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Tying up the cat

In her book Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert tells a story about a saint who once tied a cat to a pole, and unintentionally created a religious ritual:

“For hours a day, the saint and his devotees would meditate on God. The only problem was that the saint had a young cat: an annoying creature, who used to walk through the temple meowing and purring and bothering everyone during meditation. So the saint, in all his practical wisdom, commanded that the cat be tied to a pole outside for a few hours a day, only during mediation, so as not to disturb anyone. This became a habit: tying the cat to the pole, and then meditating on God. But as years past, the habit hardened into religious ritual: nobody could meditate unless the cat was tied to the pole first. Then, one day, the cat died. The saint’s followers were panic-stricken. It was a major religious crisis. How could they meditate without a cat to tie to the pole? How would they reach God? In their minds, the cat had become the means.”

When it comes to the rituals we observe in our own lives, whether it be in religion, climbing, or in our day-to-day routines, it’s worth examining why:

Why are we tying up the cat?

Because it makes sense, to prevent interruption?

Or merely because it’s always been done?

“Flexibility is just as essential for divinity as is discipline.” – Elizabeth Gilbert