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Choosing To Be: Lessons In Living From A Feline Zen Master - Lesson 12: Gaining Wisdom

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 your Ordinary Mind, and asked you to spend a few minutes each day observing its chaotic and flea-like nature. 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. In Lessons Six through Eleven, we examined the Hindrances in meditation and in life. Today, we learn how one gains wisdom...

Gaining wisdom in a meditation practice does not happen in a linear process, a fact that is sometimes difficult for human practitioners to grasp. Some of them may struggle for years until, one day, their mind finally opens. I find this little story from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, when told at the proper moment, is often helpful in creating that opening.

The story begins when an old frog who had lived all his life in a dank well is visited one day by a frog from the sea.

‘Where do you come from?’ asked the frog in the well.

‘From the great ocean,’ he replied.

‘How big is your ocean?’

‘It’s gigantic.’

‘You mean about a quarter of the size of my well here?’


‘Bigger? You mean half as big?’

‘No, even bigger.’

‘Is it . . . as big as this well?’

‘There’s no comparison.’

‘That’s impossible! I’ve got to see this for myself.’

They set off together. When the frog from the well saw the ocean, it was such a shock that his head just exploded into pieces. . .

As Kat’s teacher, I could see that she had broken the bonds of her ordinary mind, but as often occurs, she did not yet fully grasp this herself. She had become like the frog who lived in the ocean of Buddha mind, but I needed to help her see this. After I told her the frog story, I asked her to think about her year-long her journey as a meditator, and tell me what she noticed. The first thing she said it was that it was hard to believe how had much her life had changed.

“What exactly has changed?” I asked, knowing that this would create the opening for her.

She was stumped by the question. She sat quietly, thinking about what was different about her life now. And then her mind opened…

Nothing has changed,” she said. “Mom is still dying. Dad is still the same person he has always been. Michael and I are still struggling financially. I’m still dealing with mood swings and hot flashes. I’m not doing the work I used to love. I don’t have the energy level I used to have. No thing has changed.”

“So?” I asked.

“What has changed is that my head exploded into pieces,” she said laughing. “The difference is that now I see how I create my world with my stories about it, and I’m not believing my stories so much any more.”

I was very pleased at Kat’s new level of understanding. As we continued to speak about the wisdom that comes from a meditator’s journey, I asked Kat what she felt were some of the biggest lessons she had learned.

She replied that perhaps her biggest lesson was that she had learned to let go of her own expectations – to just be with what is. I smiled at this, and reminded her of how she used to fuss so about sittings that did not turn out the way she had planned. She remarked that it had been quite some time since she had done that. We both sat quietly for a moment, reflecting on her early practice and what a struggle it had been for her. Sometimes it is important to look at where you have been, to see how far you have come.

Perhaps most importantly, Kat went on to say, was that she was learning to trust her own inner wisdom. Because she spent time reflecting on her experiences, both in meditation and life, she could access a level of wisdom and understanding that had not been available to her before. Of course, she hastily added, she still understood the immeasurable value of my teachings.

As if to reinforce my continued value as her teacher, Kat brought up a problem she was facing now that she was back at work. As you will recall from Lesson Eleven, Kat struggled to hold on to her meditation practice once she was back in the busy work world. While she had been able to get to the bottom of this and put her meditation group and my teachings back in the forefront of her attention, she said she was still having difficulty maintaining her mindfulness during the work day.

I asked her if it was possible to set aside some time for meditation during the day. She said that when she had been an executive with her own office that wouldn’t have been a problem, but in this new temporary assignment she was out in an open office setting so there was no place she could go to meditate.

Already knowing the answer, I asked her if she drove to work. Aha, the light bulb went on, and Kat realized that she could go out to her car at lunchtime to meditate for a bit. I congratulated her on her cleverness, and also suggested that she might take a minute now and again to just take a few deep breaths. She decided to set her silent alarm to remind her to do this.

I was concerned that being mindful at work was still going to be a big hurdle for Kat, that she would need my continued encouragement. And then she turned to me, with tears in her eyes, and thanked me for taking her on this amazing journey. She said with great feeling that she was no longer a slave to her ordinary mind -- and now that she had experienced the taste of freedom, she was determined not to go back.

I smiled inwardly, touched by her words and her commitment to the practice. We had now been talking for quite a while, so I said it was time for my nap. I closed my eyes and felt the peace of knowing that our journey would continue, that Kat was firmly on the path to even greater wisdom.

This is the conclusion of the Twelve Lessons. If you wish to read more about Kat’s journey, you can purchase Choosing to Be in paperback or on Kindle at Amazon.com.

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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