Let your cat teach you how to adjust your attitudes to be more content

There is a book called Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life by John Gray available on Google Books. I believe that it is an excellent book. It’s the kind of book I like because not only does it respect the cat which I think is so critical for cat and animal welfare generally, it encourages us to observe our cats and through that observation and self-reflection improve our lives by adopting some aspects of the feline mentality.

People can be tortured by societal expectations, by looking back at their mistakes and worrying about the future. Often people can be tormented when they needn’t be if they lived in the present; if they lived a little bit more like their cat companion.

Learning from the feline mentality

Here are some points about John Gray’s book which I think are instructional. I hope people genuinely reflect on these points and they might even buy the book which is available on Amazon at currently under £10 in the UK. It might be the best £10 you ever spent in terms of attaining a more contented life.

Nonhuman perspective: My understanding is that John Gray believes that people should try and adopt a non-human perspective when thinking about the meaning of life. He argues that we should observe our cats and think about an alternative way of experiencing and looking at the world. He believes that the cat might serve as a model for humans to live life without human baggage and human-centric concerns. The human is very human-centric. Everything we do and think is from a human standpoint but perhaps we should discard this.

Authenticity and freedom: John Gray suggest that cats embody authenticity and freedom in their lives. Authenticity means genuineness. No fake or pretend behaviours. Not putting on a veneer and pretending that one is something one is not. Often people try and present behaviour which meets with the expectations of others and society. People want their behaviour to be validated by others. Cats do none of these things. Their behaviour is unapologetic. They are saying take it or leave it. They are genuinely themselves and they live by their instincts. They are totally natural in their behaviour. Natural and genuine behaviour is very valuable in humans. It equates to charm provided it is filtered a little! The less contrived and fake a person is the more charming they are and younger people tend to have this quality whereas older people tend not to because of life’s experiences. John Gray suggest that humans should question the constraints that people place on themselves and try and adopt the domestic cat’s authenticity and naturalness.

Playfulness and curiosity: under this heading, John Gray is suggesting that humans should embrace the present moment. They should live in the moment as cats do. Cats do things for the sheer pleasure of it. They don’t attach a purpose or a higher meaning to it. They just do it because they like it. Gray suggest that people should adopt a similar sense of play and curiosity. This will allow people to live more in the present and enjoy the small pleasures of life available to them. It’s the small day-to-day things which bring pleasure if one can tap into that mentality. Humans tend to buy pleasure through possessions or even eating!

Solitude and independence: cats are said to be independent creatures which is a source of irritation to some humans because they can be ‘disobedient’ (a human-centric view) and humans feel that they should be networking all the time. In fact, we are told this by the experts but Gray suggests that humans can learn from the domestic cat’s independence and challenge the idea that we should be constantly socially interacting to gain fulfilment. We can appreciate and value solitude and reflection leading to self-discovery. This can also lead to a sense of peace and self-acceptance. And an acceptance of things we can’t change. Struggling to try and change things because you are unhappy with them can create a lot of mental friction. It can be better to simply accept. I also find that it’s better to avoid looking at things and remembering things which are upsetting. Try and cut these things out of life.

Transcending anthropocentrism: this means rising above the concept that the world revolves around humans. Gray criticises the anthropocentrism worldview which replaces humans at the center of the universe. He also challenges the idea that humans must be part of a grand scheme or purpose and that there must be some sort of meaning to our lives. We should look to the value and significance of nonhuman life. We should respect nonhuman life. I’ve always stated that we should respect animals to the point where we treat them as our equals. We should be on a plane with animals in my view (no hierarchy) and that would include our cat companions. People are moving that way slightly because they treat their cat companions as members of the family. If we do this we develop a humbler view of the world and we can understand it better.

Personal note: I find being as active as I can mentally and physically helps to stay in the present. I also find connecting with nature helps to keep calm.

I recently wrote an article about relinquishing the idea of owning a cat and thinking about our relationship with our cat companion; an article which in fact touches upon the points I mention above:

RELATED: Owning your cat versus being in a relationship with your cat

‘Why can’t a human be more like a cat? That is the question threaded through this vivid patchwork of philosophy, fiction, history and memoir … a wonderful mixture of flippancy and profundity, astringency and tenderness, wit and lament’

Jane O’Grady, Daily Telegraph on John Gray’s book: Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life.

Source: My thanks to Poe and AI computer for assistance in writing this.

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What is the origin of the Cheshire Cat?

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland readers encounter a large, grinning cat lying on the hearth. Alice is told that the cat is grinning from ear to ear because they are from Cheshire but there’s no explanation as to why cats from that county in England (see map below) should be predisposed to smiling in this sinister way.

Cheshire cat
Cheshire cat. Image by MIkeB depicts Lewis Carroll thinking about his Cheshire Cat.

Please would you tell me…why your cat grins like that? It’s a Cheshire-Cat,” said the Duchess, “and that’s why…”

“The Cheshire Cat is sometimes interpreted as a guiding spirit for Alice, as it is he who directs her toward the March Hare’s house and the mad tea party, which eventually leads her to her final destination, the garden.” – Carleton.edu website.

Location of Cheshire in England, UK
Location of Cheshire in England, UK, Image: MikeB from Wikipedia.

Where did Lewis Carroll get the idea from to include a grinning Cheshire cat in his now famous book? There are two possibilities one occurring before the other.

Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland
Sir John Tenniel’s hand-colored proof of Cheshire Cat in the Tree Above Alice for The Nursery “Alice”. This is a tabby cat and probably in the mind of the artist a random bred cat that he had seen. A classic domestic cat.

Cheese

In the book, the cat slowly vanishes and finally disappears starting with the end of its tail with the grinning face remaining for quite a long time before they disappear completely. We see this disembodied grin.

It has been suggested that the idea comes from a commercially available cheese from Cheshire which might have been seen by Lewis Carroll at the time. On the packaging there is a grinning feline face on one end. The rest of the cat is omitted by the manufacturer giving the impression that the cat had disappeared except for the grin.

Earlier reference

Lewis Carroll may have had knowledge of an earlier reference but a more obtuse one. In fact, the cheesemaker may also have known about this reference.

The expression “grinning like a Cheshire Cat” was in use at the time the cheese was manufactured. It was an abbreviation of the saying to “grin like a Cheshire Caterling”. That phrase was active about 500 years ago.

A “caterling” was a lethal swordsman during the reign of Richard III; a protector of the Royal Forests. He was renowned for his evil grin which became wider when he had killed a poacher with his sword.

The word caterling was shortened to “cat”. People have a habit of reducing words and sayings to ones which they can say more quickly which is how words evolve sometimes.

This led to anybody with a wicked smile to be described as “grinning like a Cheshire Cat”. Lewis Carroll probably knew about this phrase but because he describes the cat as disappearing leaving a broad smile, it’s more likely that the major influence was the cheese.

The conclusion, though, is that Lewis Carroll did not invent the idea of the Cheshire cat. He borrowed it from earlier history.

What kind of cat is the cat from Alice in Wonderland?

20 facts about cats in children’s literature

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UNKIND to domestic cats: ‘ALL CATS ARE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM’ by Kathy Hoopmann

“ALL CATS ARE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM” is a popular book by Kathy Hoopmann. The author has another book (or is it the same one but an earlier version?) titled “all cats have asperger syndrome”. The title is in lowercase and, as I understand it, it is misspelled because it should be ‘Asperger’s syndrome’. Perhaps it is a deliberate misspelling. Anyway, I’m being picky but I don’t want to be picky about the title in one respect: it paints a derogatory and unfair picture of the domestic cat.

ALL CATS ARE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM
ALL CATS ARE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. This picture is in the public domain in my opinion.

The book apparently uses the domestic cat to help people understand children who are diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome or who are on the autism spectrum. The synopsis says that she “has an ingenious way of blending the characteristics of beloved kitty cats to showcase the nuances and diversity of people on the autism spectrum”. On that statement it seems that she is equating the behaviour of domestic cats with the behaviour of children on the autism spectrum.

'all cats have asperger syndrome'
‘all cats have asperger syndrome’. Image in the public domain.

Asperger’s used to be thought of as a stand-alone diagnosis but now it is considered to be a mild form of autism and on the autism spectrum of conditions.

But the problem for me is this, and you can’t really get away from this conclusion in my view; the public’s view of autistic children is that they have a mental health problem and that they need help. For example, the CDC in America tells us that “as children with ASD become adolescents and young adults, they may have difficulties developing and maintaining friendships, communicating with peers and adults, or understanding what behaviours are expected in school or on the job”.

They can also suffer from “anxiety, depression, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder”. So, we have kids becoming adults who may struggle with life because of a developmental disorder which causes mental health issues to varying degrees. They could be mild and the person may be highly successful or at the other end of the spectrum they may struggle throughout their lives requiring help.

Most people will not read the book. They will simply read the title and they see that the author has equated cats with people on the autism spectrum. They don’t know that she’s used the domestic cat to explain autism. Of course, she is very sensitive to autistic children and I would hope too that she has been sensitive towards the domestic cat. The problem is the title boldly states that domestic cats behave like autistic humans. She even states that domestic cats ARE autistic.

It’s a straightforward statement with no margin for interpretation. This reinforces the belief that cats are aloof and independent unlike dogs. This is simply incorrect. The title reinforces a misunderstanding about the domestic cat which in turn can lead cat haters harming cats. We know there are too many people who get kicks out of hurting cats. They are usually young men who were completely idiotic. But there’s quite a lot of cat abuse in the world and we don’t need fancy titles by clever authors writing about a subject which has no connection whatsoever to domestic cats and which can lead to cats being harmed by ignorant people.

The author clearly understands autism and children but it seems to me she does not understand domestic cats. She’s taken a classic image of the domestic cat by people who don’t understand them and magnified it when using this misconception in the title to her book.

She would do well to understand domestic cats better and when she does understand them better, she will also understand that the basic premise for her book is misconceived.

P.S. She uses a picture of a ginger tabby cat on the cover. Ironically, ginger tabbies are known to have particularly nice characters 😎.

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