slow letting go: a cat story

Qyogi strikes a pose from his favourite spot on my desk.

Before my boyfriend of two and a half years moved into my apartment, I made an appointment with an animal communicator to break the news to my cat. We had a 30 minute Skype conversation with a woman in rural Quebec to make sure that my cat, Qyogi, was well aware of the impending change to his living situation.

The cat was the main obstacle to my boyfriend and I cohabiting. Really, we were ready two years ago, but my attachment to my alpha male cat and unwillingness to give him up was holding us back. Qyogi had expressed his dislike of my boyfriend early in our relationship, mainly by keeping us up all night whenever he slept over. The cat would jump on the bed, meow all night and aggressively cuddle with me. It just got to the point where I would stay over at the boy’s house all the time, and he never came to my place.

However, the commute (sure, it’s only 3 metro stops but it’s still a commute) was getting to us and we just wanted the comfort and convenience of living together. Our relationship was ready for the next step.

The animal communicator confirmed something that my boyfriend had long suspected and I had long denied: my cat thought he was my boyfriend. And while he didn’t completely hate my human boyfriend, he didn’t like him too much.

Via the animal communicator, we told the cat that he’s entitled to feel whatever he wants, but we just want him to let us sleep. We came up with a strategy for the cat to sleep in his own little bed at the foot of our bed. I assured him that just because I have a human boyfriend doesn’t mean I don’t love him. I assured both of my males that I have enough love for both of them. All I asked of Qyogi: just please let us sleep.

His response was: “I’ll try.” But he didn’t actually try at all. He didn’t sleep on his little cat bed. Once the lights were out, he jumped on us and forced cuddles with me. If we closed the bedroom door, he sat outside and clawed incessantly. He even somehow figured out a way to open the door. We put him outside at 11pm, which kept him entertained until about 4:30am, and then he sat outside and meowed until I let him in.

Despite our best efforts (and no effort on the part of Qyogi) it became clear that this living arrangement was not working out for anybody. Since we had anticipated it might be like this, we had created a Plan B: send Qyogi to live with my parents in British Columbia. I wasn’t ready to give him up completely, and my mom is a cat lover who lived on a farm with plenty of space for him to roam and territorize. He would get affection, fresh air and fat country mice. I knew he would be happy, and one day, if room in my life opened up, we could be reunited.

I had to admit that letting go of my cat was a practice of aparigraha, nonattachment – one of the yamas from the Yoga Sutra, acting as a guideline for living harmoniously in the world. In Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, Charlotte Bell (a fellow cat lover) reminds us that nonattachment is one of the basic tenets of both a yoga and Buddhist practice. She writes, “The Buddha considered attachment to be a root cause of suffering. Because all things are impermanent, seeking security by holding onto things that will, by their very nature, always go away creates pain and suffering.”

Holding on to Qyogi was making us all suffer: my boyfriend wasn’t getting sleep, I was stressed out by mediating, and the cat was anxious and agitated.

Charlotte also quotes Kofi Busia’s translation of Sutra 2.39 on aparigraha: “Knowledge of the beginning and end of all past and present being comes through the continued correct practice of not holding on to things.”

We had to put Plan B into action, despite my unwillingness to do so. I kept putting it off, making excuses, until last week. I made arrangements for him to fly to BC, where my mom would pick him up. Because of the airline’s negligence, he wasn’t loaded on his 7:15am flight and had to wait around until an afternoon flight, meaning he spent more than 18 hours in his carrier, alone and without food or water (read the whole story here). It was almost as thought the cat’s resistance to leaving was so strong that he somehow willed this mishap to happen. Meanwhile, I resisted the urge to go back out to the airport and wait for the next flight with him.

Qyogi is a healthy, resilient cat and while the journey west was tiring, he survived. I’m adjusting to life without him, but get regular updates. He is adjusting to his new home in the BC interior and my mom describes him as “a perfect little gentleman… and so soft.” He’s also found a great drawer to sleep in.

I couldn’t find anything in the yogic texts about “reluctant aparigraha” – the kind of letting go that you do because it’s necessary. Aparigraha is often interpreted as generosity or nongreed, and I have enough self-awareness to admit that this act of letting go wasn’t done in the spirit of generosity. But I know that by letting go of my cat, I’m creating the space for my relationship to grow and deepen. I know that we can all stop suffering and sleep through the whole night. The sadness of saying goodbye to Qyogi is slowly dissipating and being replaced by a quiet knowledge of the beginning and end of all things past and present.

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  1. Thank you for such a lovely story. I was so surprised to see my name in it! It’s true; I’m a complete cat lover. I’m very happy that my cats have been quite welcoming to my partner, Phillip. I understand why Qyogi needed to find another home, but I can only imagine how hard it must have been to give him up. Perhaps the aparigraha in this situation is based in your willingness to let go of one of the precious males in your life in order that the other one could be free to live with you. There is generosity in that, I think.

    • thanks for the perspective, charlotte! you’re right, there is a generosity in the letting go. although i feel like true generosity has a more selfless nature, whereas i felt like i was responding to circumstances. not being entirely selfless ~ but also recognizing that being selfish would only bring more harm.

      i love ‘mindful yoga, mindful life’ ~ it’s one of the books i turn to when i want to use my yoga practice to contextualize and understand something happening in my life. it’s so practical and applicable.

      • Maybe letting go of Qyogi will ultimately be a happy thing for him too. At least you will get regular updates on him and will be able to see him sometimes, although I know it’s not the same as having him with you. Thanks for your kind words about my book. I’m honored that you’ve found it useful. That’s exactly what I hoped for in writing it!

  2. Strange to read this now, I’m just coming to terms with my beloved cat dying last week. Letting go is hard.
    I’m so glad to hear Qyogi’s ok, what a terrible thing to happen. My father had to give up his cats because they took an instant dislike to my sister when she was a baby. I hope I never have to make the choice between my cat and my boyfriend (or baby for that matter), I don’t know who’d win!

    • i’m so sorry to hear about your cat. thanks for sharing. it was a difficult choice to make, and i hope i never have to do it again!

  3. oh Roseanne, thank you for sharing. It must have been (and still is) difficult. I was wondering how you were both doing when you mentioned this to me last time we met up in Montreal.

    Andrew and I tried letting Atreyu in the bedroom for a week and it was a complete disaster. He’s so needy he requires cuddles four-five times a night. Last night we shut him out and it was bliss.I don’t know what I’d do if he wouldn’t let us sleep- we have no one to give him to. You’re very lucky to have a loving cat family that you can visit. 🙂

  4. ps- he’s a BEAUTIFUL cat 🙂

  5. When I began reading your story, my first thoughts were “How can you forsake your kitty, who adores you?” and “Give it more time.” But, as I read further, I considered your point about aparigraha (and I appreciated that Kofi Busia interpretation). Animals are open-minded and open-hearted, resilient and adaptable; if your mother loves him, he will find a new favorite human in her.

    I am a huge feline fan, so your story resonated with me. I moved from Berkeley to Vancouver with my Gingy cat stowed under the seat in front of me. She died in June 2009 (http://yogaspy.com/2009/10/19/ginger-and-karma-yoga/) and your story reminded me of her companionship.

    If ever you need a new home for Qyogi, let me know. My household is now filled with Momo the Black Lab and Sly the tuxedo kitty, but who knows: there might be room for one more!

    • thanks for the sweet offer, yogaspy! i’ll keep it in mind, as you’re just a few hours away from my parents (a short drive to vancouver will seem like kids’ stuff after the cross-country flight!).

      i talked to my mom last night and it sounds like qyogi loves his new home. my parents are smitten with him. even though i’ve basically asked a huge favour of them (to take responsibility for my cat), they are acting as though i’ve given them a gift!