As a beginning meditator (yup, it’s been about 5 years since I’ve been consistent with my practice and I’m still just getting my feet wet), I benefit from guidance and instruction from others. Along the way, I’ve learned you can really cheat your way through it if you do it with people who are better at it than you. It’s super powerful meditating with a group, and that includes groups whose members have four legs and a tail. Cats definitely have it together when it comes to meditating, and can help you to:
(1) Sit the Heck Still
When you still the body, the mind follows. Tell that to my legs, which for about 2 weeks this winter would start itching fiercely every time I’d sit down to meditate. I tell myself to relax and breathe into it, but the more I attempt to do that, the more intense and burning the itch becomes, and I start thinking of “Disco Inferno” and blow the whole thing.
If I were a zen monk in training, I’d have the Ino whacking me with a stick every time I moved or otherwise fell out of concentration—this according to my writing teacher/friend who is a zen monk, though I don’t think he actually used the word “whack.” If this is not an option for you, a regular old kitteh can do the trick. To train yourself to remain still, lie down and wait for your cat to crawl on top of you and park himself. If he is like Lorenzo, he will give you a harsh correction every time you try to move.
This happened the other night as I was simply trying to fall asleep, and not even practicing meditation. Lorenzo had other ideas. He was perched on my back, and when I lifted my head and tried to turn it to the opposite side, I’d feel a paw on the back of my skull, pushing it back into place. I was restless so kept fidgeting, but Every. Single. Time., there was the paw, claws extending and flexing exponentially with each digression. Finally I just gave up and focused on the fact that I didn’t have to do anything except lie there. The moment that happened, he got up and began shoving his cold nose into my face and licking me, which of course necessitated the practice of #2....
(2) Accept and Allow
If I’m making meditation sound all rule-y and rigid, it’s because that’s where I am in the practice right now--if this is a journey, I’m still at the 7-Eleven paying for my Slurpee and filling the tank. I do know that the rules help to cultivate the focus you need for when the discipline dissolves and it becomes something else entirely… kind of like painting a still life before you can Pollock…
Beginners like me can be easily sidetracked by outside noises and inner sensations: the aim is to practice accepting and allowing these things. Like, if I sneeze or the phone rings, I may go all Type A and wonder how many seconds that cost me, rather than just let the moment be … That’s where Derrick comes in.
Every once in a blue moon, my big, sweet flamepoint will park himself next to me when I’m sitting. He’s a big talker with a big vocab for a cat, but during meditation he mostly employs the short, staccato quack. On one recent morning he wanders in and looks up at me, quacks as soon as I make eye contact, and commences purring. I was pretty quiet-minded that day, so when he starts quacking again, I think—not only am I going to accept and allow this furry big mouth at my side, I am going to follow his lead.
So we take turns sneaking looks at each other, him quacking and purring and blinking and vibrating to the point I think he’s going to levitate. I am smiling so wide that I think it’s shining my skull. And I think, hey…I’m getting an advanced lesson from him on the higher purpose of meditation, which is to…
(3) Love More
One of my favorite yoga teachers, Erich Schiffmann, gives homework in his workshops—which always includes practice love more. He suggests starting with something/someone who is easy to love, and that way it’ll get easier when you practice on things/people who aren’t so easy to love.
I am still smiling as he shoves his butt in my face, the tip of his tail candy-caning in full expression of feline happiness and confidence, walks a few feet and plops down on the rug directly in front of me. When I look at him he spreads the toes on his front paw. It is the luxurious, slow unfolding of a lotus flower, each paw pad a pink petal. And yes, he and I just pass the love back and forth like we’re in some dorky new-age dance-off…
We both face the light, me wondering out of nowhere, “What is the sound of a candle flame?,” and Derrick just being, eyes closed.