“I have lived with several Zen masters — all of them cats.” — Eckhart Tolle
Cats can help you establish a consistent spiritual practice. As a Wiccan and a Reiki Master, my spiritual practices are varied, as is my experience with cats.
If you search Google for Zen Cats, you get about 1,670,000 results. But neither books nor Google taught me about the Zen of cats. It was Amber.
Put ten Reiki Masters into a room, and you will get stories of how their cats are drawn to the healing energy. Some will jump up on the table, waiting to receive Reiki, others hang out beneath, purring as the energy flows, and some will just stay in the space and watch.
Put ten Wiccans into a room and ask them about their cats. You will find almost all of them have stories of their “familiars” past and present. One cat (Mithra) would follow the priestess around as she created a sacred circle, completely quiet as she walked along, just apparently enjoying the flow of energy. She did this several times for over a year, until one day Mithra stopped and started meowing, scoldingly. The priestess realized then that she missed a step.
How did the cat become such an adept? Cats are indeed Zen masters. They are completely present, observing, holding space. So the cat who comes to a ritual is completely present in the moment, supporting. Some cats also love routine, and any repeated ritual act is a routine, and if you break your routine, they will know it.
This brings me to Amber. She was an orange tabby who shared her home with me and my wife Thraicie. As two people who viewed spirituality as a primary tool of life, we decided to establish a practice of evening meditation. So we set aside a space to sit, complete with candles and incense and a statue of Buddha I had gotten several years before, and we decided to shut the door, so we could focus.
We started with short 5-10 minute meditations. But shutting the cat out of the room did not go over well. Amber made her displeasure known immediately and constantly, scratching on the outside of the door and meowing until we let her join us. Then, like a Zen master, she tested our resolve.
As I would try to focus on my breathing and posture, Amber would bump my hand, or rub on my knee, or paw on my side, demanding attention. Although annoyed, I decided this distraction was better than disruptive noise, so we didn’t lock her out again. We kept working at our meditation practice, night after night. We sat together — me, Thraicie and Amber — only knowing a reprieve from the kitty attention when she switched between us. And somehow, we were able to lengthen our meditation sessions to 15-20 minutes.
After a couple of weeks of consistent practice, Amber must have decided we had passed the first level of training, or reached a level of stillness she recognized, because the bumping and nudging and pawing stopped. As I sat on my cushion, legs crossed, she climbed up onto my lap and sat with me. And our meditation sessions lengthened to 30 minutes or more.
Amber taught me to accept the present moment and let go of thoughts and judgment and frustration and just breathe and make space. When I could do that, she shared that space and became a partner in practice. She no longer complained when we went to sit and meditate, but rather, when we didn’t.
Even when she was being “bothersome,” it turns out Amber was teaching me not to let my mind run away with this thought or the other, but to focus. I did not focus on my breath, as I intended, but on her, and then, to not focus and just allow her to be herself without frustration or judgment, opening to the present moment, even when it unfolds in a way I didn’t plan.