach purring loudly and graze his face against my own.  Though he’d occasionally pester me for attention, he was also very self-reliant.  He’d leave the house for an entire day and return at his leisure.  And, after witnessing the prizes of a few of his hunts, I could only assume that he’d most likely caught his fair share of mice and birds during that time out in the wilderness of suburbia.  When he wasn’t out fending for himself, he was in, stealing fish off our dinner table.  He’d also gotten into a number of scraps with local strays, eventually yielding him the infection in one eye that led to an eye removal surgery and the permanent image in my mind of Ralph as a one-eyed kitty pirate sailing the high kitty seas.  

Of course, these stories of my childhood friend have less of an impact on you than they do on me.  Surely you, too, have your own stories of pets that left an impression on you.  For me, it’s difficult not to think of him now.  I can’t seem to remove the idea from my head that Ralph and I had an ethereal connection – that cats and I share some cosmic bond of lightning green and yellow.

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