Wolf cor­nered Early Man in a cave. Wolf bared his fangs, a mur­der­ous glint in his eyes. “I’m going to eat your face off!” he snarled. Early Man held up his hands. “Wait, wait!” he plead­ed. “What if, and hear me out here, instead of eat­ing my face off… blan­kets and peanut but­ter.” Wolf cocked his head to the side and start­ed to wag his tail. “I’m lis­ten­ing…” he replied.

Barkley, my 22-pound cock­apoo, was clear­ly bred to be a pam­pered pet. He is down for blan­kets and peanut but­ter and appar­ent­ly has few – if any – wolf traits left. I used to say that canines were per­fect teach­ers when it comes to being present to the now. But I’m no longer so sure. 

It seems that, at least for my dog, he’s becom­ing more and more human every day. And by that, I mean that he might be liv­ing in the moment, but he’s also wish­ing the moment was some­how dif­fer­ent. True con­tent­ment seems to elude him. He wants in, he wants out, he wants to be pet­ted, he wants the thun­der to stop, he wants out again, he wants to be fed, he wants some­one to retrieve the toy he lost under the couch, he wants out again, he wants you to stop pay­ing atten­tion to the cats and pet him, he wants a treat, he wants out again. He whines or barks or scratch­es to let the two-leggeds know what he needs and that he needs it right now. He’s loud, impa­tient, and con­stant­ly dis­sat­is­fied. Maybe I could do bet­ter when look­ing for a pet after which to mod­el my own behavior.

So I turn to Cat Stevens, the tuxe­do I adopt­ed in 2015 on a whim from the shel­ter. Now Stevie is a true guru of mind­ful­ness, the ide­al mod­el of liv­ing your best life. She’s curi­ous but dis­cern­ing. She knows and hon­ors her per­son­al bound­aries and doesn’t shy away from ask­ing you to hon­or them as well. She under­stands the heal­ing pow­er of a nap in a sun­beam. She stops eat­ing when she’s full, not to try to lose two pounds by the week­end. She has self-con­fi­dence for days. She’s com­pas­sion­ate, seems to always know when her two-legged friend needs a lap full of vibra­tional purr to keep the dark­ness at bay.

Cats must pity humans, must won­der why we would need to go to a yoga class to learn to move our bod­ies or breathe cor­rect­ly. Stevie is a yoga mas­ter by nature, able to effort­less­ly achieve the most flex­i­ble of pos­es. She breathes with every cell in her being, loud, proud, and enthu­si­as­tic. I read some­where that the human ner­vous sys­tem responds favor­ably to a cat’s purr by slow­ing the release of the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol and help­ing our brains enter a flow state. 

A cat under­stands that hus­tle cul­ture is for the birds (or the dogs, I imag­ine them sneer­ing haugh­ti­ly). In mind­ful­ness train­ing, I often instruct my stu­dents to use their so-called sense doors to stay in the present. Being awake to those things that we can cur­rent­ly feel, hear, see, smell, taste, and touch grounds us in the now. Even with her eyes closed, Stevie is ful­ly present, ears piv­ot­ing around like radars as she lis­tens to sounds around her, sen­si­tive nose wig­gling to scout out inter­est­ing smells, whiskers twitch­ing to more ful­ly sense her environment. 

I’m so glad I’ve been watch­ing Stevie be here because now she is gone.

I wrote the para­graphs above five days before Stevie qui­et­ly dis­ap­peared. She had been los­ing weight and throw­ing up a lot. We treat­ed her for worms but clear­ly, it was some­thing more seri­ous. A capital‑Q Queen to the end, she spent her last day purring in my lap while I med­i­tat­ed and then nap­ping in the bas­ket where we store the clean tow­els (sis­ter loved her­self a tow­el fresh from the dry­er). Later that evening, she meowed insis­tent­ly, demand­ing a treat. Then she sat patient­ly by the door until we let her outside.

Had we known we would nev­er see her again, we prob­a­bly would have kept her in a lit­tle longer. Had I known last week that this col­umn would be her eulo­gy, I might have med­i­tat­ed longer that day. I want to remem­ber the warm, purring weight of her, how she would alter­nate­ly make bis­cuits on my legs or whack me in the bel­ly with that self-pet, head-bang thing.

The thought of her dying alone breaks my heart. But I’m choos­ing to believe that she died on her terms, dig­ni­fied and badass to the end. I hope I always remem­ber what she has taught me about liv­ing my best life. Wherever she is now, I hope some­one is pulling her ears and let­ting her lick the egg yolk off their break­fast plate. 

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.