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Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master - Lesson Seven

Letting Go of Tuna (The Hindrance of Clinging), 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 its chaotic and flea-like nature, 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. We looked at finding joy in your meditation practice in Lesson Four, and Walking Meditation in Lesson Five. Now we turn our attention to the Hindrances faced in meditation, and in life.

Clinging can be the most stubborn of hindrances; this was certainly true for Kat. In fact, clinging was so much a part of her life that she did not even recognize it, until one morning when she woke from a dream in which she was the energetic, successful businesswoman she had been before her illness took that life away from her. When she first awoke, she actually believed she was that person again.

It is quite commonplace for humans to have vivid dreams that transport one to a former time. This is not necessarily a problem. The problem occurs when one embellishes the dream after waking. Kat was very sad about losing the life she loved so much, so she decided to meditate, thinking this would help her become more present. However, her meditation was filled with thoughts and memories of what her life used to be like, and she was swept away by the hindrance of clinging.

After her meditation, Kat turned to me for help. She now saw that clinging was not just about wanting “things”; it was often driven by clinging to the past, to the person one used to be. She was not able to accept who she was now, because she could not let go of who she had been.

I reminded her of the incident that happened to me when I developed an allergy and lost some of my fur because I was eating only tuna. Kat had been concerned about my appearance, but I accepted it, simply taking care of my coat as best I could. It turned out that after she stopped giving me tuna, the fur grew back, but my point to her was that had it not, I would have accepted my scruffy coat and not longed for my prior state.

As would often happen, Kat got caught up in defending her position, pointing out that I would only eat tuna, turning down all other food, and that it was my own “clinging to tuna” that caused my condition. She often struggled with being a student, preferring to dispute my teachings by searching for the flaws in my logic or presentation. With my usual forbearance, I explained to her that my wanting tuna was not the lesson. The lesson was that when I wanted the tuna, she gave it to me. She fed my craving.

Kat stood up and put her hands on her hips, and I knew what was coming. She was often annoyed at what she called my cleverness at turning everything I did into a lesson. Some students are more resistant than others, and Kat’s intelligence often got in her way as her ego took hold and she felt compelled to point out the errors in my lessons, rather than quietly contemplating their meaning.

I asked her what had happened in her meditation that made it so difficult. She said that she was focused on the person she had been before her illness, thinking about the active life she had led, the exciting work she did, the travel, friends, and, yes, even the beautiful clothes she wore.

I sat quite still, allowing Kat to be fully in that prior world. Then I asked her if she could see that she was feeding her clinging, much as she had continued to feed me the tuna. She stood silently for a moment, and then slowly sat down as she allowed the meaning of my lesson to sink in. We sat together quietly for a while, and then Kat smiled at me and suggested we take a break for a little treat, one that would not include tuna for either of us.

Next Lesson: Lovingkindness –The Hindrance of Anger

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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