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Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master. Lesson 10

Catzenbear’s Tranquility (The Hindrance of Restlessness) by Poohbear Degoonacoon, 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.

It has been my observation that the hindrance of restlessness often appears in one’s meditation practice when they are running away from something, often without knowing it. This was the case when Kat encountered this sly and cunning hindrance.

It began, as it often does, when Kat began feeling a sense of anxiety during her sittings that compelled her to end the sitting rather abruptly, without even realizing she had made the decision to do so. She searched me out in the garden one morning, interrupting my bird watching activity, to ask me about this new development.

I told Kat that often this hindrance appears when one is worried about something. Kat listed her usual worries and said that she was aware of these and knew how to let them go during meditation, so she didn’t feel this was the cause of this new development in her sittings.

I paused to consider this, and then suggested that it might be something more, something she had not allowed herself to see before. This happens when there is a fight going on inside the meditator’s mind as to whether or not she wants to see what it is, or keep it buried. This is the restlessness. I suggested Kat bring this up at her meditation retreat the next day to learn what Jason might suggest she do.

As I imagined would happen, Jason reminded Kat that she might connect with the still points in her body, such as the touch of her hands in her lap, to ground her when she felt this restlessness coming on. She realized she had forgotten this simple tool, and decided to do this the next time it happened.

The next day Kat began the temporary job she had taken to see if she would have the stamina to return to work full-time. Her first day was demanding, both physically and emotionally, so she went right to bed when she came home, too tired to eat or talk or meditate.

During her meditation the next day, Kat was able to use the still points to calm her anxiety and restlessness for a while. She observed that she was holding her breath, and after taking some deep, long breaths, she relaxed a bit. But the anxiety came up again and again she wanted to abruptly end her sitting.

Her thoughts shifted to the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, being assaulted by the demons of Mara, the hindrances in the guise of demons, floods, screams, hurricanes, and darkness. Kat thought to herself that if the Buddha could sit through that, then surely she could stay on her cushion through this anxiety.

She remembered that when Mara screamed at the Buddha to get up from his seat, the Buddha touched the ground, and a great roar burst forth from the earth saying that the seat belonged to him, not to Mara. Then Mara and all his forces fled, and the Buddha continued to sit and reach enlightenment.

So Kat touched the wood floor with her fingertips and resolved to remain on her cushion. And then an image came to her of Catzenbear sleeping in what we laughingly referred to as his tranquility bowl, a large blue bowl on the kitchen counter. That image calmed her, and she was able to continue her sitting.

Afterward, Kat told me she was able to deal with the anxiety in her sitting, but she still felt it lurking around her. I asked her one simple question. “This anxiety that is frightening you so, what is its name?”

After I repeated the question several times, Kat was finally able to speak her anxiety out loud. She said, quietly at first, and then again with great strength in her voice, “I’m not good enough.”

At last, the terrible, shameful fear was named. As I suspected, Kat’s anxiety was prompted by Kat’s return to work, not in the exalted, important position she held before her illness, but in a simple temp job – a job which did not help keep the fear of her not being good enough at bay. And Mara had unleashed all his forces at Kat to drive her away from naming this deep, debilitating fear.

I was very proud of Kat. Encountering this level of restlessness often drives students away from their meditation practice, as they do not know that once they uncover and name their fears, that once those fears see the light of day, their power will cease.

Kat had remained on her cushion, just like the Buddha, while Catzenbear slept blissfully in his tranquility bowl, providing her with a powerful image for her battle with Mara.

Next Lesson: Poohbear’s Rapture – The Hindrance of Doubt

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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