Mindfulness and Cats
by Gordon Hulbert
originally written for catbehaviourist.com
The more cynical of you out there could be forgiven for thinking that my title is a calculated way of attracting maximum attention on social media. The combination of these two IMMENSE buzz-words must surely be the ultimate in gaining Twitter followers, Facebook likes and whatnot. Add a cute picture and I’m going to clean up, right?
Seriously though, practising mindfulness in our human-cat interactions is not only beneficial for our cats, it can also enhance our personal experience with these furry companions. I searched for a definition under ‘mindfulness’ and the KMC London website
came up with a very good one. Although they’re talking about meditation, it can just as easily relate to the subject we’re discussing here: “The function of mindfulness is to prevent the mind from being distracted – from wandering away from the object it is holding”. In other words, to use a more old-fashioned phrase, we should PAY ATTENTION!
It’s no secret that we’re now a society addicted to screens – TVs, smart phones, laptops, tablets etc. Many times I’ve seen someone waving a hunting toy somewhere off to the side whilst checking friends’ posts on Facebook or whatever, they look around and find that the cat has walked off. Well I’m not surprised!
My own cats look straight into my eyes when an interaction is in the offing and they decide, according to my level of attention, whether they’re going to participate or not. If I’m absorbed with a movie or a programme on TV, or working on my laptop, odds are they won’t. Even when a cat is very happy being petted, if someone phones me and I start talking, the cat will very often get up and walk off. It knows that despite the stroking, it hasn’t got my full attention and so it behaves as if our interaction is over, whereas I might think that I’m ‘multitasking’ by splitting my attention between the caller and the cat.
To be fair, when my cats come to me, they are fully present. Their purrs tell me that our interaction is at the centre of this moment and rubbing their heads on my hands/face has an intensity that would be completely lost if they had smart phones to keep tabs on. Rolling over for a belly rub, they certainly aren’t preoccupied with the latest crisis on TV or some cheesy throwaway entertainment. THIS is the entertainment and it’s as good as it gets. Nothing from their POV dilutes the moments my cats give me, except the possibility of a treat maybe, so why shouldn’t I give them the same courtesy?
It has become very clear to me that these moments are sacrosanct and I give myself entirely to them. During the whole interaction my cats will constantly look deeply & meaningfully into my eyes to check if I’m still giving them my complete undivided attention. I store the memories of these moments and have no other agenda or thoughts present. They are, to all intents and purposes, meditations.
OK, so maybe cats don’t know exactly what ‘mindfulness’ is, but they instinctively recognise that mental state and are ‘present in the moment’ as Eckhart Tolle would say. He calls house pets (especially cats & dogs) “guardians of being” – because their interactions with us aren’t accompanied by thought processes (judgements, random mental noise etc), but are based on ‘pure being’. This is why he thinks that we enjoy their company so much – because they have the ability to lift us out of our thought processes. I can definitely relate to what he’s saying, as I forget all my worries and other mental gymnastics when completely focused on the beautiful creatures I share these quiet moments with. I’m definitely more relaxed and peaceful too!
Now then, what if we transferred this philosophy to humans???
This article was written by Gordon Hulbert, husband of our regular feline behaviour consultant Anita Kelsey. Anita runs the only accredited feline behaviour consultancy in London and is an expert on all things feline. She also grooms around London and deals with the most challenging cases. Gordon is a musician but loves cats!
Anita can be reached at http://www.catbehaviourist.com or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org