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Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master: Lesson 9: Watching the Water

by Poohbear Degoonacoon, the Feline Zen Master

by Kat Tansey


(The Hindrance of Sleepiness)

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.

Kat began encountering the hindrance of sleepiness when her head dropped to her chest as she slipped off her cushion. Because she was making progress in her sittings, she began experiencing moments of blissful quiet and no thought, but then she would find herself jumping with a start after she fell asleep.

After this happened a few times, she decided to seek my advice. While she boiled some water for her tea, she called my name and set out a few treats for me. After I finished my treats, I joined her at the table to wash my face and paws while she sipped her tea. This was often the way we began her lessons.

She explained that she seemed to be sleeping during her meditations lately, and said she remembered reading about the hindrance of sleepiness but could not recollect what she had read. She asked me what I knew about it.

I told her there were several causes for sleepiness in meditation. One is that there may be something she did not want to deal with and a good way of avoiding it was to fall asleep. Kat replied that this didn’t seem likely since she was getting pretty good at dealing with uncomfortable thoughts that came up in meditation.

I paused for a moment to think, and said that another reason might be more likely at this stage in her development. As she was becoming able to reach deeper states of concentration, she might have difficulty maintaining a calm state if she did not know how to remain alert.

Kat put down her cup to think about this. It was time for my nap so I took my leave, knowing that she would most likely bring up the topic at her meditation retreat that evening to explore it further with her human teacher. I often encouraged her to do this, as I knew it gave her comfort to learn that Jason and I were consistent in our views and teaching. I understood that she needed confirmation from her own kind.

Later that night, after Kat had finished her bath, she watched Catzenbear when he jumped into the tub as the water was draining out. He often did this, as he was quite fascinated by the little whirlpool the water made as it went down the drain.

She turned to me and said that at her retreat Jason had discussed the issue of maintaining concentration in calm states, stating that one must find something to focus on with complete attention. She smiled and said that Catzenbear was a great example of this.

I suggested she might emulate Catzenbear during her meditation when she found herself beginning to slip off. Of course, she wanted to think this was her idea, and said that she was already thinking that when she remarked about Catzenbear watching the water.

Now I must mention here that Kat was quite a challenging student, as she was very independent and often would grab a concept or idea and make it her own. At this stage in her development, her ego would often get in the way of her progress. At times, I found it necessary to remind her that I was the teacher, which I did at this point.

I elaborated on why it was important for me to do this. Kat would often dismiss the need for a teacher once she thought she had learned the lesson. I wanted her to understand that the practice of meditation is so rich and layered that I did not want her to think she understood it prematurely.

Unlike many of her previous successes, this practice was not something she could master by learning a few steps and then going on about her life. I was helping her open her mind far beyond what she could imagine. And since she could not imagine it, how could she decide for herself when she had reached the end?

Kat sat quietly, considering what I had said, and then admitted it was not easy for her to accept the guidance of a teacher. But, she was learning it was time to let go of this resistance, this need to be independent. I smile inwardly, knowing this would not be the last time we would have this discussion.

With regard to the hindrance of sleepiness, Kat did use Catzenbear’s whirlpool as an object to focus on the next time she felt sleepy in her meditation, and it worked very well. She came to thank me afterwards for suggesting she do this. I bowed graciously, as a wise teacher does when the student acknowledges the value of our teachings. Then I settled down for a nap, resting up for the appearance of the next hindrance.

Next Lesson: Catzenbear’s Tranquility – The Hindrance of Restlessness

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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