“It takes nothing away from a human to be kind to an animal.” ~Joaquin Phoenix
Earlier this year, I went to Egypt with a small group of friends.
“Egypt will activate something ancient in you,” I was told by one of them. “You have to go.”
Egypt wasn’t exactly on my bucket list, but in the span of one year, three different people had told me I needed to visit the country, so when the opportunity presented itself, I did.
The trip was organized by one of my favorite mystics, who thoughtfully designed it around the individual healing needs of everyone in our small group. She determined which temples were most meaningful for each one of us to experience; which acupuncture treatments to administer and when; which Egyptian oils to dab on specific pressure points; which non-religious prayers and rituals to incorporate; and which elder would accompany us and bestow her ancient wisdom and shamanic healing practices along the way.
For a woman like me on an unconventional healing journey, this was all too good to pass up.
Almost five years prior, my twelve-year-old son unexpectedly passed away, and I subsequently embarked on a journey to heal my broken heart. I considered talk therapy and prescriptions, but given the alarming rise in depression, anxiety, and mental illness across our country, I didn’t have faith they could help me fast or deep enough. So I fell back on my entrepreneurial ways, relied on instinct, and searched for alternative ways to treat my soul.
But I wasn’t looking for Egypt. Egypt found me.
Before committing, I told some friends, “I’m not a group person. I shouldn’t go on this trip.”
“What do you mean?” they asked.
“I’m better one-on-one or with just a small group of three or four friends at a time. I can do larger groups—like at an event or party—but I usually end up in the corner talking to someone about something I find meaningful and then sneaking out after a couple of hours.”
She nodded as if she could relate.
“Maybe it’s because I’m terrible at small talk and uncomfortable with superficial conversations,” I continued. Or maybe it’s because the energy of so many people in one place at one time overwhelms me. I can’t imagine traveling with a group of ten people and being surrounded by conversation and activity all day long without time to rejuvenate by myself.”
My friends assured me I’d be fine.
The group was hand curated. Everyone was healing from some sort of trauma or heartache and would have plenty of time every day to process the experience on their own. Plus, they reminded me that the benefits of reigniting the ancient Egyptian magic within my soul far outweighed any silly old insecurities and self-imposed policies about group dynamics.
The evening I landed in Cairo and attended the group’s orientation meeting, however, I already regretted my decision. “Egypt is all about our shadows,” the wise elder in our group announced.
“Huh?” I thought to myself. I didn’t come all the way to Egypt to explore what Carl Jung once termed the “unacceptable” parts of myself.
As if the elder could hear my confusion, she elaborated, “The lightness and darkness of this country will bring out the lightness and darkness in you.”
I looked around at the other group members seated on both sides of me and figured she must have been talking to them. I had already been through my darkest hour. There couldn’t possibly be more.
When I remembered that our thoughts create our reality, I suppressed my concerns and invited Egypt to light up the ancient goddess within me that was surely clamoring to be freed.
For the next few days, Egypt humored me. We saw temples. We cruised down the Nile. I even formed some new friendships. The group thing wasn’t so bad.
Maybe I’m over it, I thought. After all, I had been on an extended healing journey for nearly five years, and it was certainly possible that old insecurities had been quietly addressed during this transformation process that life had chosen for me.
Just when I started feeling optimistic, however, Egypt suddenly turned.
After entering Edfu Temple after sundown, I felt a cold stream of air brush across my neck while the ancient stone I was standing on wobbled and threw me off balance. I spun around, thinking someone had approached me from behind, but didn’t see anyone within a hundred feet of me. I glanced down, tapped on the stone beneath me feet, and noticed its ancientness was more solid and stable than any modern-day masonry.
Either I had hallucinated the entire experience, or an old Egyptian spirit within the temple walls was playing tricks on me. I convinced myself of the latter and ventured over to some other group members to tell them all about it.
An hour later, I suddenly felt queasy and plunged into a darkness that caused me to spiral for the next five days. Grief oozed out of every pore in my body while old insecurities screamed for attention like raw nerves. I had no idea what was happening or why.
The worse I felt, the more I noticed other group members huddling, laughing, posing for photos, and sharing all the “JOY” that Egypt was excavating from their souls.
Are you kidding me? I thought. They’re all receiving Egypt’s magic, and I’m the one left in the dark?
I knew I should not have gone on this trip. I also knew there couldn’t be something wrong with all of them. The issue had to be me.
So, I began to do what groups always made me do…I drifted to the periphery and tried to isolate. But Egypt would not let me.
Every time I turned around, there was a cat by my side.
“I keep attracting cats,” I complained to a woman in our group who happened to be sitting next to me when a cat started rubbing up against my right leg.
As much as I wasn’t a group person, I was even less of a cat person.
“What other cats have you attracted?” she asked, her sparkly brown eyes eagerly searching mine.
“One sat between my feet at breakfast the other day. Another brushed up against me during lunch. There was even one sitting and purring right next to me on an interior temple wall.”
“It’s strange,” I continued, “because since my eldest son passed away, gray and white cats are often in my dreams at night and show up in random places.”
“Like where?” she asked.
“A few years back, a random kitten jumped on me while I was in a lounge chair next to my husband and started kissing my face and purring. More recently, I had to go to the Emergency Room and when I went outside at 2 a.m. to get some air by myself, a little gray cat walked over and sat next to me.”
“What did you do?” she asked.
“I went back inside the hospital.”
“Pay attention,” she said with a subtle wink.
“Cats are nudging you.”
“I’m a dog lover,” I explained. “Not a cat person.”
“Well,” she responded like the mystic I soon learned she was, “Cats are trying to tell you something, and you might want to figure out what that is.”
“Like what?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“What do cats represent to you?” she asked.
I had never thought about it. I never owned a cat. I never played with a cat. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever really known any cat.
“Cats are disloyal,” I answered. “They run away. They don’t play. And they scratch people. Dogs are better.”
“That’s not true!” she screeched. “Cats are amazing animals too!”
“Why are they amazing?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“What you describe as disloyal, I would call independent,” she reasoned. “Cats don’t operate in herds like dogs. They are not designed to be in groups for too long and are quite comfortable being on their own. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Well, cats don’t play,” I pressed on. “Dogs play and are a lot more fun.”
“Cats are very playful! she corrected me. “Unlike dogs, who are more needy and constantly flop all over us to get our attention, cats play hard for a few hours at a time and then sneak off to refuel. They know who they are and take care of themselves.”
I felt a big teaching moment unfolding.
“Cats are also very mystical creatures,” she added. “They hold feminine energy, so they are highly intuitive about others and extremely protective. You can’t fool a cat. If you try, they will lash out and scratch you. They have no problem protecting themselves.”
Her words spun around in my head and unlocked new self-awareness.
I’m independent. I play in spurts. I’m highly intuitive. I don’t like being in groups for too long. I dedicate a lot of time for self-care….
“Oh no,” I looked up at her and whispered.
“What?” she leaned in, fully prepared for what I was about to say.
“I think I have cat energy.”
She gently touched my arm and channeled some divine wisdom of her own “You do have cat energy,” she replied. “You may love dogs, but you are a cat and should learn to love your own kind too.”
I started laughing.
“The one animal I’ve liked the least my entire life is the one I am most like,” I realized in disbelief. I felt lighter and lighter by the second and could tell the spirit of Egypt was pleased.
When I got back to the hotel, I called my best friend from college. For as long as I could remember, she had been giving me cat cards on my birthday, while I reciprocated the joke by giving the cards of her least favorite pet…dogs.
“How’s the trip?” she asked.
“Challenging…but I am calling to tell you about a life-changing moment I had today for the both of us.”
“Great!” she responded enthusiastically.
I relayed the entire story and could barely contain myself when I said, “Here’s the best part!”
“What?” she asked.
“You, my dear friend…”
“Oh, no!” she cried out.
“Oh, yes!” I responded, reminding her that a cat would never lie. “The animal you’ve been the most uncomfortable around and have liked the least your entire life is the one you are most like!”
I heard silence on the other end of the line.
“Think about it. You are the floppy one who always likes company. You get restless when you’re alone for too long. And you would play all day long if you could.”
We were laughing so hard we had to hang up.
The next morning, I woke up feeling liberated. I embraced my catlike ways and plugged back into the group, slinking in and out as I pleased.
Everyone welcomed me back with open arms and reminded me that dog energy is incredibly inviting and forgiving. It’s no wonder I have so many dog-like friends in my life teaching me new tricks.
While I still don’t own or even really know a single cat, I now embody the one I am. As a result, I’ve discovered that the more I accept my natural ways, the more accepting I am of the ways of others.
Cats no longer intimidate me. Neither do groups. And while I’m still a dog lover, I’ve given up the exhausting effort of trying to be one.
You do not have to travel all the way to Egypt to learn this lesson for yourself.
Just look in the mirror. You may find that the traits you like the least about others are often the ones most like yourself.