Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lessons in Unconditional Love Brought to Me (and You) by Tuppy the Cat

That is Lilly and Tuppy and this photo says a lot about their personalities. Lilly is on the left and if you look closely, you will see her thumbs as she writhes for attention.  On the right sits noble Tuppy, waiting and watching and wondering what the heck I am up to now.

For today, Tuppy is our teacher.

I spent some time this past weekend at the residential facility where I teach movement to girls in their mid-teens (for the most part). I am on break from their weekly class, but I was facilitating a special movement exploration experience as part of a family weekend.

I learned more in an hour than you could, I think, in a semester of book reading just by closely observing their interactions and the many ways they communicated (or not) messages about their family system overall and their sense of self specifically.

I came home, as is usual after being there, feeling a lot of different things, including some anger (admittedly) and confusion and sadness, but this turned to hope as I realized that I am finally super clear about what it is that I have to offer these girls. I am excited to get back to our work in the new year, as I will be more directed in my efforts.

I also realized that my greatest teacher regarding the HOW of working with these girls lives in my house.  And walks on four limbs.  And is covered in fur.

Tuppy came to us via our friend Eileen, who runs Orphan Angels in Erie.  (If you can help, please follow that link and scroll down a bit on the front page to make a direct donation.)

I saw his picture on her site and his face called to me.  It turned out he was a cat that Eileen was extra concerned about because he was not immediately friendly in that way that people expect of cats (and really...of children, too...and all other adults, actually...).

He was sweet, not mean, but not forthcoming in his affections.

Eileen thinks I am a cat whisperer and so I knew he needed our special brand of love and so we took him home.  It took days of patient approaching before I even got to touch him, and it made my heart ache how he would flinch and then run with such fear when I reached out to him.

I knew that this cat would need every ounce of patience I had and I was more than happy to give him what he needed.

My love for him was not conditional upon him meeting my needs.  (Read that again and imagine you are not reading about a cat but about any human in your life.)

Here are the main Lesson from Tuppy:

Too much eye contact for Tuppy was, well, too much.

Think about what we think eye contact indicates. We think it means someone is honest and good. We think it means that someone is "normal."  Yet we know that some people experience sensory overload from intense eye contact.

Deciding something is indicative of "normal" means that people who do not fulfill this expectation have something wrong with them and must be fixed.

What if that person is simply different and our "fixing" attempts feel invasive and even violent?

For weeks, I would walk past Tuppy and not make eye contact. I would speak lovingly to him as I looked slightly away from him. I earned his trust this way.

Native Americans say that we use our eyes harshly, taking and possessing with our eyes, and I agree. What is wrong with soft eyes that do not demand?

Tuppy needed/needs space to feel safe.

Americans think that hugging, hand shaking, touching is necessary even between almost-strangers. It's another way we judge one another.

"Oh...she must be rigid/cold/uncaring because she does not hug enough..."

Again, this is simply a difference.

Walking past Tuppy, to this day, I will walk in a half circle around him, just in case he hasn't noticed me. I do not want to startle him; I want him to feel like he is in charge of his own experience.

Therefore, I only enter his space with his permission.

Do you ask someone if you can hug them before doing so?  What about your children? Do you feel they are "yours" and therefore always available for your emotional needs?

I never walk straight up to Tuppy and pet him or grab him.  I walk up slowly, asking him if it's an okay time by holding out my hand.  If he moves his head toward my hand, I know it's okay to go further.  If he backs away, I do too.

It's his choice, because...

Every living being is autonomous and has the right to their autonomy.

Even children.

Tuppy is having his own life experience and it's not to be dictated by me.  If I care for this animal (or a human), I allow them their experience.  I share in their experience without demanding, because...

Love for Tuppy (or anyone) is not dependent upon them being any certain way. They are themselves, not my idea of them.

I am thrilled when Tuppy now jumps up on the couch and snuggles against me and purrs.  We have come a long way.

He does not do this to please me but to please himself and sharing in his delight makes me happy -- but my happiness is simply a side effect and not the goal.

As I watch people interact with their children, most of what I see are desperate attempts to "mold" those children into something "acceptable."

They are not yours.

Like my relationship to Tuppy, our relationships with other humans are care-taking relationships and nothing more.

Every human being has their own experience to have in this life and we are not in charge of anyone but ourselves.

That is unconditional love.

Loving without expectation.

I would gladly care for Tuppy's needs for the rest of his life even if he had not ever let me pet him.

Think about the ways that you feel the burden of expectation that is placed on you by others or has been in the past.

And think about how you do that to others.