Last night I found yet another puddle of cat pee on the wood floor. Seriously, again? 17-year-old Mingus and I have been through a lot over the past six years; wayward pee is just the latest. My tendency has been to respond to any Mingus-induced mania with plenty of screaming, cursing, and blaming his mother. But lately I’ve wondered if that’s the healthiest response, for me or anyone else in the family. And if I can’t change Mingus’ behavior (believe me, I’ve tried), what about my own?
When I moved in with Candace and her Siamese, Mingus, almost six years ago, I was not an animal person. And yet felt compelled to put up with their barely civilized custom of letting Mingus sleep at Candace’s feet in our bed at night. But I was not about to allow a cross-eyed ball of fuzz sidle up to me and shed on my nightie, when Candace went off gallivanting on work trips that first fall. So, every evening I would shut myself in the bedroom, only to be awakened in the wee hours by merciless, indignant yowling. The internet “experts” suggested I discipline my cat by opening the door just long enough squirt a spray bottle in his face. And what exactly was that supposed to accomplish? It just made us both more enraged and sleep-deprived. Things got better only when I addressed his underlying need to feel safe and cuddly, especially while his mom was away (a universal mammal need, as I understand). When I simply changed my attitude and let Mingus sleep in the bed with me, he purred instead of yowled, and we slept peacefully, both happier not to be alone at night.
Now Mingus and I have reached another crossroads. The addition of the kitten Michi to our home almost two years ago coincided with the weakening of Mingus’ kidneys; the irritation of having to share his home (expressed with intentional spraying) combined with the inevitability of not always making it to the box in time, has resulted in a lot of pee puddles over the last two years. This time I haven’t been able to change his undesirable behavior, despite expensive (holistic and traditional) vet visits, diet changes, reassuring cuddles, addition of multiple litter boxes, pheromone spray, and lots of scrubbing to remove the pee smell so he doesn’t think that particular part of the floor is just as acceptable a bathroom as the litter box. I still have hope that some efforts will eventually pay off, and we definitely have some better days and weeks than others. But the pee puddles keep appearing. And my getting furious every time is wearing me out.
I learned about the “bell of mindfulness” from reading Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh several years ago. The idea is whenever you hear a bell, you remind yourself to focus on your breath and just accept whatever you are experiencing or feeling in that moment, without judgment. Since we don’t always hear bells in our culture, Thich Nhat Hanh also suggests that any common trigger could be a “bell” of mindfulness – for example, red lights. Wouldn’t it be better, he argues, to use a usually irritating circumstance to think calm thoughts instead – and actually slow down the breath, triggering physiologically calming processes in the body? Well, if there can be Red Lights of Mindfulness, I say, why not Pee of Mindfulness? Instead of getting upset when something slightly annoying like pee puddles happen (which ultimately are just a minor inconvenience), why don’t I use that moment to remind myself how much I appreciate both of my furry kittens of love? While I wipe up the pee, I can take that moment to appreciate my kittens’ cuddles with me, and with each other. I can smile happily while thinking of their licks, their purrs, and how they know when I need extra loving, especially these days. When I finish the actually not-very-time-consuming task of cleaning, I can go up to them, pet them, and tell them how much I love them.
I know I have many, many more lessons to learn as I deepen my spiritual journey in the wake of my Mother’s death – but one thing I have learned is that life really is all about love. In some ways, it is that simple. So why should I let a little pee get in the way of love?