Kitty Cats and The Nervous System
We got a cat! His name is Oberon, after the King of Fairies. He’s our first pet. He’s called a feral cat, from the Humane Society animal shelter, but he loves being petted and seems to enjoy our company. When we opened his cat carrier in the shop he darted under the work benches and eyed us with apprehension. Each day we go down there and spend a bit of time with him. We give him treats to coax him out and we pet him and let him come and go, come closer and run away as the spirit moves him. He’s been getting more comfortable with us and spending longer being petted, or walking around in the open. We haven’t picked him up or dragged him out of his hiding place because we want him to feel comfortable around us and trust us.
In this way he isn’t unlike a human nervous system.
The nervous system is the part of us that detects and responds to changes in our environment. Its first version showed up about 500 million years ago and it’s been adding more and more complexity since then. We tend to think of ourselves as only being the more recent part. The part that facilitates our culture and language, but we still contain the older parts. The part that jumps at a loud sound or turns to look at flashing lights. That older nervous system is still controlling us in a big way.
Because Oberon is alive and I am alive we can interact in an iterative way. I put my hand toward him he sniffs it and rubs on it. I reach farther to scritch his head, he backs away. I move my hand away and he takes a few steps toward it. I show him a treat and he rushes toward it and purrs loudly. I pet him and he keeps purring.
There is a lot of emphasis on the mechanical effects of massage therapy, that we “work knots out” by kneading them like bread dough. But the body is alive. It’s not only alive in our thinking brains, but it’s alive everywhere. It’s alive like a child…or like a small, potentially frightened, animal.
So, rather than ironing a knot out with a repeated application of maximal pressure, we can do more long term good by coaxing it bit by bit into trusting us, into taking some of our suggestions, trying them out and discarding what doesn’t suit it. Never forcing it into our idea of what it’s supposed to be like. In this way real change can happen, because it’s a collaboration.
I practice this when I touch people. You can practice this with movement.
In rehabilitative exercise there is talk of strengthening a weak muscle. I’d urge you to think of it not so much as building muscle fibers, which gets us back to mechanical thinking, but as helping the body gain confidence with a motion that scares it, or that may simply be unfamiliar.
As the body, and the kitty cat, gain a greater sense of safety they become more resilient, with a greater range of both movement and acceptable sensation. They gain confidence with motions and that confidence looks like greater strength.