How to fall like a cat

I’m intensely afraid of falling. Roller coasters? Um, an emphatic NO THANK YOU. I don’t have that fun kind of titillating scary wheeeee! experience on the coasters. I despise them. I fear them. Even riding the Ferris wheel at the NC State Fair has me muttering protective spells under my breath and trying not to show my 3 year old that I’m on the verge of passing out from fear. It’s funny — I’m not afraid of heights (as long as I am firmly strapped in to something sturdy that will not allow me to fall and does not move), and I’m not afraid of being upside down (fun!), or going very fast (fun!), or spinning (fun!), but I am truly undone by the sensation of falling.

Now if you were me, you might mull on this fear of falling and engage in strange internet research about ‘how to survive falls from a great height’. You might consider whether you had a metaphorical fear of falling as well, and you might discover that indeed you are afraid of any kind of falling — the literal and the metaphorical. You might spend a lot of time staring at your cats and marveling at the feline ability to survive falls.* Then you might ask yourself the question, “How can I fall like a cat?”. [Wow, if you were me, then you’d do exactly what I did. Amazing!]

Of course, I’m not literally asking “How can I fall like a cat?” because I’m not a cat and I’m not actually going to cure myself of roller coaster fears. My band aid approach for that is simply not to ride them. Ever. But metaphorically speaking, I like the rush of spending time high up in the trees of art and ideas, cavorting and pouncing along with other folks, and once in awhile I miss the next branch or someone knocks me off. Knowing how to survive a fall is essential for creative, risk-taking, vulnerable lives.

Who am I? A cat reflects.

So, if you haven’t done your pre-reading on cat-falling, I recommend the great post on the blog Science-based Life titled “How do cats survive falls from great heights?”. Check it out for details and some good falling cat photos. There’s also a quote below from the Animal Planet site.

How do cats manage to take falling so easily? For one thing, in comparison to human beings, a cat is much smaller and lighter. Also, a cat has more body surface area in proportion to its weight than a human being has. This increase in surface area results in greater air resistance, which slows the fall. The important thing, however, is that a falling cat apparently positions itself to form a sort of parachute. Less than one second after it starts to fall, a cat quickly rights itself in midair with all four legs pointing downward. The cat’s inner ears act like an internal gyroscope, telling the cat which direction it is falling. With the legs pointed downward, the cat then spreads its legs so that its body forms a sort of parachute that increases air resistance. With its limbs flexed, the cat also cushions the force of impact by landing on all four legs. The force of the impact is distributed through the muscles and joints.

So, this is a little odd, but I’ve assembled a list of tips to help me ‘make like a falling cat’ when things go unexpectedly wrong in my life. You’ll see them below. Hopefully these will allow all of us to walk away from a fall relatively unscathed.

How to fall like a cat (not literally, just when things go wrong in your life and you feel like you are speeding toward the ground):

Tip 1: Stay light. Cats are smaller and lighter than humans. They don’t jump around in the trees with their baggage strapped to their backs. They don’t carry years of unresolved resentments, expectations, and therapy-worthy self-talk as they cavort among the branches. All of that junk just falls with you (and on you) when you hit the ground. If you don’t carry it, it can’t fall on you. So let it go before you go climbing up high. Stay light, step lightly, take things lightly.

Tip 2: Increase surface area. I don’t know about you, but when I feel things are ‘going south’, I want to roll up into myself like a human cannonball. However, when we feel the sensation of falling, let’s resist our hedgehog nature, ok? Cats don’t contract. Rather, they make like a parachute and stretch out their limbs, increasing surface area to slow the fall. Increase your surface area by breathing and creating space in your body. Stretch out limbs and hands and face, and then ease into something that resembles a physically relaxed state. Ask your mind and heart to stay open to the experience. Reach out to people — not to drag them down with you, but so they can help you remain open (and perhaps they can lend you a hand). Breathe and open, open like a parachute to slow the fall.

Tip 3: Orient yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the HOLY SH!T of falling and remain overwhelmed by it until you’ve hit the ground. However, if possible, and as soon as possible, orient yourself. Which way is up? Which way is down? What’s the landscape and where are you headed? What can you do? What resources are available to soften your landing? Understand what is happening in the moment. Orient yourself so you can land feet first.

Tip 4: Land on both feet. “Stick the landing” like the very best gymnast, and do your best not to land flat on your back, your head or your butt. A poor landing results in cats (and people) getting hurt and looking ridiculous. Landing on your feet requires orienting yourself (see tip above), an attitude of confidence and grace, acknowledging that you are falling, and the ability to respond to it. It also requires a lot of practice. Gulp.

How are you at falling? Do you have a literal fear that matches up nicely with a metaphorical fear? What are your ways of dealing with falling, with fear… with cats?

*P.S. No cats were harmed in the making of this blog post. Please respect and be kind to your cats.

5 thoughts on “How to fall like a cat

  1. even though i actually really enjoy the physical sensation of falling, i love your idea of metaphorically falling like a cat. i’m particularly attracted to the “orient yourself” thought. (not surprising i suppose, given how much the compass exercise grounds me!) very interesting to think about where the metaphorical ground is. wonder if I can do that mid-fall…

    • Cheryl, I actually think you are really good at orienting yourself during a fall (or at least you appear that way to me). You seem to check in with your priorities, your special people, and you ‘sleep on things’ — all of those seem like orienting activities to me. I’ve always admired your ability to do that gracefully. How to find the ground is an interesting question though….I’m going to mull on that.

    • Thanks so much for your comment and for the link, Dan. I committing it to memory as I type this. Now I just need to find a sawdust pit to practice jumping into. :) Appreciate it, and all the best, Tamara.

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