The Cat’s Tail (Where Happiness Really Is)

by Trevor

The Cat’s Tail (Where Happiness Really Is)

It has always seemed to me that there are essentially two worlds: one on the outside, which is pretty big, and another on the inside which is unfathomable.

And it looked as though the one on the outside had some kind of effect on the one on the inside and my job was to make sense of that external stimulus, (in other words, understand what was going on), and then take the appropriate action.

Often, that action was dodging a (metaphorical) bullet.  Thankfully, I don’t live a life where I need to dodge actual bullets, although I know plenty of people do.

What I mean by a “metaphorical bullet” is, for example, not to catch some virus that’s going around.  Or not to upset someone by making an out of place political or religious remark.  (I once asked for milk in my tea after a meat dinner at someone’s Bar Mitzvah.  It’s okay – I won’t go back to that kosher hotel again.)

Life, in effect, was more of a survival game with me as a kind of living pinball never knowing which buffer I would be bounced off next or where I would end up – except that eventually I will get swallowed up by the black hole of death.

To have any hope of winning this game – or at least staying alive relatively undamaged for as long as possible – I had to do my best to manage the huge outside world.  There were, as I used to see it, two ways of doing that.

#1 – Avoid the “bullets.”  As I’ve already described.  This mainly requires being in a permanent state of high alert, which is both exhausting and, frankly, impossible.

#2 – Control or manipulate as much of the outside world as I could.

Aha!  Now, here I had some hope.

A number of mechanisms revealed themselves and seemed worth the attempt.

For a start, I could learn all the rules of the rat race, into which I had been involuntarily entered with no possible hope of quitting.  Hence, I’d better to my best to win it.

This meant far more than mere academic qualifications.  It took me far more years than most of my peers, for instance, to figure out how to play the dating game.  I was forever being turned down or dumped.

Money is another ferocious game that no one will tell you the rules of.  Apart from my father, who believed that the answer was hard work.  He had managed to scrape some savings together by the time he retired, but certainly not enough to show for nearly half a century of non-stop hard graft.

Another mechanism that seemed to me to have a great deal of merit was the Law Of Attraction.  By thinking positive thoughts and visualising the circumstances with which I’d like to surround myself, magically the right doors of opportunity would reveal themselves and I would find myself struggle free within an undefined but surely very short span of time.

(It didn’t happen – but I’ll get to that in a moment or two.  And what the unmistakeable true answer is.  Hold on.)

The big problem with trying to keep the outer world somehow at bay was trying to know what my limits were.

What I mean by that is this:  It was clear to me that there are forces of Nature over which I have no control.  The weather, to take an obvious example.  Birth and death for another – including my own.  (Especially including my own!)

Then there was other people.  I could see that I had no control over them.  For one thing, they’ve all got their own agendas and they’re entitled to as much free will as me.  I get that.  But they were annoying.

They just wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do!  When I think back to all the beautiful women who steadfastly refused to fall in love with me.  Many actually never even acknowledged my existence!

Then there were all those people who stubbornly resisted becoming my paying clients even though I could clearly see that they needed my help.

What was wrong with them all?

The outside world just wouldn’t play, for the most part.  Given that a rain storm and a cancelled date could set me into a downward spiral of gloom and despair for weeks, I had to accept that if it could be manipulated or somehow bent to my will, I had not nailed that skill.

The World Within

And so I turned my attention inwards.  The world within was surely under my control, wasn’t it?

After all, I was the one thinking my thoughts, harbouring my dreams, nurturing my ambitions.  When something I didn’t like happened in the outside world, I could choose how I responded.

This, indeed, is the origin of the word “responsibility” whose true meaning is “response-ability” – the ability to respond however we choose.

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On the face of it, that looks reasonable.  Someone snatches the bargain I found on Ebay in the final second of the sale and I can choose not to be disappointed.  (Or furious).

Except … I can’t really, can I?

I can only choose not to prolong that reaction.  But the initial reaction is as involuntary as my leg kicking out when a nurse taps below my knee with a patella hammer.  It’s a reflex.

Of course, with a thought or mood, I can blame my conditioning.  After all, some people laugh in the face of such misadventure.

But I still can’t help it.

The world within, it transpires, is as elusive when it comes to control, as the world outside because I can only act on it retrospectively.

I don’t know what it’s going to do, say or feel from one moment to the next.  If I don’t like what it does, I can apparently call upon a battalion of techniques to counter its unwanted movements.

As long as I remember to do that.  And assuming that I can recall all the steps.  And that I have the time in mid-busyness to stop, reflect, do the mental acrobatics, feel better, take a breath … go back to my work.

I’d need to lock myself in the toilet a lot, wouldn’t I?

The Cat’s Tail – Rescue!

kitten chasing its tail

I don’t remember where I first heard the story of the cat’s tail, but I think it has stayed with me because some part of me always knew that I didn’t fully understand it.

On the face of it, it’s a simple, cute story.

Let me tell it first.

A kitten is going berserk chasing his tail.  Round and round and round he goes, pausing only for the odd fraction of a second to glare at the offending article which, of course, he never quite gets a hold of.

Nearby an old Ginger Tom cat is nonchalantly washing his paws and watching the kitten’s antics with wry amusement.

Eventually, close to exhaustion, the kitten stops and notices the old Tom cat for the first time.

Smiling benignly, the older cat asks gently, “Why are you doing that?”

“Well,” pants the kitten, “I’ve decided that happiness is in my tail so I decided to chase it to see if I could catch it.”

The Ginger cat preens between his toes and then calmly replies, “Yes.  I remember too realising that happiness was in my tail and I too recall spending many hours chasing it round and round.”

“What happened?”  asks the kitten.

“Oh, eventually I gave up and walked away.  And do you know what happened?”

The little kitten shakes his head, wide-eyed.

“Happiness just followed me around!”

Why It’s Not So Simple…

Maybe it’s just me, but here’s how I saw it:

The old cat is full of wisdom, of course.  You can’t chase happiness.

But it’s the next part.

“I gave up and walked away … and happiness just followed me around.”

Give up?

Walk away?

How do I do those things?  I can’t give up on my dreams and I definitely can’t walk away from my responsibilities or the things that tie me down – like a mortgage and a job, for example.  Besides, I’m not a cat and I don’t have a tail!  How do I make this metaphor work for me?

And so I trotted out the story from time to time, mostly to remind myself at those times when I was tying myself in knots to “just let go.”  I’d take a breath, maybe shrug, and nothing much would change.

The Obvious Appears

Finally, light dawned.

Go back a step.  Do it literally if you want.  Scroll back up and re-read the part I called “The World Within.”

Now look – and listen – very closely.

What I had understood was that I could react to my thoughts and I could choose a reaction.  Which is helpful as far as it goes, but it didn’t go far enough, right?

Well, I’d missed the little “shop on the corner.”  The one that sells all the magic dust!

Because what I hadn’t seen was that if I can notice my thoughts at all, there are two distinct parts of me in there!

One part is the thinker, thinking all the disturbing, unwanted thoughts.  And the other is the observer, casually and calmly deciding which reaction to have!

It reminds me of watching a drama on TV from the comfort of my sofa.

I can get all caught up in the excitement, fear, romance … whatever and at the same time know that I am perfectly safe in my living room with a glass of wine, perhaps.

At any moment, I can decide to get up and make a cup of tea.  Even though my favourite character whom I care deeply about is in mortal danger, when the commercial break comes on, I can just make tea!

It’s so normal we don’t even notice!

But forget TV dramas.  You can do that with your own, actual “dramas” too.  They’re all in your head and they are no more real than the soap opera you were watching.  No more real than the dream you had where you and all your family flew to the Moon wearing only pyjamas.  (No, really, you did that.)

Walking Away

And so we come to the surprise ending.

No sooner do you get that you can step back from your thoughts – which includes your feelings and “moods” by the way – than your troubles are over.

For it’s in the stepping back itself, that very place of watching your life’s pageant with its trials and tribulations, triumphs and celebrations passing by, that mental sofa of safety, that you discover there is no chasing of happiness required for there, right there, you are completely, blissfully, peacefully happy … already.

I just knew that old Tom Cat was onto something.

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