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

Lovingkindness (The Hindrance of Anger) 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.

Anger is a powerful hindrance for meditators, as Kat learned shortly after her return from her first 3-day Meditation Retreat. I could see she was pleased with her progress during the three days. I was very happy for her, but soon after she got back, she had an unfortunate conversation with her father which sent her into what I can only call a frenzy. She threw down the telephone and began stomping around the loft looking for something else to throw. Catzenbear and I wisely withdrew to give her plenty of space to vent her anger.

She calmed down after a while and decided to meditate, but after a short and agitated sitting, Kat threw her cushion on the couch and turned to me in frustration. She did not know what to do with all this anger that was coming up.

First, I told her that feeling this anger was actually a good sign. She was moving out of her withdrawn, depressive state toward a more active state. Needless to say, she didn’t find any comfort in this. She was upset with herself for being so angry.

When cats get angry, often a loud hiss or a swift bat of the paw is all it takes to set the situation right. But humans are much more complex. They fret over their anger, allowing themselves to get into quite a state over it, and then they add guilt to the mix, prolonging the agony of the anger.

I suggested to Kat that she might show some compassion for herself, that she was doing the best she could. I asked her to sit with me and pay attention to her breath and the stillness of her hands. She was able to do this for a while, but then she was swept up in the memories and scenes that were fueling her anger.

When our sitting ended, Kat was even angrier that she could not find a way out of her anger. You see how complicated humans are. Imagine a cat being angry that they are angry. This would make no sense at all to us.

The problem was that during the meditation Kat had allowed herself to participate in the scene that was feeding her anger. I asked her where she was in this very moment. She looked around and realized that she was still back in that scene. It took her several minutes to calm herself and become fully present.

Once she was present, I suggested another approach for her to try in her meditation. When the anger arose, instead of focusing on the scene, she was to focus on where in her body she felt this anger. Then she could focus on what the anger itself looked like. Not the scene, but the anger as a object. Was it big or little, round or angular, soft or hard? What color was it?

The purpose of this instruction was to help Kat pull out of participating in the very real (to her) re-enactment of the scene and allow her to move into an observer mode. This is a very important step in letting go of the anger.

Once Kat was able to become an observer, then she could begin to examine the feelings that were fueling the anger. When humans look beneath their anger, they often find hurt, shame, or humiliation. These feelings must be let into the light. When they are observed and released, the anger no longer exists.

I knew Kat still had a bit of a journey ahead of her with this difficult hindrance, but I was confident she would be successful. And then, of course, we would be on to the next hindrance.

Next Lesson: Watching the Water – The Hindrance of Sleepiness

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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