Right now I am thinking about an email I have to write, an email I needed to sit with and think about. Firing off a reply can be so tempting and easy. It may feel good to get something off our proverbial chests especially if we feel an emotion like anger or have a strong opinion to share, but it is often also a mistake. So I have learned to wait where my previous self would have leaped into a vat of hot boiling karma.
About 8 months ago we took a cat into our home as a long term cat sit for a young woman who was going off to do a retreat in a monastery. I was looking for a kitten at the time but thought, you know, I could do someone a favour, someone having trouble finding a place for an 8 yr old kitty to stay, and I could help someone pursue the Dharma and then get my kitten later. Seemed reasonable to me. So Bunny the loaner cat came to live with us.
I was very clear with Bunny's owner that I did not want to find myself left with this 8 yr old cat, that this was temporary. The lovely young owner of Bunny seemed to understand this and seemed to me like a keeper of promises. Can you see where this is going? Bunny was to be retrieved in 6 months. This was later lengthened to 9 months. I have now received an email that asks if I have fallen sufficiently in love with Bunny to keep her. Failing that, my young friend has offered to find a new home for her from afar. Her plans have changed and she has decided to pursue studies in another city.
So I am left in an interesting position. In truth I have not fallen in love with Bunny. At 8 years old she has some habits that don't endear her to me. She has some charming habits too, but well, I liked the original plan, that I would do my favour and the cat would return to former owner. It has been interesting for me to examine this in terms of the Dharma. Somehow I was under the assumption that I was protected from ending up where I am now by being clear and direct about my wants and needs. But I forgot that we are always standing on the edge of the unknown. I don't think my young friend intended this either. I had expectations about how the situation would play out and now I can see that things don't always turn out as expected. As we learn from studying the Dharma, we are not in control.
I recently found myself in a situation described in an earlier blog post (Accidental Dharma) that while vastly different, had the same distinct flavour as the cat incident. (Dissappointingly to the cat, tuna was not the flavour.) The driver of a car who gave me a little bang in the door initially declared fault, but later changed her mind. The seeming similarity in these two situations was that I thought things would unfold as originally agreed upon. If the driver said she was at fault in the morning, I expected she would see it the same way in the afternoon. If Bunny's owner assured me that I would not be left permanently with her cat I expected that would be the final outcome of my extended cat sit. I was left scratching my head in both situations.
How did I end up here, what did I do wrong? And if I calculated my conclusion in one way, the old way, I could feel bitter and twisted and say, "you just can't trust people." But that would be wrong view, wrong understanding in Buddhism. The truth is things change (the law of impermanence) and we can not protect ourselves from this by being clear or direct. It is important to be clear and direct but it has been an interesting lesson for me that clarity and directness are not any form of protection. We swim in a sea of change and need to be prepared to go with the flow.
In both those situations my immediate emotional reaction (which I believe is a karmic pattern) is to feel betrayed. It makes me angry and sad and it wasn't until I sat with this one for a while that I could see the truth of it. Make your choices carefully but be prepared for outcomes other than what you expect. You always have more choices than you think, my Zen teacher likes to reminds me.
So we have decided that even though Bunny is a biter and furniture scratcher these are not good enough reasons to evict her from our home. She hates change of any sort (a self respecting cat quality I think) and we feel some obligation to this vulnerable little fur friend. So that is the story of Bunny the cat and I will answer that email that has been sitting gathering dust in the inbox. And I have learned a valuable lesson and I'm sure Bunny has a few more to teach me.