A Platitude on Gratitude: The Catitude Who Changed My Attitude

john schirmer
John Schirmer’s Blowin’ in the Wind

Any who is grateful does so to the profit of his own soul. . . . —The Qur’an, Surah Al-Luqman 31:12, translated by Yusuf Ali  

The baby-loving gene that the rest of my family members seem to have in spades somehow skipped me. But my maternal instincts kick in full throttle if you start talking about, or showing me pictures of, cats. And if you’ve got a sick cat on your hands, God help us both.

I wasn’t allowed to have pets as a child, but the second I graduated from college and scored my own apartment, guess what time it was. That’s right. Kitten time. Just one kitten named Miles was enough to fill my heart with glee and my eyes with tears of laughter. Have you ever watched a spastic little kitten suddenly, without warning, fall asleep in your hand? Come on!

The Cats in My Life

So far in my life, I’ve been a mom to two wonderful kitties. (Well, two-and-a-half if you count Leopold, an abandoned tabby that I rescued from a nasty winter.) Recently, my blond 17-year-old purr-ball, Gretchen, seems to be aging exponentially. She’s got high blood pressure, low potassium, arthritis, a drippy eye that was left slightly paralyzed by a stroke, kidney disease, an adrenal gland disorder, and some kind of mysterious allergy that causes over-grooming. You’re probably wondering how she’s still alive—but I tell you, despite all of this, she’s a happy, very good-lookin’ cat!

The latest symptom, though, is the scariest: Gretchen’s got a mammary tumor—a mass which the vet says theoretically could be removed from a healthier cat, but because Gretchy’s heart and kidneys may not be able to recover from the anesthesia necessary for surgery (or a biopsy), I’m between a rock and hard place. Gulp.

Gretchen is my best girl. She makes my first waking moments—every single day—happy ones. How would I go on without seeing those beautiful eyes—deep pools of black against a soft puff of buff-colored fuzz—blinking at me, hoping to see my hand reach out from the covers? In the dim light she asks in her nicest possible voice—a gentle “quack…quack”—for her breakfast. (Yes, she’s a cat, but she sounds like a duck. And I call her Chicken. Confused yet?)

One evening a few weeks ago, after lying awake and worrying for several hours about what might be going on with that blob on Chicken’s belly, I decided I had to do something. Anything. I texted an SOS to a friend of mine in Chicago, Chris Huston—an animal lover and professional pet sitter whom I firmly believe helped Gretchen recover from her stroke three years ago. Chris’s gift? Quantum Touch healing, a method that works with the life-force energy of the body to promote optimal wellness.

Gretch generally hides from strangers and, at the time, hadn’t met Chris yet, so a hands-on healing situation seemed tenuous at best. You can imagine that my jaw just about hit the floor when Gretchen voluntarily hopped onto the couch next to my friend, sat down against her leg, and allowed Chris to lay hands on her for about 20 minutes. That, in and of itself, was nothing short of miraculous.

Fast-forward three years to the present: Chris responded to my late-night message within minutes (thank goodness she’s a night owl), and through tears of relief, I arranged for a remote healing session for the following Saturday.

The morning of our appointment, Gretchen was cozied up on my bed with me sitting beside her. Chris texted me that she was about to begin, and invited me to join her in a breathing technique conducive to healing: Inhale love, and exhale joy and gratitude.

Gratitude. It had been a while since I had consciously put my attention there. I closed my eyes and began.

The Power of Gratitude 

One of the best-selling authors on the practice of gratitude, M.J. Ryan, began writing about the power of gratitude even before there was much scientific research on the topic. However, in her recent edition of Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life, she notes in the forward, “There’s been an explosion of writings. I’ve watched it all with great interest, particularly in the research of David McCullough, Robert Emmons, and David Snowdon. What they and others have discovered confirms all of my amateur armchair philosophizing.”

She adds, for instance, that “From research done on Buddhist monks’ brains, we are beginning to believe that when we think positive thoughts such as gratitude, kindness, optimism, etc., we activate our left prefrontal cortex and flood our bodies with the feel-good hormones, which give us an upswing in mood in the short term and strengthen our immune system in the long run. Conversely, when we think negative, angry, worried, hopeless, pessimistic thoughts, we activate our right pre-frontal cortex and flood our body with the stress hormones, which send us into fight or flight, which depresses our mood and suppresses our immune system.” So. Science.

“Notice what’s right in your life,” Ryan says. “There is no magic formula . . . however and wherever you choose to notice the goodness in your life, you will experience the uplift of gratefulness. It’s because it’s so simple that we can’t believe it will work.”

I’m not really a churchin’ girl, but it’s hard not to notice that the Holy Bible offers nuggets of wisdom in this arena. Among countless instances of “give thanks, give thanks, give thanks” (there’s got to be something to it!), I really like this passage from Philippians 4:6-8.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds … whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

I love those last few phrases. My own possibly blasphemous translation is, “However messed up things are looking, put your attention on that one tiny scrap you can find that is good or beautiful or even just okay. That’s what you should hang your hat on. You’ll feel better.” Ya dig?

While we’re on the topic of prayer, in both New Thought and ancient Vedic teachings, the forms of prayer thought to be the most powerful are the ones in which gratitude is given for the prayer having already been fulfilled. Ernest Holmes, the New Thought father of affirmative prayer, says to skip the begging or beseeching and, instead, adopt an “already received it” attitude. He teaches that no prayer is complete without tapping into the feeling of appreciation or joy—as if you had what you wanted right now in the moment—adding fuel to the fire and helping you get into alignment with that thing being made manifest. “Thank you for the fulfillment of this prayer!” In other words, stick a fork in it, it’s done.

But speaking from recent experience, when I’m scared and hurting, gratitude seems like a far-away, some-other-day idea. When the world feels awfully upside-down, how can I muster up the will to give thanks—or even the courage to just be with what is?

And to be honest, there are the times when I don’t even want to see the good in my situation, I just want to cry or scream or be really pissed off for a while. Sometimes sitting in the middle of those emotions seems absolutely necessary.

One of my favorite writings on gratitude is a poem by Rumi, perhaps because it makes room for everything.


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

What would life be like to greet each experience as no better or worse than the next—with acceptance and celebration? To have gratitude for even the dark spaces.

But if you get stuck in the dark and can’t see the forest for the trees, I highly recommend asking a friend to hold the high watch for you. Maybe that friend is Mother Mary. Maybe it’s Buddha. Maybe it’s your favorite Grandfather who has passed on. For me, this time, it was Chris Huston.

When the hour with Chris was over, my phone chirped, bringing Gretchen and me out of our inward sojourn that, I’ll be honest, had turned into deep sleep. Gretchen was blinking at me. She quacked.

Chris typed, “Powerful healing, energy release. There was much Kundalini.” She added, “Both the cat and the dog I am caring for jumped onto my lap.” I imagined animals hovering all around her, and smiled.

I came clean to Chris about my nap, and she responded, “Yes. Both of you received.”

We had been doubly blessed.

I have had many beautiful mornings with my little Gretchen since then. She is doing extremely well. I don’t know what will happen. But I know that I am grateful.

Meredith Siemsen

Meredith, an Iowa native, was baffled when she earned her high school's writing award in 1993. It wasn't until twenty years later that she discovered she actually enjoyed wordcraft. (Too bad she's still a two-fingered typist.) Thanks for reading, friends!