In my book, The Power of Meow, the Dalai Lama’s Cat begins with an embarrassing confession:
“Living with the Dalai Lama, surrounded by monks at Namgyal Monastery, and constantly encountering the most revered meditation masters in Tibetan Buddhism, one would assume that among my many admirable qualities I am an accomplished meditator.
Alas, dear reader, I am not!
I may be gorgeous beyond words, with my mesmerizing blue eyes, charcoal face, and sumptuous cream coat. I may be a global celebrity whose well-being is a subject of frequent inquiry by luminaries as diverse as the occupants of the Oval Office, Buckingham Palace, and the more rarefied enclaves of the Hollywood Hills.
But a natural meditator? If only!”
His Holiness’s Cat (HHC) is fully aware of the many life-enhancing benefits of meditating. She lives with one of its greatest living masters – indeed, she curls up right next to him each morning when he meditates. But when she tries to meditate herself, she discovers that she suffers from mental fleas. No sooner has she focused her attention on her breath than she is beset by a dozen irksome, scurrying thoughts, nipping at her mind and distracting her attention.
The revelation that our minds are completely out of control, and that we all suffer from mental fleas, is one of the most sobering discoveries we make when we begin to meditate. It’s also one of the main reasons so many people give up, believing that their hyper-active mind uniquely disqualifies them from the ability to meditate. But it is exactly because we’re so agitated that we stand to get so much from the practice of meditation – if only we would persist.
So what words of comfort and encouragement might HHC share with fellow sufferers of mental fleas? You’ll have to read the book for the full story, but here are four points to get you started.
- It is completely normal to have an agitated mind. So normal, in fact, that the first two of the nine stages of meditative concentration, a yardstick established for over 2,500 years, describes this as the typical experience of all beings when we begin meditating. What matters is not where you start, however, but where you end up. If you keep on meditating properly, your concentration must improve. There is no other alternative. In just the same way that training the body has observable, repeatable and measurable effects, so too the mind.
- Even though your concentration may be poor, simply showing up on the meditation cushion has profoundly positive effects on both body and mind. The growing weight of clinical research shows how our hormonal output shifts, our brain waves alter, our stress levels fall away and psychological markers are improved even when it feels like our mind is going all over the place. In fact, it’s not unusual to feel your concentration is deteriorating in the early days, not because it is, but because your awareness is becoming clearer. If so – well done and keep on going!
- Meditation practice is a bit like running a well-diversified farm. The trees in your orchard (meditative concentration) will take years to bear fruit. But your seasonal vegetables will bring more obvious, short term results. What are these metaphorical vegetables? You may find the things that used to drive you crazy, drive you less crazy. You may have some ‘aha’ experiences when insights about your personal or professional life suddenly bubble up in your consciousness. You may find yourself deriving more pleasure from simple, everyday experiences.
- Even if most of the time, most of your sessions are flea-ridden, if you keep on at it, one fine day you’ll have a moment’s peace when your mind is focused, the sense of division between observer and observed dissolves away and you catch a glimpse of what is possible. Congratulations, dear reader – you have just experienced The Power of Meow!
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