My cat has a heart condition which is slowly killing him. He’s been living on borrowed time since his diagnosis a few months ago and has gone from a robust, active, entertaining companion to a slower, much less active version of himself. And that entertainment factor, which was always impressive, has been replaced by his calm attitude and apparent happiness despite the fact that every day he is capable of less and less.
His days are numbered, as are all of ours, and despite those achingly painful moments when I watch his labored breathing with concern, I am, more often than not, inspired by his ever cheerful attitude and his regal bearing as he slowly walks to the garage and back, taking his time, stopping to catch his breath, and continuing to do the things he’s always done, albeit at a much slower pace.
I call him the Cary Grant of cats because he is supremely handsome and charming, always good hearted and loving, never failing to extend the proverbial olive branch to my other cat who’s sent him to the vet twice from some seriously jealous bites and scratches.
Nevertheless, as my husband pointed out, if he’s awake, he’s purring. Purring has always been considered a sign of contentment, but cats also purr when they’re injured or in pain. Recently it’s been suggested by Dr. Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler, that the purr, with its low frequency vibrations, is a “natural healing mechanism.” Von Muggenthaler cites documentation that “low frequencies at low dB are helpful with regard to pain relief..bone growth and tissue repair …” She goes on to note that “..the frequencies for therapeutic pain relief are from 50-150 Hz and all cats (purring) have ..strong harmonics within this range.” For humans, vibrational stimulation has been documented to relieve acute pain and suffering in 82% of patients studied. So you could then extrapolate that cats have the capacity to heal themselves (to a degree) by purring.
If you’re a cat lover, this may just be one more reason as to why cats have “nine lives.” For me, this is fascinating information because I see (and have experienced directly) the implications for us as humans. What do we have that’s equivalent to purring and why is my cat my spiritual teacher?
Let’s take purring as a sign of contentment. My cat will purr under the most distressing situations as well as the most commonplace. If it’s cold and snowy outside, he purrs. If he gets cuffed by my jealous cat (it still happens), he purrs. On the lighter side, when you walk into the room, he purrs. If you call his name, he purrs. For people, we all know that contentment is highly prized, both as a spiritual and psychological commodity. My cat’s fortunate not to have the capacity to think in words as we do, and yet his acceptance of what life offers him at any given moment is still an inspiration. Where his behavior is instinctual, mine can be intentional. How can I be more accepting, less resistant and more willing to go with the flow of life, whatever it brings? Where does my thinking get in the way and can I let go of it? Am I willing to take the time to savor the goodness around me, despite what I label as “badness”?
And then there’s this idea of purring as a healing mechanism. What can I do that would promote my own healing? Can I find a way to use sound, whether it comes from my vocal cords (humming, chanting, singing) or from an outside source (listening to music, the sounds of nature or a growing phenomena referred to as sound healing) to reduce my experience of pain or stress? There are many studies that suggest that this most ancient of resources, sound, can and does have a significant effect on our welling being.
The role of a spiritual teacher is not necessarily to impart skills or knowledge but to point to the fundamental nature of reality. And that “pointing” is not only by words but by actions. If I take even a moment to reflect on what that could mean for me, I become aware of the goodness, wholeness and benevolence at the core of life and the possibility of aligning myself with it. And that’s what my cat does, simply by being who he is.
What about you? Do you have an equally "non-traditional" spiritual teacher? If you do, I'd love to know more so please share in the comments section.