Cat Dharma

Cat Dharma September 19, 2017

TsukiJust now our female tabby Tsuki came into my office and started purring loudly. She hovered under my desk, waiting to be stroked. As I skimmed my fingers along her silky fur she purred louder and, predictably, started to dribble.

What is it that Tsuki appreciates about me? What is making her so happy? I’m sure it helps that I give her things – food, affection – but that isn’t the whole story. I stopped stroking her a while ago, and her little purr-motor is still running. She isn’t impressed because I know a lot about the Dharma. She doesn’t care whether or not I do my Buddhist practice every day, or whether I give money to charity every month.

Tsuki is purring right now because I exist, and because she knows me. She knows how I look, sound and smell. She takes pleasure in being near me.

I often forget that this is how I feel about my friends and loved ones. Maybe I was initially attracted to them because I was impressed by their jobs, or I found them funny or attractive, but this isn’t why I stay in relationship with them. If they stopped being funny or attractive, or got different jobs, I wouldn’t sack them. I hang out with them because I appreciate the essence of them – the essence of Caroline, or the essence of Adam.

When I was still a teenager I fell in love with poetry and I began copying favourite poems into a small book with flowers on it. I was astonished every time I found a poem that spoke directly to me. I still have this notebook, filled with my rounded, juvenile handwriting. I wanted to save the poems that found a way into my heart. Sometimes I was seduced by the language of the poem, and sometimes they said something wise that I already knew and had forgotten, or never knew. Sometimes they comforted me. Each poem woke some part of me up.

One of these is a short poem by Karen Gershon, and it is about Tsuki’s purring. We so often get tangled up in the transactional nature of our relationships – what we need to do to keep the other person happy, or whether they have given us enough ‘in return’. This poem reminds me that it is possible to be nourished by our love for another, regardless of whether that ‘other’ even knows about our love.

I’ll finish with the poem which is in Karen Gershon’s Collected Poems, published by Papermac. It is reprinted with the kind permission of the artist Stella Tripp, Gershon’s daughter, at She thought that it would make her mother happy to know that I had carried her poem around with me for all these years. I will continue to carry it, both in my little notebook and in my heart, with gratitude.


On the terrace

As sun reflected sometimes dazzles sight –

suddenly, in the midst of conversation

as I was sitting among friends at night

Jerusalem outlined in lights below –

my mind was dazzled by the thought of you

and I was glad, not out of calculation

because of what might come to me through you

but glad that you exist and that I know


Image: author’s own

Browse Our Archives