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  • T. W. Emory

Consider the Kitty-Cat.

Unlike other creatures on this planet, we humans are planners—both big and small plans. We can speak one or more fully-developed languages. We can reason; we can think abstractly. It’s no surprise then, that in recent years university researchers in both the U.S. and Sweden have found that humans have a much better capacity than other animals to deal with sequential information. Various birds and mammals that were tested had great difficulty in distinguishing certain sequences of stimuli, owing to what is regarded as a simpler kind of memory. In contrast, the capacity we humans have to recognize and remember sequential information is an absolute must for things like language, mathematics, or even for playing strategy board games like chess, Go, and Catan.

Many decades prior to the aforesaid research, the writer and humorist Mark Twain noted one specific difference between humans and lower animals by stating: “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” And if you’ve spent any time around cats, you’ve likely observed that a cat lives for the present moment. A cat doesn’t pine away for its kitty days, nor does it ponder its coming old age. In contrast we humans have a sense of the past, the present, and the future, along with the joys and sorrows that accompany this ability. With this very human faculty squarely in mind, the ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, Lao Tzu, astutely observed: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

So, the definite downsides of dwelling too much on the past or on the future have been known and discussed for ages. To help deal with such downsides, some modern psychologists encourage a practice known as “mindfulness.” To live ‘mindfully’ is to become more present; to be in touch with one’s experience in the here-and-now; to live in the present moment rather than dwell on the past or the future. It is said that practicing such mindfulness helps with anxiety, depression, and can also diminish neuroticism. With evident good reason then, the psychologist Abraham Maslow (known for “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”), said: “The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

So, it sounds to me that the main take-away from the foregoing is try to be a little bit more like your kitty-cat.

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