Cat-Assisted Meditation

Meditation teachers will tell you to find a room and shut your animals out before you sit down to meditate. Too much distraction, they say. You should concentrate on yourself, they say.

I often wonder if those teachers have any pets. Because if you shut a dog out of a room, that’s the only room they want to be in. They scratch at the door, whine, and bark. There’s absolutely no way to meditate with that noise, even if you were so heartless as to keep that door closed when your beloved canine just wants to be with youfile_000-5

But I’ve had dogs for my entire life. I know what to do when I sit down on my cushion and my little brown-eyed, waggy-tailed wonder comes over for a pat: I pat them, of course. And then I say, “Settle down. Settle down, now.” That’s one of the few commands my little spaniel actually obeys. It helps that she’s a grown up dog and I’ve had her for 9 years.

Cats, on the other hand, do not respond to commands. I’ve lived with this one for a year, and though she’s shy, she’s determined when she wants what my British husband calls “a fuss.” She meows and rubs against my knee, my foot. She flops down on her back and rolls on the carpet, wanting her neck scratched—though not her stomach, not for more than 3 scratches before she gives me a gentle bite to let me know to redirect my attention.

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This is my meditation time. I need this meditation to get my head straight, to push loss and worry to the background and exist, for this time, in the present. The present is beautiful and comfortable, with the sun coming through the bedroom window and the lingering smell of my husband’s deodorant and, of course, my two beloved pets adding their contentment to the energy of the room.

I sit cross-legged on my cushion, which a friend gave to me and is just the right height. The dog lies down behind me with a sigh. The cat pushes against my hands, so I fuss her for a minute. I can afford a little time before meditating, and studies show that touching a pet animal lowers blood pressure and contributes in other significant ways to a feeling of calm.

Then I deliberately put my hands on my knees, and close my eyes. I take a deep breath in, centering my attention on the breath, the feel of it going in my throat and expanding my lungs. (Most practitioners feel it going in through the nostrils, but I haven’t been able to breathe regularly through my nose since the 4th grade because of allergies.) I exhale slowly, and—

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there’s the cat again. She rubs against my knee and flops down across my bare foot, tickling it. I open my eyes. She’s staring up at me, little white paws drawn up under her chin, in a classic “Aren’t I cute?” pose. I scratch under her chin and on the back of her neck, which is hard to reach but actually where she wants me to scratch. She purrs loudly and squirms around on the floor. My back complains at curling forward, so I straighten up, tucking my chin, lengthening my spine, and close my eyes.

I focus on my breath. In, out. I notice the cat walking away. Good. My mind starts to do that meditation dance, thinking of what I have to do after this (write, get my hair cut, walk the dog, plan the trip out of town next month, figure out a new life plan…) and then, when I notice myself thinking, I gently bring my mind back to focus on my breath. In, out. In, out. And then the dance starts again, replaying a memory jarred loose by my dream last night about clovers, so vivid I get caught up in it until I notice I’m caught in the memory and—

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paws on my knee and very loud purring. I open my eyes to a curious, innocent little cat face wondering why I am not fussing her. Why else would I be sitting on the floor?

There’s nothing for it. Today, the cat is part of the meditation. The dance, usually between my thinking mind (“monkey mind” in Buddhist terms) and my observing mind, is, today, between the “fussing the cat” mind and my observing mind. It’s…different from my usual meditation. But maybe it can work. There’s not one single way to meditate. You can’t do it wrong. And the cat gets a lot out of it.

How Can We Get There?

I recently got back from vacation (see my last post!) and one of my friends, as friends will, asked how I was readjusting to being home. I said, “On vacation, every day was about planning how much fun to pack into the day. I wish every day was about that still.” shield-870246_1920

My friend said, “So how does every day become about how much fun you can pack in? How can we get there?”

Whoa.

It’s easy to blow off a question like that, to joke permanent vacation or win the lotteryor heavy drug use. It’s easy to give up, to accept the “real world” in which vacation is supposed to be different from regular life—the dessert, as it were, to regular life’s green beans and white meat.

But what if we actually think about the question?

So how does every day become about how much fun you can pack in? How can we get there?

. . .

 

I just spent two hours writing possible ways to “get there,” and then cut it all. Because it all sounds like shallow, vapid advice. I don’t want to be that annoying person trying to cheer you on with a bullhorn and cheap plastic pompoms while you slog through your wild, boring, challenging, excruciating, muscle-straining, eyeball-searing, hilarious, paradoxical days. Life is complex, my friends. I don’t have all the answers. Most days I don’t feel like I have any answers. Most days I don’t think there are any answers.

sacher-cake-1194524_1920But I believe, passionately, in asking the questions. I believe in all the uncomfortable pushing and pulling and cutting and sewing involved in making a life. I believe in rejecting the status quo, pushing institutions towards change, and continuing to dream even when it feels like a bully has his boot on your neck and is trying to make you say, “Yes, I accept that this is just the way the world is.” I believe in eating the damn piece of chocolate cake and eating it slowly, savoring every bite. I believe in students majoring in creative writing, literature, music, art, and philosophy. I believe some of my days in the real world of work and home and bills and humidhot Memphis can be like vacation, if I remember to try to have fun, and tell myself it’s ok to want to have fun.

How can we get there? I don’t know. For me, maybe it starts with taking the dog to a nice park for a walk. Or a quiet 30 minutes of meditation. Maybe tomorrow I’ll start a “diary of fun,” a record and a plan. Maybe I’ll set a timer on my phone to go off every 15 minutes, each time displaying the very Buddhist message, “You’re already there.”