In my meditation practice I’ve had different meditation teachers that have influenced my life one way or the other. I was very lucky to have one very special teacher that I loved very dearly. All the way from the first moment he came into my life, until I saw him take his last breath, he helped me tremendously. My zen master had whiskers and pointy ears—he was my beloved cat.
So in his memory, I wanted to take a moment to share with you some of the lessons he taught me.
Chop Wood, Carry Water
A very basic lesson in Zen Buddhism is to chop wood and carry water. What does that mean? It means to chop wood and carry water.
The beauty of Zen is that it does not give you straight forward answers. To get the answers, you must learn them yourselves through careful observation and from your own experience.
But I ‘ll give you a small hint—it means being in the present moment.
This was perhaps one of the most powerful lessons my cat taught me. When I used to come home from work and pet him, it was as though time had stopped. There was nothing more important in the universe than petting him. At that time, there was no yesterday or tomorrow, no bills to pay or any problems whatsoever.
The magic of petting him was that I could finally be in the present moment. With each gentle stroke on his head, it lead to more and more peace inside of me. Almost like a “petting meditation”.
Then when I would clean his food bowl, I would gently feel the warm water touch my hands. I would scrub off any remaining food on the bowl. Then I would dry it and gently put it back on the floor with fresh food.
I would pick up his water bowl and fill it up with new fresh water, then place is back on the floor. All while remaining focused on that being the most important task at the moment.
The beauty of being present. Thank you, Zen master for this profound teaching.
Your Body is Your Temple, Keep it Clean
Every day my cat would clean his body with his tongue. To me it is still a mystery why in pet stores they have cleaning items such as shampoo for cats. Cats have a “sand paper” type tongue that helps with grooming themselves.
What’s more interesting is why would they want to keep their bodies so clean all the time. Throughout the whole day he would keep cleaning his body. For 20 years we never gave him a bath, he did it himself. It’s as though his body was something very precious.
We think that our body is who we truly are. When you see the reflection of your body in the mirror you think this is “me”. However, have you ever tried to find this “Me” before?
For the longest time (pretty much since birth) we have clung to this body as being who we are. The good news is that this body is not who you really are, but is only a temple that houses our soul.
When you walk, do you know you are walking? Or are you just rushing to get from point A to point B? When my cat walked he did it very calmly, not rushing (well except when Fancy Feast was involved and he hadn’t had it for a long time).
I remember I used to seat on the couch and he would gently walk on the tile floor. He would even make a very subtle sound from his paws as he was walking forward.
He would jump from the bed and gently walk to the living room where I was sitting down reading. It’s as though he was doing a walking meditation with each step he took.
With walking meditation you pay attention to the sensation of your feet as you are moving forward. You feel as your left foot touches the floor. Then you feel the sensation on your left heel and all the pressure of your foot until the toes touch the floor.
Then the right foot comes down, you feel as your right heel touches the floor, then the rest of your foot presses down all the way to your toes.
At the same time you are breathing gently, not rushing, just gently breathing. You are only focused on walking, not thinking about your grocery shopping list, what’s for lunch or what you are going to do when you retire. You just simply walk with meaning, feeling the sensation of your entire left foot and then feeling your right foot. Gently breathing in and breathing out, that is all. Just like my cat walked.
Patience is a Virtue
My cat was without a doubt the Zen Master of patience.
We had his teeth cleaned for the first time in his life when he was 18 years old. He was diagnosed with early stages of kidney disease, and our vet suggested cleaning the teeth so his kidneys wouldn’t have to work as much to clean the bacteria that enters the bloodstream through the gums.
He had never been under anesthesia before, so that experience in itself was nerve wracking. Was he going to make OK? Was he going to “wake up”?
Yes, he was OK. Better yet, he now had nice clean shiny teeth! It was funny seeing him when the anesthesia was wearing out; he walked like he was drunk.
Later on, he had to take special “treats” to help keep his teeth clean. He loved his treats! He would get his treats in the morning and in the evening.
That’s where he truly showed his patience. He would go in the kitchen and wait very patiently for his treats to be “dropped from the heavens.” He would stand without moving, looking single pointedly at the floor extremely focused. I had never seen that type of concentration in anyone in my life before. Nothing could disrupt him. He just waited…and waited…waited very patiently.
Keeping a Good Posture is Very Important
In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki talks about the importance of posture in a meditation practice. When my cat was patiently waiting for his treats, he would stand there with a really good posture.
He was able to keep this posture for a very long time, not lying down, or slouching, just a very straight posture. When we mediate the posture is very important, since it allows us to stay focused. I was able to tell that this is what really helped my cat stay very focused waiting for the treat to come down.
When you meditate, if you have a bad posture, most likely you’ll have a bad meditation session. A good posture signals your brain to concentrate on what you are doing. This doesn’t just apply to meditation, but also for every for everyday things. When you are at work, keep a good posture and see how you are able to focus more on the task that you are performing.
Sometimes my cat would sneak in our meditation room and sit on my meditation cushion. He had a very straight back, was he trying to meditate? Or was he showing me how to sit properly when meditating?
Life is So Precious! Lessons from my Zen Master…
“He only has a few weeks to live.” That’s what the vet said the moment she saw him when she walked into the room and examined him. Those have been the worst words I had ever heard anyone say to me my whole life! Yet, our vet was only confirming what I intuitively knew. “There is nothing more we can do, please consider putting him down” (another stab in my heart).
The worst part was that my cat was in the same room when she said those words. He had always been an extremely gentle cat, (the vet even used to called him one of her “Faves” and used to showed him off around the office how gentle he was) however, on his last visit to the vet, when she took him to do the routine blood and urine work it was a different story.
I think he thought that she was taking him to put him down. Going to the vet had become a routine (he even gently walked inside the carrier by himself) and every time the vet would take him to draw blood and take his urine he was the most gentle cat ever. Not this last time, he meowed like he had never meowed before, he gave her a very hard time and even peed on her. He was fighting for his life! Or so he thought.
What he taught me the following weeks is beyond what I can express in words. If I had to use two words, it would be love and presence.
I would sit down on my meditation cushion and he would sit on my lap. That was our new routine. He didn’t care how long I was sitting there, he would just peaceful lay there. I even had a small pillow for him to sleep on my lap so he could be more comfortable.
Towards his last days he couldn’t jump on top of the bed anymore to sleep with us, and he would also walk out of balance. He decided to move to our meditation room instead. He loved being there. I would sleep on the floor in the meditation room just so I could keep him company at night.
Then the last hours before he passed away he had this strong energy he wanted to keep moving, keep exploring what was around the room. His body was not up to it, he had this glow in his eyes so full of life. I knew this was it.
My husband and I very gently put him on a pillow and I held him in my arms (he was extremely skinny by then, and wanted him to be comfortable). We did some very powerful Buddhist practices to help him with his transition. We were there as he took the last breath of his cat life.
My “baby” taught me that life is so precious. I devoted myself to take care of him like I had never taken care of anyone before in my life. He showed me what true love is.
Even through his dying process, he taught me to be very present in the moment. Life is very precious, and death is just part of life. Death is not the end, just the end of the body. The body is our temple that holds our “soul”.
Thank you my post precious Zen Master for teaching me how to stay on the spiritual path to help others.
It’s my most profound wish that if you are reading this, you may want to start a meditation practice. If you already have a meditation practice, may you go even deeper.
Meditation is just the starting point of something very profound. It is not just breathing in and breathing out. Those are just pointers to take you to a more deep state of consciousness.
If you have a cat, I would like to ask you to stop what you are doing and please go and pet him/her. Give your cat huge amounts of love and care every day. And PLEASE don’t feed your cat dry food, but instead give them wet food. Cats don’t like to drink that much water, so they have to get it from their foods. Most of my cat’s life we only gave him dry food, and this is what contributed to his kidney disease.
So go ahead, chop wood and carry water in your life. Meditate, so when life hits you hard, you can stand the heat. Live every moment to the fullest!
Please leave your comments below. I love hearing from you!
Check out these other posts: