By Penelope Smith

In the early 1970's, while living in Edinburgh, Scotland, I had a cat friend named Ipsis. He chose the name, which means "himself" in Latin. He was a striking black cat, who would look deeply into people's eyes and cause them to make remarks like "that is not just a cat!"

     Ipsis was a special friend and helper to me and would accompany me in my spiritual counseling sessions for people, usually greeting the client and then quietly curling up in the background. He would often know when we were nearing the resolution of an issue and the person was about to have an important insight and release of emotional energy. He'd jump up on the desk and gaze at the person, encouraging and listening for the realization. People would laugh, saying they knew the session was nearing its conclusion as Ipsis jumped up to help them recognize and voice their incipient insight.

     I remember in particular another endearing trait of his. We lived in a high-ceilinged, drafty apartment, whose only source of heat in the damp and chilly climate was a small electric heater that you had to feed precious coins to operate. It was often difficult to rise from a warm bed before sunrise, but Ipsis helped to make it easier. He often slept under the covers at my feet. Just before the alarm would sound, he'd come up to my face and gently pat it with his paw to wake me. I'd smile and pet him and sometimes drift back to sleep. If the alarm sounded, and I still didn't get up, Ipsis became more insistent, licking my face with his scratchy tongue or biting my chin. He'd say to me, "You have to get up and do your work. It's very important." With his help, I'd manage to face the cold room, and together, we would go to the counseling center, where we worked.

     I would laud Ipsis' virtues to my boyfriend, and, while he loved Ipsis, he would become impatient with my perceptions. He said to me, "All I see is a cat. Ipsis is just a cat." I replied, "But, if I look at you in the same way as you're looking at Ipsis, all I see is a human. You are just a human." I really didn't see him that way, as the fullness and depth of each individual as a spirit has always been part of my awareness of people, whatever their species.

     You see what you can perceive, what you allow to enter into your awareness. Being in the physical world, we are masters of limitation, working with apparently finite boundaries, senses, mortality and change. For me, life would lack meaning and richness without also having the consciousness of the pulsing of infinite spirit throughout everything, with the understanding of thought and feeling that reveals the depth of beings.

     So, I saw both the deep and wise spirit that was Ipsis and the beauty and grace that he manifested through his cat form. It was all wonderful spiritual communication and wisdom, cat instincts, senses and habits all to be enjoyed, all part of the whole and all good.

     Separating the physical from the spiritual is a tricky proposition. Even what we call physical is spiritual in essence. As modern physicists have discovered, when you look at what the universe is composed of, down to the energy forms in each atom, it all disappears and reappears, like magic. It is neither here nor there, though the illusion is that these energies form solid particles and fairly permanent objects. The energies that form the basis of matter are so influenced by our perception that we appear to be a part of them and share in their creation, their continuance and their form; we are not separate from them in essence.

     We, as individual spirits who are animating forms, are also elusive, taking on identity, personality characteristics, and ways of being that we may think are our real selves. These are all changeable as we shift from state to state, in the physical, beyond the physical, in spiritual dimensions, coming back to the physical. We can have identities in infinite variations. We can be one with groups of beings, one with all or No-thing. Who can pin a name on us and say that's all there is?

     To be practical, in the physical realm, we (of any species) are capable of expressing ourselves as spirit within the limits of the physical form and agreements of the other players in this dimension. We can be wise and wonderful, balanced aware beings or full of fears and very influenced by what has been done to our bodies, or both at different times and circumstances. We can rise above negative influences or environments and determine our own futures, or we can consider ourselves totally formed by them. We can come through our restrictions to express ourselves in the fullest possible way as that species, manifesting the potential of the species and our purpose as individual spirits.

     Each of us as individuals has a unique body-mind-spirit viewpoint and approach to the universe. We are influenced by our bodies as we communicate through our physical senses. We can identify with others of our own species in our common physical, emotional and social needs and natural behaviors. We can identify with all species in our sharing of life on earth, symbiotic relationships, physical and emotional similarities, and in our essence as spirit.

     Beings generally choose to incarnate as certain body forms and in certain situations that help them fulfill their chosen destiny or next step on the winding road of adventure through Life. They can be very conscious about what they are doing or very unaware, hiding their own decisions about life choices from themselves, to enhance the intensity of limitation and element of surprise or adventure or because they've become too enmeshed in unknowing and the physical game. The game of Life can be played in many ways, and eventually beings come back to full knowing of self as Spirit. To not know self as a spiritual being for very long is to become very miserable indeed.

     As human beings, top of the biological totem pole and most involved in analytical mind functions, we need the other species to help us use our forms without losing our way our connection to ourselves as spirit. Animals can teach us about being, enjoying the senses and potentials of the body and universe each moment, and maintaining that high connection to self as infinite spirit that most animals never lose.

     Not all animals are more spiritually evolved than all humans, as some people suppose. We are all individuals, making our way through infinity, taking different paths and criss-crossing along the way. All paths and all forms are valid. Depending on the viewpoint of the individual spirit at any given time, some are more fun or purposeful than others. While it is wonderful to recognize the abilities of any species, whether human, dolphin, dog, cat, llama, bird, etc., it is essential to understand each individual as they are. Not each is an embodiment of the spiritual fullness or purpose of that species. Each will have some of that in them to express as they choose.

     Some animals appear wise beyond their form, beyond any form. People look at them and say they are like humans what they usually mean is that they are exceptionally conscious and aware or intelligently responsive. Some individuals will be shining examples of their species and themselves as infinite beings and are exceptional as individuals of any form. Generally noted for their joy in living and their confidence in self and love of others as fellow spirits, they are conscious of their choices in incarnating from life to life. I call them master beings.

     It can be fun to characterize species according to traits or purposes, as we humans love to categorize. However, we gain precious insight into each individual by looking at them in their wholeness, noting who they are in their travels as spirit throughout this and other planes. What an adventure it is to discover each other and ourselves in and through and beyond form!