When I was working and had a particularly stressful day, I used to joke about running away in my retirement to Tibet or Nepal or someplace very exotic and becoming a Zen Master. There, I would scrub floors and meditate all day as I attained a relaxed state of calm and enlightenment, peace and tranquility. For starters, this idea was far-fetched because the monks are all men. Women need not apply. Although they might let me scrub the floors. And, though the scenery may be spectacular, living in the Himalayas or under China’s rule isn’t my idea of a fun retirement. Lastly, being a child of the ’60s, my exposure to Zen was the U.S. version, which first appeared on my radar, well, in the ’60’s. So, I wasn’t even sure if Tibet and Nepal is where Zen Masters really resided. But, when stress came knocking, it was fun to think of living in a meditative state of mind in some far off land.

Then, one day, as I watched one of my cats stretch into a yoga-like pose with paws way out front and her back elongated in a sort of exaggerated arch, I realized I live with Zen Masters. Seven of them to be exact. They spend their days either sleeping or meditating, especially if the warmth of the sun is involved. They wake slowly from their long naps, pulling themselves upright to a sitting position as they look about blink-eyed before they start their meditation. Sometimes, a little cleaning of the face is in order post meditation and before they slowly stroll toward their food dishes, tails held high in a slow dance. Yes, cats are masters at the art of Zen.

To find out how we acquired seven, you’ll have to read “The Story of Cats”, which I have yet to write. But, the very short version is this. Four of them actually acquired us. Ferals who arrived as kittens, they took us in with their tiny furry faces filled up by big, curious eyes. Three of them are part of the original Snacky Rudy Baker Project started seven years ago. Trapped one by one in January 2007, they were “fixed” and received first vaccinations at a low cost spay/neuter clinic, which willingly took feral cats. Now, once a year, we upset their Zen days of sunning themselves on the banks behind our house to take them one by one to our vet for a yearly check-up and booster shots.

This morning it’s the turn of Zen Master Grady, aka Mr. Gray, affectionately called Grady Bear by me. A beautiful soft gray with tabby stripes, white feet and big green eyes, he weighs in at about 18 pounds. So, although the Masters now trust us to a point, it’s no easy feat to get Grady into a carrier. Martin and I are both tense as he goes out onto the veranda to set out their breakfast while I hide at the kitchen door holding an open carrier. As Grady and the others gather around Martin in anticipation of their morning meal, purring and rubbing against his legs in their Zen-like morning prayer, Martin reaches down and picks Grady up, petting as he walks hurriedly toward the door. As I come through the door frame, suddenly Grady realizes what’s happening, stiffens his body, but to no avail, as Martin drops him through the top of the carrier and closes the door. This part of the trauma is over. Zen no more, Master Grady puts out tiny, frightened mews for the next hour and a half before his appointment.

Our vet is our vet because she welcomes all the Zen Masters. We fired the last guy as feral cats need not show up at his office. Too snooty for the downtrodden, we looked for a more Zen-like vet. So, today, Dr. Silver sits cross-legged on the floor, gently coaxing Grady from his hiding place between Martin, also sitting on the floor, and the bright orange wall splashed with cat paw prints. As Grady slowly emerges from his hiding place, Martin slides off to the side so Dr. Silver can exam Grady. She coos softly to him as she checks his vital signs, talks to us about his condition and expertly delivers his shots. Whew! All done for another year.

Back home after a short ten minute ride, Martin releases Grady from the carrier. He quickly meets up with one of the other Masters, happily butts heads in a “Hey, I’m back!” motion and runs off into the woods. A few minutes later, as we look through the trees to a sunlit spot, we see three of the cats walking slowly, one behind the other. As they look for meditation nooks among the rocks, Grady is in the lead. Finding just the right place to soak up some rays, Grady settles down into the leaves and blinks his green eyes at the sunlight sifting through the trees. Ahhh…calm and enlightenment. The relaxed state of peace and tranquility has returned to the great Zen Master Grady Bear.