Sunday, July 22, 2012

What are your post-its?

I've been fascinated by Eric Weiner's idea of religion being a series of "post-its for the brain." If good religion reminds us to be better people--calmer, more generous, kinder, and more focused--then how can this translate to the non-religious? What kind of "post-its" are appropriate for someone who doesn't believe in god?

As I discussed in a previous post, prayer is one that works for me, even without god. One other thing that works for me is my pets. At present, we have three pets: a dog, a cat, and a gerbil. I try to spend time with each of them every day, doing what he or she likes best. I walk, hike or train with my dog, relax with and stroke the cat, and for now, just hold the gerbil and try to be calm so as not to scare him (he's new.)

Each pet affects me in a different way. The dog encourages exercise and releases a sense of love in my heart when I look into his affectionate gaze. The cat helps me to relax. In fact, if I wake up in the night after a particularly bad dream, I love to touch the cat. Feeling her complete relaxation helps me to relax my own body and mind in a way that nothing else can. When my previous cat died I was in an agony of grief--I had adopted her right after college and bonded with her in a way that I don't think I ever will bond with a pet again, as she was with me through big changes in my life. One of the things that was most difficult about losing that cat was that I didn't have her there to comfort me in my loss. Sure, I had people around me, and a dog, but cats have the ability to relax their bodies totally, and I have always found that touching one can help me achieve a similar, if inferior, state of relaxation. And as I get to know the gerbil I have to focus on him in a way that I don't usually focus. I don't know much about gerbils as I never lived with one before, and so I'm trying to learn about gerbilness at the same time as I get to know this gerbil in particular. In order for him to gain trust in me I have to be perfectly calm when I'm around him and I find that I'm able to do that in spite of what goes on around me: the Little Jewess panicking because he tickled her hands and she's not sure she can hold him, seeds falling everywhere, the cat sneaking into the room where the gerbil lives, or whatever.

Animals have always responded well to me. They tend to trust me. I think this has something to do with a state that I enter when I'm trying to connect with an animal. It's a state of calm in which I forget my problems because I'm focused on the animal. When I'm with the dog, I do doggy things. I don't act like a dog, but I do thinks that interest him--walk, play fetch, sleep on the couch--and living in dog time separates me from my problems. Dogs don't worry about money, or whether they're raising their kids correctly, or whether there's a god. Dogs just worry about what they need right now, and once they've got it, they stop worrying. I'd like to be more like that, and when I'm with my dog, or my cat, or my gerbil, I am.

So for me, pets can serve as a post-it for the brain. A reminder to chill out, spend time taking care of my body, and not worry about the other stuff. And when I am worried, they help me by being a warm body to cuddle with. Pets are a source of pure love.

What are your post-its?

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