Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How to Meditate With Companion Animals

For about 8 years I have had an on-again-off-again relationship with meditation. These days, my meditation button has been in the on position. The number one barrier when I started was my inability to meditate at home, because my cats would have none of that. Or so it seemed ...

There is a Buddhist fable -- please don't take it literally because that would be cruel -- that I will paraphrase. There was a cat that would hang out around a Buddhist monastery begging for attention. So insistent was this cat that the monks would have to tie her up outside so they could have some peace and quiet for meditation. (Don't try that at home.) Every day they would first tie the cat outside and then proceed to meditate until one day the cat died. The next day when it came time to meditate, the monks said to their teacher, "But Thay, how can we meditate when there isn't a cat tied up outside?"

Basically, I was doing the exact opposite. I would attend a group meditation about once a month and say "I would meditate at home, but I have cats." It was true, if I sat down for an extended period of time, they would get confused and check for signs of life. If I reclined for total relaxation, a kitty would recline on top of me and then hit me in the face repeatedly for attention. There's no such thing as closed doors in my house because my boy cat doesn't believe in closed doors, he does everything in his power to kick them open again.

On and on the excuses went. I even brought my concern to a Buddhist monk who visits my congregation. "Can you sit in a separate room?" No. "Well," he said, "then just be aware of what they are doing and let it go."

Huh. Not helpful.

I asked another teacher, "Oh yes," he chuckled. "I have companion animals at home, too."

Even less helpful.

Then someone in my sangha used a metaphor that people who meditate every once in a while aren't going to get anywhere. My ears perked up as he said if you put a potato in the oven a few minutes every month, you're still going to have a raw potato. If, however, you cook it every day and extend the time in the oven, you just might get some dinner. Even if you start at 5 minutes a day, consistency is the key.

That was all well and good, but as you know I have a very busy schedule and can't possibly fit one more thing in. And what about overnights? I can't meditate at a client's house. I would have to cut something else out, but what?

I spent the next 24 hours pondering where on earth I would find 5 minutes a day. It was the first thing in my head in the morning when I hit my snooze button. And then 6 minutes later as I hit my snooze button again. And then 6 minutes later ... Oh. I found 5 minutes.

I downloaded an app that started me off even gentler, with a three minute meditation, that I could take anywhere. Slowly it increased the time of my meditation practice as I decreased the frequency and duration of my snoozes. I am now up to 12 minutes of morning meditation and down to two 3 minute snoozes -- and this time, I'll keep it off!

And for my cats? Easing into meditation worked just as well for them. They know that while I sit down, they are supposed to eat breakfast. Sometimes I will get a soft nuzzle or good morning meow, which I can be aware of and let go. Other times, if I have been away on overnights, the meditation session doesn't go over too well and the insistent face hitters come back. That's fine, I simply stroke them mindfully for a few minutes of petting mediation. A treat for all!

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