“Do you know how much good it does you to chase a wild thing? None.”
(Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind)
A year ago, I began working fairly obsessively in our back garden. For hours every day, I pulled morning glory and blackberry. Before I figured out that I needed to wear long sleeves to protect my arms from thorns (common sense is not my specialty), I got some pretty crazy scratches up and down both arms. When meeting a yoga studio owner to look into the possibility of offering classes, I had to wear long sleeves and nearly melted it was so hot. I was worried she might find me unbecoming and/or judge me for my appearance as people here seem to dress up for all occasions, including going for a hike or a walk around the block.
As I cleared more space, I noticed I was not alone. A tiny cat began to come by. She would sit and watch, so long as I pretended not to see her. Any attempt at an introduction would send her flying away as quickly as possible.
Over several weeks, I began to coax her to come closer with peace offerings: chunks of cheese, tins of wet food, etc. she loved chasing the clods of dirt I would send flying as I dug out the many “treasures” neighbors had buried: surfboard, wheelbarrow, doll’s head bathtub, plastic bags, glass bottles, trash, trash, and more trash.
I named her Gouda, though I never anticipated that she would actually respond to my calling her.
I noticed that she spent hours, napping on our neighbor’s low roof. This sparked the idea to see if I could get her to come up to our roof. Eventually, she did make her way up, and each time she was rewarded with a special treat. She was also rewarded with my Buddha cat, Fin, with whom she began quite a steamy love affair.
I assumed little Gouda was a kitten and was likely not fixed. When I noticed several ticks attached to her head, I made an appointment with our local vet. Somehow, my husband and I managed to lure this wild being inside the house and into a carrier and to the vet. There we discovered she was two years old, female (I had been referring to her as a him), and had already been spayed. The vet gave her the first of two rounds of vaccines, and we brought home the second round. There was no way we would trick her into a carrier a second time. She was far too wily for that. My husband sported some pretty impressive trails of blood on his head and arms when we were through.
Over the course of this past year, we have worked diligently and with dedication to very slowly welcome little Gouda into our fold. Any acquiescing on her part has been completely by choice. She is both wild and scrappy and will by no means be contained. It took between six to eight months before we could get anywhere near enough to pet her. When she finally allowed a little scratch under the chin, it was under cover of dark and at the very edge of arm’s length, just in case she needed to make a quick exit.
She was every bit as soft and velvety as I imagined, and my heart filled to scratch behind her ears, beneath her chin, and eventually give her a good tummy rub. Now, a year after our first tentative meeting in the back garden, she is still quite wary of us two-legged beings. Most tummy rub times are at deep into the night or the early hours of morning. This past week between 4 and 6am, she has even crawled onto my belly and chest and snuggled against my shoulder, her head resting beside mine on the pillow.
The one being Gouda goes right up to without delay or hesitation is Fin. He spends hours on the roof, waiting for her. Of course, when she does arrive and comes over to nuzzle her face against his, he will often then ignore her or stay outside even after she has come in. Silly boy! Still, it is clear he adores her. They pass many afternoons snuggling together on the bed, and he is always happy to give her face a good cleaning.
I am under no illusion that we have or ever will tame our scrappy feline friend, nor do I have any desire for her to be anything other than her wild self. She is a survivor and not beholden to anyone. She can fend for herself. I know this because I have heard the sound of cat screaming and gone rushing to the back terrace for fear something was happening to her only to see her sitting, proudly defending her backyard kingdom from another neighborhood cat. Our neighbor told us she gives hell to her younger cat on a regular basis, but with us she is quite gentle (so long as we don’t try to pin her down for an injection, put her in a carrier, etc.).
I love that Gouda is wild. I think, perhaps, she reminds me a bit of myself and of my innermost desires. She lives and breathes authenticity. If another cat impinges on her territory, look out kitty.
I spent decades of my life trying to mold my behavior, dress, communications, etc. to fit the requirements of other people and cultural and professional mores. I was spiritually exhausted by the time I began studying the concept of sustainability and beginning to coax the nearly extinguished flame of Self within me.
Over many years, I have learned a great deal about my Self. With practice and concerted effort, I have become awake and aware. I understand how people and places affect me.
It’s a mixed blessing, waking up.
On the one hand, I can sense very quickly when a person or situation is one I want to avoid, and I can determine how best to keep away from those that are truly toxic. Sadly, I am not always able to create the requisite healthy boundaries I desire for my own wellbeing because I am engaged in a complex web of relations with many of these people. Unlike Gouda, I am not able to be completely free and authentic because I still have to play at other people’s games, to “walk their talk,” as it were.
It can be incredibly challenging being awake in a world that wants me to remain in a state of blissfully ignorant sleep. The repercussions from living in this cultural, “civilized” prison seem to manifest in my own body and mind. I experience extreme anxiety and physical pain in its wake. Most of this pain has been relegated to my upper back, shoulders, and neck. The pain was so great this past Friday that I could barely stand it. My mind and body felt so tightly wound from stresses I had not control over that I thought I might snap.
And I did.
My husband and I were leaving the to take the dog for our evening stroll around the neighborhood and forest, and I slipped on the front stairs. I slammed my right shin and hand against the very unyielding material and let loose a stream of expletives that would make any trucker proud. I then painfully scrambled to my feet, stormed inside, slammed the front door closed, and continued to tornado through the house. As I approached the back terrace, I screamed, jumped up and down, threw things (nothing broke, much to my dismay in the moment). I blew threw the back door and onto the terrace, smashed an old table I had found on a corner months ago, and crumpled onto the marble tiles.
Lying flat on my back, I looked up at the sky and watched clouds. I felt the tension, pain, and anger slowly easing from my body. I felt myself melt into the coolness of tile beneath me.
I should get up, I kept thinking, but I continued to lie still.
When my husband returned home, I stood up and noticed the pain in my shoulder, neck, and pain has completely dissipated.
I was shocked. I mean, I had theorized that the pain was being caused by stress and not some terrifying physical or biological condition, but up until this moment I had no real way of knowing.
Of course, my husband reminds me that if I wish to scream I should do so into a pillow.
That makes sense, I told him in response to a recent reminder, but that option is not always clear to me in the heat of the moment.
Really, the pillow is another piece in the culturally acceptable way of being rulebook. If I am at the point of being ready to erupt, I am at a point of crisis. I don’t need or want a pillow, and I am not going to pause to get a pillow to make someone else feel more comfortable. I am going to f’ing scream. The point is to have a moment of complete freedom. Inhibiting the scream even a little, and I may not receive the full benefit of the complete, unhindered release of toxic energy from my system.
Does this sound familiar to you or just crazy? That might be because it is crazy. In my not-so-humble opinion, it is crazy ridiculous that any person should be pushed to the brink of madness like this. I take some serious issue with the way we are raised to live, breath, dress, and behave. We should not have to be pushed to the brink of madness before making sweeping life changes. We should be encouraged from the beginning to honor our authentic selves (in ways that are sustainable for other beings and earth systems, of course). Perhaps, there would be fewer men buying bright red convertibles. Not that I have anything against cool cars, but it would be nice for people to feel more balanced and fewer of those extreme emotions along the psychological spectrum. I know I would enjoy feeling more balanced and centered.
Don’t get me wrong; the feeling of freedom and levity after an emotional eruption is wonderful. I loved not being in pain, even if it only lasted for a few days. However, I cannot help but think there has to be a middle ground. Perhaps, there is even a way to avoid getting to the point where my entire system is malfunctioning and breaking down, such that I need the scream as a kind of biological and spiritual reboot.
The other issue is similar the challenges my yoga students express. One student told me that yoga was like a Band-Aid, a temporary fix for the pain in our bodies from the entire system we have devised for sitting, standing, and working. If we simply return to these broken systems, craning our heads forward to text on our phones and rounding our backs as we sit, typing away on our computers all day, we will never be entirely free of pain. Our bodies and our spirits will only be free when we rebuild from the bottom up.
In this way, I find my own Self at an impasse. I recognize that something big needs to change, but I am still living in a world where change happens very slowly. I live in suburbia at the edge of a city, surrounded by other people, many of whom are sleeping in their own bubbles unaware of their affect on their neighbors or the natural world.
Having lived at the edge of the earth, I love being able to walk to the neighborhood grocery store (and to be able to go back the same day if I forget something). I love that I can run the dishwasher (and that I have a dishwasher) and the washing machine at the same time and then take a shower. I love that I can get on transit and go to a museum. I enjoy meeting friendly neighbors and having drinks and dinner with my favorite neighbors.
I don’t love the feeling of suffocation I experience in such a developed corner of the world from where there is seemingly no escaping humanity. Even the long walks Atticus and I take in the woods, we follow very tame and often paved trails and roads. And there is never a sense of being far away in a wild place. There are far too many people and park rangers reminding me that both my dog and I must behave according to someone else’s rules.
I take comfort in knowing that some beings are free. I love the wildness of Gouda and that she finds a kindred spirit in me. Perhaps, she recognized my own longing to set my inner wildness free?
Since I am not able (nor do I wish) to disappear completely from the “civilized” world to live in a cave by the sea, I guess I better get keep a pillow handy.