This post is dedicated to all my friends who have helped me become the person I am today. I love you all. I owe you all much!
In the ancient Tamil city of Mahabalipuram, we find a peculiar rock carving. It is of a cat in a yoga pose, standing on its two hind legs with its arms raised above its head. Around the cat are mice, seemingly awestruck at the cat’s feat. The mice surround the cat, some of them even venerating it with folded hands, while watching it perform the pose.
This magnificent sculpture has many a tale to tell. In ancient India, yogis are generally those who have renounced the material world for the spiritual. They leave their homes and belongings for the forests, where they sit for hours and days in meditation and practice penance through yoga postures in a bid to achieve a spiritual experience or attaining enlightenment.
The mice, just like many people in India, are drawn to the yogis, who have achieved many insights into the self through their practice. People flock to the yogis for their knowledge and spiritual guidance, so that they too can cast their anxieties away in exchange for calm.
However, in what seems to be an obvious depiction of a typical scene in India, the sculptor tries to give us warning. A cat, for eons, is depicted as an animal that is known to kill and eat mice. The idiom ‘a game of cat and mouse’ being one such representation of this depiction.
This sculpture is that idiom set in stone. One meaning for ‘a game of cat and mouse’ is to sinisterly play with or torture someone before destroying them. The artist here warns the viewer to be aware that though the cat may be performing a venerable feat, the mice are still unaware that the cat, in the end, is by nature an antagonist to mice. It is using the pose to toy with them so that it could have its pick when it is time for its meal.
The artist, in effect, is asking us to ‘beware of false prophets,’ as many others have said in different ways before and since the sculpture was unveiled.
What the mice have for the cat in the carving is an emotion we are all known to have: reverence. This emotion is what we feel towards, say, a God, or towards a great leader. It is what humbles us in the presence of someone we consider great. It is also an emotion that tends to make us put people on a pedestal.
This emotion is very helpful to us in many ways. It makes us emulate the good qualities of the person we are in awe of. It makes us want to improve ourselves by either gaining the kind of knowledge of the revered or by living their lifestyle as we do with our admired celebrities. We want to possess their talents. We want to seem to be like them. When our friends compare us saying we resemble them in some small way, it gives us great joy.
However, we can also tend to apply the same reverence to people around us: our parents, friends and lovers. All of us are guilty of putting people on a pedestal and making them the centre of our world. This is more so when we love the person we also admire. Our world coincides with theirs, our thoughts have to match their own, our actions must be acceptable to them and we must be our best selves before them, so that they do not see our flaws, but look at us as someone worthy of their greatness.
Many of us, in our confused state of admiration and reverence, tend to think we feel the way we do because we love them. We love them because they are perfect. We admire them because they mean everything to us. They are our world because we have let them in, because they are so wonderful.
We tell ourselves it is love. We are quite sure it is. But what is love?
We see in films and in music about how love is supposed to be an ideal match between two people who are completely in conjunction with each other, who are in complete awe of each other and who would go to the ends of the earth for each other. Pop culture trains us to love in this way, by depicting it as the ideal definition of love. But is it?
The Greeks had three types of love: philia, the love we have for material things or friends we get along with; eros, the love that springs from the physical senses when we have accepted the closeness of a person, otherwise called lust, and agape, a kind of love that is beyond the material or sensual. Agape is the love a God is supposed to have for creation, or parents for their newborn child. A love that accepts someone beyond even their flaws.
What we can see from these three definitions of love is that reverence plays no part in it. We can even have all three of the feelings mentioned above, without needing to put someone on a pedestal.
From the three Greek definitions of love, we see that the common theme is acceptance. To love someone is to know that they too are inherently flawed just as we are. It is to understand that they have their own insecurities and their anxieties. It is to see that they are no more sane or insane than we are. Real love, in effect, is us accepting that the person we love is flawed just as we are flawed and making our peace with it. The person is a cretin just like we are, the person has done clumsy things just like we have, the person can be dangerous to us sometimes, just like we may go off our rocker with them sometimes.
To love someone by attributing all things perfect in our own lives to them only serves to make us need them more, when we, as adults, can meet our own emotional needs very effectively. Therefore, love, or our understanding of love, must be something along the lines of understanding a person’s failings, and being at ease with them. To love ourselves, in effect, means to understand our own defects and be in complete acceptance of them too.