While visiting Tokyo in Japan, we decided to go to a cat cafe. This was an informal space of two or three rooms high up in a tower block with about 20 rescued cats of every colour and shape. The furniture was mainly cat-orientated such as squashy sofas, cardboard boxes, empty bookshelves, scratching posts and soft little cat blankets. The purpose was to allow customers to spend time admiring, playing with, and petting the cats. The visitors seemed to be either cat lovers or salary men (businessmen) who needed to unwind. We saw a serious-faced man in an immaculate suit sitting cross-legged on the floor, trailing a piece of string for a young cat to pounce on and another salary man sitting on a window seat gently stroking the purring cat on his knee.
The cat cafe was a perfect place to practice mindfulness, just being in the present experience and accepting whatever there is without judgement. I reflected that it would be wonderful to have a gentle pet cat that I could observe for mindfulness meditation. I thought fleetingly of my cat, but he is such a loudmouth, yowling and demanding all the time, that it would hardly be a peaceful experience.
The first thing I notice about my previous reflection, is that it leads nowhere. It is a self-justification for not being able to do the mindfulness practice. I can laugh at this, because it’s a game I sometimes play with myself; I can be very wise when I’m teaching and still fail to put my own words of wisdom into practice.
In my book, Transformation through Journal Writing, I write about the inner judge and the inner justifier. The inner judge is another name for the inner critic. It deliberately picks on all the things you didn’t do so well and blames you so that you feel bad about them. The inner justifier is similar to your ego. It puts you centre stage and can find excuses for any bad behaviour. It is good at arguing for your limitations and in my case, it almost succeeded in excusing me from mindfulness practice because I don’t have a suitable cat
But there are loads of different things that I could use for mindfulness practice that don’t include a cat! I could try spending the next five minutes mindfully cleaning my computer. I could take a soft cloth and slowly wipe over the machine, noticing the different colours and textures but without analysing. My hands know what to do, so I can simply watch them as they do this basic task, and keep myself in the present moment, where it is peaceful. When my mind wanders (which it does) I can gently bring it back again.
The question remains, why did I want to be excused from mindfulness practice? Because as an adult I expect to be busy and doing; it feels strange to just be. It is deliciously calming to be in a mindful state, just in the present – but it is not something that has been programmed into me since childhood. I don’t always remember to do it, and it can feel like a guilty pleasure. Cats never feel guilty about what they do; they just do what feels right in the moment. Their selfishness makes them mindful most of the time. Maybe my noisy cat can help with my mindfulness practice after all, just by example.