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Pets Are Great Teachers

Once upon a time I was given a tiny ball of grey fluff.  I had always been a dog person and had no intention of ever having a cat.  However, my friend decided that I should have one.  I clearly told her, “No thank you,” but she delivered into my hands this gorgeous little kitten that I couldn’t resist keeping.

My new pet was soft and loving as a kitten, but as an adult cat, she was less generous with her affections.  She would curl up to me and purr when she wanted to share, but when she didn’t want to share she would perch on her throne, which was the back of my favorite chair, and push me aside.  The sharing was totally dependent on whether we were both in a heart space.  I learned from this adult cat that a relationship is not supposed to be a “need-filler” but a sharing of heart energies.

It was this new awareness that motivated me to throw out an old, non-effective piece of my family’s programming, which was about need-filling instead of heart-space sharing.  My family held to the belief that to be part of their clan you had to take care of each other’s needs.  This doctrine that I was handed by my family eliminated any self-determined sharing on my part.  So I decided to try to break away from my family’s way of interacting, and be more like my cat, who totally decided how, when, and why she would share.

It seemed to me, the best place to start this new sharing venture would be with my sister.  So before my next visit with my sister, I decided how and with what heart energies I would like for us to share.  Since both my sister and I had the heart-energies of support, I felt that was a good place to start.  Therefore, I defined with her that I would support her through her divorce by allowing her a space to be upset.  And since sharing requires two, I got her to agree that she would support me by giving me advice around my youngest son.  Since I was a counselor and she a teacher, we could share support in equal measure.

Even though I knew what I did want to share, I wasn’t sure what would happen around what I didn’t want to share.  However, I had watched my cat block out what didn’t fit for her, so I had those memories to fall back on.  Sure enough, as time progressed, the relationship with my sister would sometimes veer off into neediness.  When that happened, I would just remind myself that I could certainly be as strong in holding our relationship to the good that resonated between us as was my pet.   And even though she wasn’t too happy when I couldn’t share her enthusiasm around shopping, she didn’t withdraw or pout.  In fact I was immensely pleased with her willingness to join me in this new way of approaching relationship.

It is sometimes difficult to change habits even when you know there is a better way.  This is especially true if the habit was put in place at a young age.  From as early as I can remember, I attended to my mother’s needs—which were determined by her mood of the moment.  For example, I was oftentimes pushed into the role of mother’s sous chef, because I was really good at figuring out her mood and then matching my actions to that need.  If she was anxious, I would work really fast.  If she was angry, I would be careful not to make any mistakes.  And if she was depressed, I did part of her task.  As a child I believed getting to be sous chef meant that I had the best relationship with mother.  I now see that I was a better need-filler than my siblings.  Even though I had some pride in “handling” mother well, I still felt unsatisfied inside.  So I guess my ambition to learn this new way of relating really was motivated by wanting to find a more loving way to share.

The part of my cat’s relationship teaching about defining what and how to share heart energies was relatively easy to put in place.  However, the family lesson about not filling other’s emotional needs took more time.  I think it is a bit of a challenge for just about everybody to not step into someone else’s mood and try to attend to it.  Of course you can’t really ever fill someone’s space, but saying no to their attempt to pull you in can be a challenge.  What I found to be the key to that dilemma was to refocus on what we could share.  It is this kind of resonant sharing that generates an internal purr.

My cat trusted her internal purr.  She knew exactly what she wanted and exactly where she was willing to join.  So it was by following her lead that I learned to trust my internal purr.  It was a great day when I realized I could throw out my family programing of “need filling” and replace it with “heart sharing.”

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