In loving memory to the best cat I have known, Leche Cat.
We had to say goodbye to a beloved part of our household this week. Grief and loss affect everyone so differently and at different times. There are countless mindfulness practices around those topics, but what keeps coming to mind today is a loving-kindness practice.
The Metta meditation is a buddhist practice of sending positive energy outward and directing it towards others. But how do you send out positive energy if you can't find any? What happens when you are so low and so dark that there's simply nothing to give?
This is where pets come in. I always remember while teaching a yoga training, one of the trainees lead a loving kindness meditation,and offered this tip: First, bring to mind someone that is easy to love, someone that you instantly feel a warm feeling of loving kindness, if no one come to mind, perhaps a pet, notice the feeling of loving kindness that arises when you bring you think of your pet.
It happened to be at a time when I was harboring a lot of resentment, frustration, disappointment. And anger, probably was in there too. And when I thought of my pet I felt none of that, or I did, but the pet was like a balm, that only wanted to be near me and let me know that everything would be okay.
We can learn so much about unconditional love from our pets. At that same time I was reading a book about attachment theory, and it referred to pets being a great model of a secure attachment. In a relationship with a pet both of you are allowed to make mistakes and still feel loved. You step on a tail, your pet destroys your favorite sweater, neither party will hold a grudge or resentment, at least not for very long. Neither you nor your pet assumes the other behaves in a way that intentionally hurts or overlooks the other. We typically engage with warmth and kindness, even if we had a bad day,Yes, in the way we love our animals, but also in the ways our animals demonstrate love.
You may not think animals have the capacity to love like we do, and that's fine (?) It's true they may not experience the complexities of relationships the same way as humans. But they are so good at showing up for you. They are an embodiment of comfort. Their reassuring presence follows you through some of life's most challenging or abrupt changes, and every day they will be there for you. And you will be there for them.
Loving Kindness Practice: Sit comfortably and rest your eyes. Bring to mind a beloved pet, or an animal that you have known and loved. Notice the feeling of warmth or light that arises when you give this beloved creature your full attention. Maybe it's the the feeling of a smile when you greet each other, or the feeling of a sigh when they put their head on your lap,or the feeling of comfort being tucked in at night. Your pet is personal to you, so bring them into full detail and notice the response you feel in your body. That response is Loving Kindness. Imagine the Loving Kindness as a light that might start as a small feeling you recognize in one part of your body, perhaps around your heart. Begin to breathe into that feeling, and imagine the light spreading slowly with each breath. Breath by breath, the light can spread across your body, until you are alight in Loving Kindness, even if that light is very dim. If you lose some of that feeling, redirect your attention back to your pet. If you are able to imagine the light growing fuller and brighter and feeling more Loving Kindness within yourself, continue to let that feeling grow, breath by breath. Sit in that feeling of loving kindness for a minute or two, or as long as it might last.
In the more expanded version of this practice, we send the Loving Kindness outward. But for this practice, in honoring pets present, and pets past, keep that Loving Kindness within you and your beloved. If you recently lost an animal, it can feel like you will never experience this light again, but for now you have to find the light in a memory. Be open to feeling it and recognizing it in the future, because even in the heaviness of grief there is light.