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Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master. Lesson Four: Finding Joy

by Poohbear Degoonacoon, the Feline Zen Master

by Kat Tansey


Twenty years ago, our heroine, Kat Tansey, was a successful business consultant. Everything she ever wanted was coming true – fulfilling work, success, recognition, love – “the works” as you humans like to say. Then Kat was struck down by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and had to spend years on her couch, learning how to get well. I arrived in her life and on her couch at that point.

In Lesson One, I introduced you to the concept of your Ordinary Mind, and asked you to spend a few minutes each day observing the chaotic and flea-like nature of your mind, as this often provides excellent motivation for learning to meditate. In Lesson Two we discussed the importance of building your support team and finding a teacher, and in Lesson Three we covered the basics of learning how to sit. Today I will talk about the importance of Joy in a meditation practice.

I began teaching Kat about the importance of joy when she experienced what I believe you humans refer to as a “meltdown.” She had been making significant progress. After finding her human meditation teacher, she had established her daily meditation practice, and she was also sitting with her meditation group every Tuesday. So when she began experiencing bouts of crying for what seemed like no reason, often several times a day, she was confused.

She came to me about this, saying that she didn’t understand why she was crying so much when she thought she was getting better. I replied that this was exactly the reason – she was getting better. She was waking up and emerging from the numbness of depression.

You see, when one is depressed or down, it is as if you are smothering the flame of your spirit. This prevents you from fully experiencing what you may perceive is too painful to endure. Unfortunately, it also prevents you from experiencing joy.

As Kat began to open up to life as it is, the feelings she had been pushing down began to emerge in her sittings. A wide spectrum of emotions was contributing to her tears –longing, grief, anger, envy, remorse, fear, guilt – all those feelings she felt she could not bear. This is, as the Buddha, taught, the condition of being human. Life is suffering.

However, the answer is not to try to avoid the suffering, or to push it away. This only increases suffering, causing, in Kat’s case, deep depression and the wish to extinguish her life.

Unfortunately, Kat was seeing only the down side of opening up to all these feelings – her crying, her embarrassment, her shame at losing control and not “being happy.” I explained that all these feelings are normal, that she just needed to allow herself time in solitude to let them pass, like storm clouds passing through the sky.

As we were discussing this, her kitten Catzenbear bounced into the room to provide the rest of the lesson. He tried repeatedly to jump up on the couch, tumbling back each time, only to try again, and again. Kat laughed at how determined he was and picked him up. She put him on her lap, but he immediately jumped off and ran over to bat playfully at me. I hissed at him to indicate that I could not play with him at the moment, whereupon he curled up next to me and went to sleep.

When Kat remarked about what a little clown Catz was, I asked her a question to help open her mind. I asked her if his antics had shifted her mood. Did she feel a difference?

She understood immediately. She saw that her crying jags were a signal that she was opening up. As she allowed those ugly unwanted emotions into her consciousness, she felt more alive. When Catzenbear did something amusing, she was able to be in the present moment and feel the joy his antics produced in her.

You see, and this is one of my most important lessons, just because you experience great pain it does not mean you have to suffer. These feelings will pass, as does everything. This is what is meant by impermanence. Then, when something else arises that feels joyful, you are there to experience that also.

Now, let me take this a step further, because I want to make certain that you do not confuse joy with “happiness.” This is not what I mean by joy. Did Kat feel “happy” at the moment she was feeling joy while watching Catzenbear? Not necessarily. She was not ecstatic or so happy it wiped out all memory of her sadness. But she was open, she was present, and this allowed her to experience joy.

Think of joy as more like curiosity, or a state of wonder. You see, Catzenbear is like a human baby, experiencing life in a state of wonder, completely absorbed in doing what is before him, whether it is taking a step as a human infant, or jumping up on a high surface as a kitten. They are both completely absorbed. They are curious about everything in life. Even the “disasters” – the falls, the bumped heads.

What I want is for you to regain the capacity you had as an infant to feel curiosity about everything in your life. This is joy. Genuine joy is being with this moment just as it is. And being with the next moment. And the next. If you can learn to be with your experience even when it hurts, you will be able to experience joy. As your curiosity and wonder at everything you encounter expands, so will your joy.

Next Lesson: Walking on Our Toes

Choosing to Be is a deceptively simple story that delivers a powerful message for all who are better at “doing” than “being.” Drawn from the deeply personal reflections of a formerly depressed person, this lively, magical, and enlightening book revolves around a wise Maine Coon cat, his kitten muse, and the author Kat Tansey. They take the reader on a challenging and often amusing journey as Kat moves through the disorienting haze of depression to the freedom and clarity of her Buddha mind. Kat Tansey is an award-winning author and innovative educator who believes in the power of a well-told tale to teach while it entertains. After twenty years in a high-pressure career, her active life was derailed by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Her journey to regain her physical, emotional, and spiritual health was the genesis for Choosing to Be. www.choosingtobe.com

Kat Tansey

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