Harming through Inaction

I am a big cat lover. Currently I live with 3 cats, I say live with rather than own because as every cat lover knows, you can’t own cats. You live with them.  2 of our cats are overfed and quite happy, the third is pushing 20 and has an overactive thyroid. Marmalade has always been my favourite (you can have favourite pets, they’re not children) ever since he came through the cat flap when I was 12 and decided to stay. We did put an advert out to see if anyone had lost him but no one ever claimed him. Possibly because he was a very angry bugger, inclined to swipe at everyone and bite if you tried to stroke him. I have a theory he had had enough of being badly treated and had left one day. I knew underneath he was a pussycat, just needing a bit of love and understanding and patience.

So I showed him patience and love, and gradually over the years he has become more and more affectionate and less reactive. This meant that for a large part of my teenage years I was covered in cat scratches and bites. I didn’t mind, I loved him. Eventually he stopped biting and scratching and became the most lovely, aggressively friendly cat with the loudest purr of any cat I’ve known. He was happy, safe and ever so slightly chubby (my mum is a feeder)

But age catches up with us all. He got thinner, his heart beat got faster, he started yowling at strange times and leaving unpleasant surprises around the place. One day I noticed his mouth was swollen so dad took him to the vet. He came home with the news that Marmalade has an overactive thyroid but mysteriously with no medication. I left it, because this sort of thing is my parents’ job.

He got worse: he got ever thinner, he started to bump into things, he stopped wanting to be stroked, he seemed confused all the time and never seemed to sleep. Just sat there, his breathing rocking his tiny frame. I suggested he go to the vet again. At first this was seen as a good idea by my dad but he didn’t take him. When I brought it up again dad said that he didn’t think it was a good idea to take him anymore, it was cruel. I got angry and said I’d take him, I’d pay for it, I’d walk there, anything just to take him.

At that time I thought he was dying. Everyone thought he was dying, he was old, he was dying of old age. My dad’s belief is that it is cruel to take a dying cat to the vet because it is overly stressful. This is a misguided belief. This is harming through inaction. Hospitals are unpleasant but when we are sick we go to the hospital because that’s what they are there for. No one should be left to die because it’s easier.

Turns out no one dies of old age and Marmalade isn’t dying anyway. He has an untreated overactive thyroid and my parents stopped him from getting treatment. They didn’t want him to get a blood test because it was “too much hassle”. Marmalade, as me and my boyfriend were told by the vet last week, has gone blind because it was left untreated for so long. This was avoidable. He’s on medication now and is seeming a lot livelier but there is no happy ending. This poor creature’s suffering could have been alleviated sooner if we’d gone 15 minutes up the road and paid £130 for pills for him.

I want to say this is not about blame, I am trying to point out a faulty belief here. My parents (especially my dad) are professional pessimists. He didn’t take him to the vet because they just believed it would be bad. There would be a) bad news, b) hassle or c) both. So he did nothing. But this belief was false, there was something they could do but they didn’t even find that out.

And now our poor cat is skin and bones and blind.

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Making ‘progress’

I’m unhappy with my blog appearance. I’m quite disappointed with myself, I mean I’m an artist and I can (sort of) code and I’ve done absolutely nothing to prettify my blog! I designed my whole site and I can’t even come up with one of my own images for this blog, it is truly pitiful. Let’s see what I can do.

On to what I wanted to talk about: progress, in inverted commas..

Firstly yoga. Now I haven’t been practicing yoga for too long, just over 3 years now but because of the place physically where I started (fairly unfit and inflexible) the pattern has been I do asanas and I get ‘better’ at them. By ‘better’ I mean I can hold them for longer/ go deeper/ balance better. As a self-defeating pessimist (or as my dad likes to call himself: a ‘realist’) I have reminded myself that this can’t continue. I won’t continue to get stronger and more flexible forever and ever until I can twist myself up and sit in a fridge like in an old-fashioned freakshow. I have reminded myself of the facts that well all know but don’t want to acknowledge: we all get ill, we all suffer and we all die. I will get ill and injured and anyway I’ll probably die before I can get to do my fridge-trick. I tell myself this.

Except that my acknowledgement of this true fact has been undermined in the past three years by my not getting injured and rarely getting ill. At most it’s only been three occasions I haven’t been able to practice for any extended period of time. Usually it’s one or two days and these are because of my depression and it lifts fast. So I tell myself I will get injured or ill almost willing it to test my super-duper levels of acceptance at my body’s impermanence. But it doesn’t happen! Month on month I get more flexible, stronger, more able to balance. There is not one area of my asana practice that has got harder.

So now I’m finding myself getting attached to the idea of ‘progress’. If I balance a little bit on my head in headstand or a little bit on my arms in bhujapidasana (shoulder pressing pose) this idea that I’m making ‘progress’ can sustain a good feeling for a whole day. Until the next day when I can’t balance or I’m too tired or sad to give my practice my all so I don’t ‘make progress’. These thoughts are poisonous to the wholesome come-as-you-are nature of yoga that I love. Surely it is not about ‘getting better’ surely it’s about just being? It’s strange how I know something intellectually but something, deep inside whispers: ‘if you do it more, and do it better, it’ll be better!’

The strange thing about these voices is I can acknowledge that I have this insidious, unhelpful thought but it doesn’t make it go away. This is in direct parallel to my depression recovery. I’m guessing depression is a hard thing to recover from, it’s certainly hard for me. My whole life is basically devoted to getting better from depression. So why, this little voice asks, am I not better yet? I should work harder! I should be more mindful! If I work 50% harder, devote more hours to recovering from depression I should make real progress.

All these statements are of course ridiculous. As I’ve known now for a long time, sometimes letting myself be is all the ‘progress’ I need. I calmly, patiently see what every day is like and I do what’s appropriate that day. Progress is an illusion, all we have is now. I see it, I know it, I just have to believe it.