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Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master: Lesson 11

Poohbear’s Rapture (The Hindrance of Doubt) 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.

It always amuses me when humans are surprised by the hindrances they encounter in pursuing the practice of meditation. It is as though they believe that once they have made a decision to do something and begin to act on it, all obstacles should fall from their path. Of course, exactly the opposite is true. Obstacles appear when one is taking action, trying to achieve something outside their current realm of experience and understanding. This phenomenon is never truer than in the practice of meditation.

It is also interesting to me as I observe Kat that she is able to encounter a hindrance, learn how to work with it, and make substantial progress in her practice – and then once again she will expect everything to go smoothly. I have come to believe this a form of human amnesia.

As you know if you have been following Kat’s progress, she has learned to deal with the hindrances of clinging, anger, sleepiness, and restlessness. During this time, her health also improved to the point that she was ready to test her stamina by taking a part time job. This was a very big step for Kat after being away from work for almost four years.

Kat began her new job, and it only took a month or so before she started acting like her old driven self again. She had always been very involved in her work, and she had always found it hard to set limits. So it was no surprise to me when she skipped her meditation group one Tuesday evening because she had decided to work late in order to devise a new system that would improve the payroll process for her employer. Even though Kat was only a temp, it was not in her nature to just do the job she was given. She was always driven to improve the process, to make the operation more efficient.

That was Tuesday. Then on Sunday, Kat had to go to a family event, which caused her to miss her Sunday group retreat. This was not the first time she had missed a Sunday retreat, so although I was concerned, I decided not to remark on it at that time.

Then something happened that was, to me, a clear sign that a new hindrance was on the horizon. On Tuesday, Kat somehow forgot to take her change of clothes to work, so she decided she was tired and would skip her meditation group again. She came home and went straight to bed.

As these events were occurring, Kat became progressively more distant from me. She was preoccupied with being back in control, with running her own life the way she used to do before she got sick.

On Sunday, Kat decided to skip the retreat again and do a thorough house cleaning. I trust you see the pattern here. She was now completely back in her “doing” mode. Finally she exhausted herself and sat down to read one of her meditation books. I decided to hold my tongue and take a brief nap while she was reading. A short time later, Kat nudged me awake to tell me she had discovered the hindrance of Doubt and now saw that she might be getting lost in it.

Bravo, Kat, I thought. I did not have to tell her what was happening to her. She had figured it out on her own. She saw that when she returned to work, she had been drawn back into her old behavior, and slipped away from the support of her teacher and her group. Without this support, it was only natural that she had slipped off the path.

Now it was time for me to help her understand the hindrance of Doubt. I explained to her that it appears in two forms. First there is Doubt about the Buddha himself, whether his teachings are true, whether one’s teachers are interpreting the teachings properly. Kat had begun to distance herself, to discount the very teachings and teachers that had helped her get well and make such remarkable progress.

This distancing leads to the more damaging form of Doubt – doubting one’s own abilities and spiritual aptitude. It is indeed a slippery slope once Doubt sneaks into a meditator’s mind. First, the meditator cuts off their support group, and then, when they are alone and defenseless, self doubt creeps quietly into the crevices of their mind.

As Kat began to understand what had happened, she was very disappointed in herself. I assured her that her behavior was actually quite normal. I encouraged her to go to her group on Tuesday and ask Jason for his views on Doubt, knowing full well that his views would align perfectly with my own.

As I assumed would happen, once Kat was back with her group she was able to talk about her doubts and get the support she needed to dispel them. She came home that night with renewed belief in her path and her abilities, and was in fact quite playful, engaging me in some spirited word play about the importance of choosing to BE rather than DO. I responded with a smile and said that this was indeed the proper order, because if one cannot BE, one cannot DO.

The next day when Kat returned to work, she made it a point to slow down and observe her behavior rather than getting drawn into her Doing mode. And she actually asked for help rather than trying to the best, most perfect, at everything she did. This was a significant shift in Kat’s consciousness and behavior.

Later that night, Kat experienced a deep and profound sitting, filled with bliss and rapture, and ending with a warm golden light. One will often experience this sort of sitting after they have overcome the hindrance of Doubt, and I was very pleased that Kat was once again making progress. With a better understanding and more skillful means for dealing with the hindrances, she was now ready to leave ignorance and delusion behind her and begin her path to gaining the wisdom of Buddha mind.

Next Lesson: Gaining Wisdom

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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