Every morning, I open the blinds for my cat. He used to be an outdoor kind of guy, who loved to romp in the grass, rub himself feverishly over concrete, and bring small animals, usually still wriggling, into the house. But now we live in the city, and though I have seen a few cats around the neighborhood, I have also seen one too many feline “Missing” posters to feel comfortable with letting the furry love of my life out into the streets.
So every morning, I open the blinds for him.
Some mornings, he is already at his post by the window even though the blinds are closed. I wonder what he thinks in those moments. Is he frustrated that I haven’t gotten out of bed yet when such an amazing world is moving and swaying beyond the pane? Or is he content in the momentary darkness? I admit that he could just be a cat, thinking nothing at all.
But then again, when I forget to open the window shade, he yowls with mournful emotion until I rush over from wherever I am. Sometimes he yowls just because he can’t go outside. When my boyfriend leaves the apartment, for example, the cat hollers while he is gone, not just like he misses him, but like he is so upset that someone else is outside —in that forbidden place.
Today was like any other. I opened the shade and he hopped up to peer around for any new changes that occurred overnight. But I’m starting to wonder if my cat’s relationship with the window, the shade, and the outside world speaks to some of the greater themes of life.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about awareness and connection. For several months now, I have been battling a resurgence of anxiety and panic attacks that have made most aspects of daily life pretty hard. So I have necessarily become more aware of my body, my surroundings, and my interactions with others. I have really delved into this concept of my identity in an attempt to connect with my brain, heart, soul (if we have one) and soothe the damaging thought processes that perpetuate my anxiety disorder. Basically, I have been in observer mode.
What I’ve noticed is that many of us go through our lives with the window shade down and we hardly even notice. We don’t see the beautiful minutia of life that makes it so meaningful. We no longer stop to smell the roses. Instead, more and more people seem content to look at their tiny screens instead of looking up at the world around them. Sure we’ll look at pictures with the #earthporn hashtag all day, marveling at the natural wonders gleaming up from our laptops or tablets, but how many times do we actually get out there, go exploring, and experience natural beauty for ourselves?
There’s also this mentality of “I have to be doing something” all the time. We rush from the cafe, to work, to the gym, maybe to the bar (Instagramming the whole way), without taking some time to stop and give our minds a break. Without looking inward to our thoughts and emotions. We carry on just with a sense that these greater things are at work, that our life is meaningful because it is ours without truly exploring what it means to be a human. In other words, we have faith that meaning is behind the curtain and will always be, but we are content without knowing about or interacting with it. Maybe we plan on opening the curtain later but get too caught up in what’s happening right now. We need to post that selfie from last night on Twitter. We need to watch the latest episode of The Bachelor. We need to get our freaking hair done.
I mean think of all the industries out there whose business is to distract us from our own lives or throw our attention over to meaningless pursuits.
In short—we rarely take time to see the world or interact with our inner selves.
But then, one day, someone leaves. And just like my cat’s reaction to my boyfriend walking out the door, we yowl. Because all of sudden, someone who was just there has now gone to a place we can’t follow. We ignore death until it stares us in the face.
So there is really only one question: Are you content living with the shade down?
I’m not. In fact, I think that my old lifestyle of GO GO GO contributed to the development of my anxiety. It may have always been there underneath the surface, but the pressures of my lifestyle certainly played their part in triggering it. Though I felt like I was on a successful path, it was always about getting somewhere, never appreciating where I was in the moment. Suddenly, I found myself at this age wondering where the time has gone and why I don’t feel like I really know myself.
I’ve been working on opening the shade by seeking deeper interactions with the world.
Now, I take walks around my neighborhood everyday, I practice yoga, I try to make more time for mindfulness exercises, and I’ve given myself permission to try new creative pursuits. I’ve also begun cutting out the distractions, asking myself when I watch tv or a movie if this is really going to add to my life experience. Same with books and articles. It has become a practice of lowering the quantity and increasing the quality. These may seem like small changes, but they make a huge difference.
I think I might always have a few guilty pleasures, but in the end, I’m just trying to be more aware of how I spend the precious, precious time I have.
How do you stay in the moment?