Shoshoni the cougar basks in the setting rays of the sun
— by Richard Landry —
Do cats feel gratitude? Apparently not, judging how standoffish or even rude they can be to their human benefactors or, worse yet, their doggy housemates. But observe a cat closely, and we can gain insight into a deeper level of gratitude than we normally see in most human beings or even feel in ourselves.
We could say that a cat sunning itself on a porch or windowsill on a cold autumn day is a perfect example of gratitude in action, if we consider gratitude to be the graceful acceptance of what is freely given to us. The cat stretches out, closes her eyes, and absorbs fully and completely the warming rays of the sun. She knows the sun is there to warm her, and the windowsill is there to hold her, and she gracefully accepts those gifts.
Cat enjoyment | Stock Photo
Can we say that we do the same? When we stand or sit, do we acknowledge the Earth supporting our bodies, so reliably and without demand? When we breathe, do we accept with grace the gift of oxygen nourishing all our cells? Generally speaking, no. We are, in truth, a little rude to the Earth and everything in it, on it, and above it that makes it possible for us to live.
Thich Nhat Hanh says a verse before each meal that captures this sense of “cat gratitude” that transcends our human arrogance. He says:
In this food, I clearly see the presence of the entire universe supporting my existence.
That’s it. No big drama. Just a graceful acknowledgement of what is undeniably true.
We could practice “cat gratitude” at mealtime just like Thich Nhat Hanh; but there are also myriad other opportunities to gracefully acknowledge the gift of life that we are freely given by the Earth. One simple thing we can do is to stand or sit quietly for a moment with our eyes open, breathing normally. In that moment, we can see, feel, and know the truth that our lives are truly and freely supported by the entire natural world.
“Cat gratitude” is a doorway to wise and effective action on behalf of the Earth. In a world so freely and abundantly supportive to us, why would we not be similarly supportive in return? As we allow this question to percolate within, we contact our capacity for love, creativity, and action, and our sense of what is possible begins to shift.
Richard Landry is a social innovation consultant to environmental organizations and a member of the Earthfire Institute Advisory Council.