I am intimidated by my cat. She is a rescue from a long-ago vacation in France, and once I got rid of her fleas her attachment to me was immediate. Back home, we had another cat, who was the target of her unrequited love. He would tolerate her with mild irritation, and out of respect she kept a reasonable distance. But ever since he died, the full force of her affection has been redirected at me, and me alone. My cat loves me. She follows me around from room to room as I go about my day. She is a constant companion through my insomniac nights. She sleeps on my desk while I work, she sits by the table while I eat. I enjoy her companionship immensely, but I am also worried. Because lately, the look that she has been giving me is that of admiration that borders on worship. I am not only the all-powerful kibble dispenser, I am her god. Her attachment to me makes me worry. Because – and I’m treading the thin line of anthropomorphism here – if she needs me so much when I am at home, if her happiness depends so much on my presence, how then does she deal with my absence? As any pet owner, I love my cat, but ultimately, I want her to be happy and content always. And that means that her contentment should not be solely tied to me.
Every so often, one of my students would give me such a look of admiration. Like I possess some hidden knowledge that leaves them in awe of me. And that, too, worries me. Because my deepest wish for my students is for them to connect to their own wisdom and inner strength, for them to feel powerful and capable and smart – not to attribute those qualities to me. When teaching, I see my role as a temporary guide along a part of their journey. I facilitate their process, I accompany them. And most importantly – I prepare them for travelling to farther and more beautiful destinations on their own. I strive to make my presence in their lives unnecessary, in the long run. Because their successes should not be tied to me.
So whenever I feel like I am being raised up, I knock the pedestals down with a swift and sure blow. I remind my students that I am human, that I have struggled in many ways. I tell them that I walk a mere step ahead of them, and that going up that step is within their grasp. I structure my courses in such a way as to steadily build up my students’ confidence, to give them the experience of success — however small those victories may be. The process of learning is inherently challenging: a student must let go of something old before they have a grasp on something new. Experiencing the sweet reward of a personal victory is a necessary and welcome break from the upward climb.
No matter how much my ego basks in the praise and attention, I have to remind myself to set it aside for the benefit of those I love and serve – whether it’s my students or my cat.
And as for my cat, a friendship with a new kitten companion might benefit her greatly ;-)