“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” — Cicero
At my age I need a little more rest than a younger man might need, so I frequently retire during the day for a short nap. We have a large long-haired grey cat who, as soon as he sees me heading towards the bedroom, follows and snuggles up against my chest. I comment to other family members that we (the cat and I) are enjoying some “quality time” together: he is enjoying my company, and I am enjoying his company.
I have no problem believing that I can have ‘quality time’ with a cat because I believe that there is only life—consciousness—in the universe. The cat, in consciousness, is equal to my consciousness. Conscious awareness is like living in an infinite cosmic ocean of self-awareness that I—and my cat—are all part of. I look at it this way: take a cup of water out of the ocean. That cup of water, although briefly separated from the ocean, is still “ocean.” So, there is no difference between my consciousness and the cat’s consciousness. We’re all … uh, consciousness!
… But yet, there is something different between me and my cat. Although we share similarities – consciousness – we have different destinies: different callings. For the cat, as long as it is fed and watered, and receives its share of love and comfort in my home, it is quite content to live out its days with me as being … well, just a cat!
On the other hand, I need more in my life. I need physical and intellectual challenges. I need more than the simple ‘animalistic’ need to love and to be loved. I need recognition of being of some importance in life! So, what is it in me that makes me crave love, affection, learning, etc., while my cat is quite content to live a simple life? And, more importantly, how do I go about fulfilling these cravings that I have?
Through self awareness, I realize that if I do something nice for a person I get a really good feeling for my effort. That seems to be my reward: if I do something nice to a person, I am rewarded by feeling good, so there is truth to the Biblical saying, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I do something that makes another person feel good, I feel good in return.
On the flip side, if I do something mean to another person, the result can leave me with some uncomfortable, guilty feelings; or, if another person does something mean to me, I can feel hurt and angry. Furthermore, I have a choice in how I wish to treat the world, or choose how I wish to react to how the world treats me.
And that’s what makes me—my self—different from that of my cat: I have a broader range of choice of how I choose to react to the world around me.
Desire, “the feeling that accompanies an unsatisfied state,” also comes into play here. As far as I know, my cat has basic animal survival instincts that can only be related to desire—it needs shelter, food and an assurance of safety, but I can, through my more evolved attributes of desires, actually manipulate what I wish to accomplish, or not accomplish through my desires. In other words, I feel that I can accomplish, through my extra God-given gifts of choice and desire, much more in life than my cat can.
I have so much more to be grateful for than my cat has!
Or do I?
On second thought, maybe it’s my cat, not me, that has been given a God-given gift of simplicity that I don’t yet understand, and through that simplicity, has gained more reason to be thankful than I do through my complexities in life. So, when the cat and I snuggle up on our bed to enjoy our “quality time,” I feel that both of us are silently, each in our individual way, giving prayerful thanks and appreciation for all that our Creator has blessed us with.
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” — Epicurus