March 11, 2007

Taming Feelings? Try Herding Cats.

Here is a photo of the cat that brought me into rescue. Ally Cat. Much of what I do in rescue spills over into my life. And Ally was the match that lit the fire. She radicalized me as much as Katrina and 9/11 did. As I foster and work with animals bringing them back from fear into trust, I realize that direct confrontation doesn't work at all. Of course, this makes sense on a physical level. A cat who is cornered is a formidable opponent. A dog who is cornered is the same. My way of dealing with these animals is just to sit with them. Sit. Not gesture, not read a book in the same room, just sit. And what begins to happen is interesting. The animals start to sit with me. Not face to face but at various angles. I see the more fearful among them settling into quietness out of the corner of my eye. And those small glimpses are flickers of trust starting up inside those critters. I often hear that if you blink slowly at a cat you are showing them love and vice versa.

The cats I have rescued are no where near the slow blinking stage. They pant when they are picked up. They need catnip toys to tussle with to drain off excess fear. But after a time (variable for each) they become slow blinkers. Still independent, still free to walk away, but much more interactive. In fact, I feel sad for people who want to adopt a cat that is immediately interactive because they miss so much of the journey into the life of another soul.

So how does that rescue reaction of patience spill into my own life? It teaches me how to deal with my feelings of sadness, of fear, of pride, of inadequacy. I have a long standing habit of turning feelings into pain because it is easier for me to deal with pain than to deal with feelings. And it is a habit. When I first started working with rescue, I noticed I wasn't hurting as much. I began to develop more patience being able to sit with my own emotional reactions to fear and the others instead of rushing to turn the emotion into physical pain which I can use to run away from people and animals both.

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