Nature & Spirituality, Prose Poetry, Sickness & Health

The Sighs of a Little Grey Cat

Sometimes, I think I live only for the sighs of my little grey cat.

I breathe solely for those moments when she creeps cautiously onto my tender abdomen as I lie on my bed, worn out and vulnerable.

And she discovers that the crevices in my body meld perfectly to her own. She finds that all boundaries between us are purely artificial.  Her fur, my clothes, our skins become completely permeable. She relaxes her muscles into mine, allowing her very essence to seep down into my being. Our blood vessels become a greater network, somehow effortlessly pumping through feline and human without care for the difference.

She feels all this and she knows that she is home. She knows that she is safe. And because of this, she exhales completely, allowing every, last, tiny cavity of her body to be emptied. She saves nothing. She holds back no secret store to guard against some future scarcity. She lets it all go. All that she needs, all that she will ever need is here in this moment, on my belly.

She tells me this with her sigh, and I cannot help but be moved and awed by her trust, her faith—in the whole of this kaleidoscope universe—and also in the subtle rising and falling of one human stomach.

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

Lessons in Self-Compassion from a Little Grey Cat

Lean into kindness--Lessons in self-compassion from a little grey cat |

My cat looks up at me as I enter the room, hope in her slitted eyes.  Luna’s half asleep, but there’s a chance, however tiny, that I might come down to the tan, shaggy rug and cuddle with her.  “Meow?” she asks.  “Sure,” I say, and lower my comparatively large mass to her diminutive form.

“Yes,” her nuzzles say as my fingers find her soft, grey fur.  “Again.  More.”  And even, perhaps, “I love you.”  I think she does love me, though I’m not sure what that means to a cat.  Some have claimed that feline affection is merely a way of making sure there’s no interruption in the food supply.  But, in my experience, she relies on much less appealing means to make sure I keep feeding her—those evermore demanding meows that tell me how mean and stupid I am that I haven’t yet figured out that she needs more food.

But, back to the petting: as Luna fervently swipes her cheek once more against mine, I think, “Well, if she likes me this much, I must be a little special.  I must be really sort of okay.”  I lean into the notion—though it’s a foreign action for me.  I, like so many of us, have often felt it so much safer, easier, and yes, God forbid, more virtuous to think less of myself rather than more.

Last week, I listened to a dharma talk given by Tara Brach (a meditation teacher, psychologist, and author) that speaks to the idea that much of our suffering blooms from this source—the belief that something about us is not okay, sometimes fundamentally and irrevocably so.  And the antidote to this poison is that we find compassion for ourselves in those moments when we feel that self-hatred.  So, I ask myself, “Would you speak to your niece this way?  Or to anyone you loved?  Or to a stranger?”  And then I can remember that I am someone’s niece and someone’s loved one and many people’s stranger, so really maybe there is room for self-compassion in my heart.

One of the quotes Tara related during her talk was from Rumi: Whenever some kindness comes to you, turn that way, toward the source of kindness.  Lately, I’ve begun to pay more attention to my reflexive reactions in the face of kindness from another.  The other day, after sampling a cake I had made for her, my mother informed me, “You sure are a great baker.”  I can’t tell you how astonished I was to discover how ridiculously hard it was to say, “Thank you,” instead of “Well, I just followed the recipe,” or “It’s not like it’s hard,” or “Anyone can do it,” or “You’re just being nice.”

Instead, I tried to turn toward the notion of my goodness—not just the part of me that’s able at baking, but also the essential, limitless part of me to which I so rarely pay attention.  I tried and—keep trying—to lean into a sense of kindness toward myself.  I imagine myself like my sweet (and annoying) Luna, yielding her small head into the tenderness of my hand, knowing it is safe there, believing in my innate goodness, even when I am still unsure.

Please note: You can find a catalog of Tara Brach’s talks (all free) here or on iTunes.  The one I have referenced here is from 4/22/2015 and labeled (Retreat Talk) Loving Yourself to Freedom.


Nature & Spirituality

“You are not here for yourself alone . . .”

    “You are not here for yourself alone, but for the sake of all sentient beings.  Keep your mind pure and warm.” – Soen Nakagawa

    As I write this, I appear to be mostly here for the sentient being known, to me, as Luna LoveGood (thank you, J.K. Rowling), that is,  the little, gray cat, who is, even now, loving me up with every inch of her body and her intention!  She is a remarkable individual—having survived being abandoned when her previous owners moved away without her and her three feline companions, and also having withstood ten months in the SPCA.  I wonder how many  people she made love to before she found a ripe heart in my mother.  Or did she simply sit back and wait for us?  Whichever the case, the resilience displayed by her and her sister Golda TrembleTail is inspiring to me.  For all they knew, their former “owners” were what all humans are like.  And what about all the people who passed by their cage, month after month, not giving them a second look because they were too scrappy-looking and not cute, cuddly kittens.  How did they have the guts to trust us—even a little bit? 

    They’ve taught me a lot about acceptance too.  I tend to have a lot of difficulty with that particular precept that seems to be a major aspect of most modes of thought and spirituality.  I read a chapter from my copy of the Tao Te Ching every day and, usually, there is some mention of this frustrating edict: Accept.  Accept.  Accept.  Acceptance is the path to freedom, happiness, and blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah.  Believe me, I do actually have some semblance of an idea of what Lao-Tzu and so many of our learned forebears are getting at (or at least I think I do).  Only, some days, I don’t feel much like accepting.  Some days it’s just too much to ask.  And then I look at these remarkable cats that I am lucky enough to call members of my family, and I realize that they are acceptance experts.  They had no reason to believe that things would ever change for them when they were in that cage at the shelter.  And they had no recourse.  They had to accept what was their reality at that time, and they did.  It’s not that they were happy about being there, but they let it be, because that was what was. 

    And then they got to come live with us.  Yes, I realize that it’s an assumption to believe that they are more contented in our home, but given the little, love bath Luna gave me earlier (she’s now sleeping in the window), I’m guessing it’s not much of a stretch.  I also recognize that their acceptance of their situation did not necessarily cause the positive change in their lives (although, really, what do I know abort the true nature of the universe), but it’s heartening to have proof that sometimes waiting patiently, and then softly meowing at the nice lady with the bright yellow bag, is enough.  It reminds me again of one of my very favorite quotes, from the movie Uncorked written by John Huddles:

    “Life is a long experience of suffering, disappointment, and chaos.  But the moment you stop squirming against the catastrophe of being alive, music flies out of dog doo.” 

    Perhaps in this case, it’s cat doo, but the idea is undoubtedly the same.  Just this morning I was squirming about the fact that I hadn’t posted anything new and interesting for a few days and maybe my whole “starting a blog” venture was another misguided pie-in-the-sky notion that lacked the necessary follow-through on my part to keep it going and turn it into anything useful.  And then a friend of mine emailed me that she too had started a blog about her upcoming trip to Chiapas, Mexico where she will help develop a psychosocial support program for those suffering state-sponsored human rights abuses there.  I emailed her back, telling her how proud I was of the work she is continuing to do in the field of human rights, and she responded by telling me the blog was my idea—that my starting this one gave her the notion of doing hers.  Sure, it’s nothing huge, not even medium-sized, but it’s good to know that when we act with purity and warmth and, with all due respect, I think I’ll add, passion to Mr. Nakagawa’s quote here, we can help others without even meaning to.

    “You are not here for yourself alone . . .” 

    In the past, I would have thought of this as an onus, a threat even—better be a good girl, otherwise everyone is going to suffer.  But now I can see it as a release, as encouragement—so things didn’t work out the way you planned for yourself, but if your intentions have had merit, then you never know who else you might have helped along the way.

 Cuddle Time