Emotional Self Care: Lessons From Zen Cat
Cat people and Dog People
There are two types of people -cat people and dog people. I’m the former. My fondest childhood memories are with a lap of sprawling purring softness. My cat offered a safe haven from an inner swirl of youthful anxiety. He lived as a zen master model of inner peace.
Confident and Calm
Cats are paragons of emotional well being. Perfectly grounded in their own unique ‘catness’, they exude calm confidence. With supple poise they nonchalantly saunter through their day. Their super-chill inner peace is observable in their habit of endless napping.
Peace is the feline’s factory-setting. Anxiety is mine. Learning how to deconstruct anxiety and build inner repose has been a life long pursuit. Considering the example of these amazing creatures helped me see practical steps along the path to greater inner repose.
Zen master lessons
Here I offer a few lessons from these zen masters. Each lesson is paired with a reading recommendation and an inspiring quote.
1.) Practice ‘just being’
Being present in each moment is one of the things cats do best. They embody sublime chillness. They don’t get in a rush. They don’t wear out the carpet, franticly pacing, annoyed over some delay. They don’t fret or chew their claws worried over deadlines. They don’t glue their eyes to their phone afraid to miss the latest post..
Granted, they don’t have human demands and requirements. But just one glance at the feline life can be a reminder to at least pause, take a deep breath and recalibrate. Slow down a bit, sink into the moments of our lives rather than skimming their surface.
A fabulous read on this topic of learning to be present in the moment is the book by Eckhart Tolle,
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment: Tolle ...
– Robert Holden
“Beware of Destination Addiction: a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job or person. Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are.”
2.) Seek out sunshine
Cats instinctively know to seek out sunshine. Either sprawling across a window ledge, or a in glowing pool of light on the floor, cats understand the power in strategically lounging in the warmth of the sun’s vitamin rich rays. Although we humans do wisely limit our exposure, we would benefit from taking a cue from the cat’s playbook. Take a few minutes to sit by a sunny window. Take some deep breaths. Renew and replenish yourself in the warmth of light.
There’s two great articles on the benefits of sunlight on our psyche here in verywellmind.com and healthline.com.
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you will not see the shadows.”
3.) Stay Curious
Whether it’s a crinkly paper bag, a dangling sweater string, or a crawling lady bug, cats are always inquisitive. The saying, curiosity killed the cat says it all. And they have that curiosity in such abundance that they need ‘9 lives’ to explore it all! Cats see wonder in the world around them, even if it’s within the confines of a small apartment. They are always looking at objects in new ways. They probably wonder why we don’t!
Psychology Today has a great article on the emotional benefits of staying inquisitive.
“When you’re curious you find lots of interesting things to do.”
4.) Savor the Stretch
Stretching for a cat is a pure art form. From beginning to end, their stretch is sumptuously savored. And it’s a regular practice indulged in several times a day. I wonder if it’s one of the secrets to their subtle bodies. If cats could confer with their owners, stretching would surely be among their top talking points. Cats know regular stretching increases brain clarity, muscle resilience, and boosts energy levels. So, rise and go forth! Reach, bend and stretch!
This article from self.com has some really helpful tips on stretching.
11 Benefits of Stretching That Will Make You Want to Move ...
“Stretching your body and mind is essential to avoid rigidity.”
5.) Practice playfulness
We needn’t remind kids of how to do this. It’s natural when we’re young but as we get busier and life’s demands are thrust upon us, who has time to play? A cat would tell you that you can’t afford not to play! I love the message of artist/ speaker, Jason Kotecki, “Beware of ‘adultitis.’” He describes this ‘condition’ in compelling detail. “Adultitis’ is a common condition occurring in people between the ages of 21–121, marked by chronic dullness, mild depression, moderate to extremely high stress levels, a general fear of change, and, in some extreme cases, the inability to smile.’
For more of Kotecki's playful inspiration, check out Escape Adulthood. It’s a guaranteed mood booster!
Then, if you want further documentation on the value of play, here’s a great article in Psychology Today.
The Underrated Importance of Being Playful
-Arnold J. Toynbee
“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.”
6.) Touch, connect, cuddle
Cats know a secret. Cuddling leads to purring. And then life just seems to feel a whole lot better. Our days are packed. And understandably, passing pecks and pats can become the norm. But studies show there’s incredible restorative hormones released with intentional hugs and holdings. Try it! Make it a fun experiment. Become an intentional hug-giver and watch what happens. (Of course, showing respect to Covid 19 restrictions.)
And here’s some scientific backing to inspire your cuddles!
The Health Benefits of Cuddling - WebMD
“A hug is like a boomerang – you get it back right away.”
7.) Stay open and welcoming
In spite of a cartoon characterization of innate malice between cats and dogs, in reality they can be loyal B.F.F.’s. Countless homes can attest to heart warming tales of cats’ willingness to live in peaceful harmony. Cats don’t assume their differences from a dog to be too great to a bridge to cross. Many cats know the warmth found close beside their dog companions. What a great lesson for us. How much greater inner peace might we feel if we adopted the willing openness of the cat!
For some specific tips and tricks to cultivate more openness, check out this great article from verywellmind.com.
How to Make Yourself Appear More Approachable
-Henry David Thoreau
“It is never too late to give up your prejudices”
8.) Grow in gratitude
Cats exemplify contented gratitude. They are happy with what they have. They simply accept and welcome their surroundings enjoying whatever soft, warm places present themselves.
We have a factory setting that seems to tilt towards griping. Training our psyche to lean towards gratitude is a process. To inspire you, here’s a great article laying out the undeniable perks of thanksgiving.
The Neuroscience Behind Gratitude: How Does Cultivating Appreciation Affect the Brain
We all have a basic knowledge that we should be thankful. Thanks largely to the programing of our mothers, “Say thank you, dear.” But transforming lip service into a life practice is another matter entirely. This article from developgoodhabits.com is here to shed more understanding with practical how-to ideas..
50 Ways to Practice Gratitude Every Day
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”
9.) Show unconditional love
Cats love unconditionally. They make no demands and place no expectations (other than food and water, of course.) They are not put off by unbrushed teeth, a bad hair day, or old crummy clothes. Cats are simply present to share space with you.
Psychology Today offers some practical ideas to grow our unconditional love muscles.
“Unconditional love is the outer expression of inner peace.”
10.) Take Time for Naps
Cats are napping experts and they look so darn cute doing it! Science totally backs the cats. Indulging in midday shut-eye work wonders for alertness, mood improvement, memory, creativity, productivity. We would do well to follow the cats’ lead. Just lying down for 15 minutes calms our inner being while enhancing a peaceful state of mind. Our feline friends are zen masters. They model the way to let their surroundings swirl and buzz while they bask in a few moments of blissful stillness.
Afternoon Naps Can Boost Your Mental Agility
“No day is so bad it can’t be fixed by a nap.”
11.) Find joy in the ritual of daily bathing
The process of getting clean is serious delight to a cat. They savor every lick and stroke. Their washing can’t be hurried. We, on the other hand, rush and race mindlessly jumping into the shower. We do what we’ve gotta’ do, jump out and bolt on to the next thing. We forget to appreciatively notice the warmth of the water, the scent of the soap, or the sensuous softness of the lather. But there’s a beneficial emotional afterglow that comes from mindfully finding pleasure in this simple daily ritual. Try it. Breathe, feel experience it for the pleasure it is.
Psychology Today encourages this basic practice as a great way to start our day more mindfully.
“Scented soap, rich lather and warm water are life’s simple luxury.”
12.) Don’t Worry, be Happy!
Cats live out what they believe. If cats could speak, they would surely decry the wastefulness of worry. They hold certain truths to be self evident. There’s no benefit to worry. Life should be savored and restfully enjoyed. These codes of conduct give the cat their super powers.
Though happiness can feel like a the proverbial elusive butterfly, there are actual tried, true and practical things we can all do to boost our happiness quota. This article in The Business Insider is a collection of some of the best 'happiness' ideas from top therapists.
10 Ways to Calm Down and Feel Happier
“Happiness is a function of accepting what is.”
Cats always find the will to get up and try again. No matter how many times they stumble, trip and fall, They have an incredible resilient spirit, and probably know better than we do that just because a few mistakes have been made, it doesn’t mean you can’t keep trying. The cat’s motto is, “Persevere and you’ll find a way.”
We’ve all heard the maxim, “Don’t give up!” But did you know that the habit of persistent effort is a proven way to experience greater emotional wholeness? When we make choices to ‘keep going’ on our goals we have a more positive and optimistic outlook on life. Studies show evidence that we have less anxiety and depression.
Science Daily presents this encouraging idea.
Perseverance Towards Goals Can Help Fend Odd Anxiety and Depression.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
14.) Turn off drama
One thing a cat is never known for - drama. It’s simply not in their nature. They know how to ‘go with the flow.’ They know how to adapt to those around them and find calm within themselves instead of demanding those around them adapt to them.
Tinybuddha.com offers practical steps we can take to insure we have less drama and more chill in our lives.
“When you are not honoring the present moment by allowing it to be, you are creating drama.”
15.) Slow down
Cats move with beautiful elegant slowness. They meander. They saunter. Their movements are purposefully measured and judiciously allotted for each task. Whether it’s ascending to a higher perch, strolling to the food bowl or crouching to watch the bird in the tree, the cat moves its body in poised dignity.
The 10 Essential Rules for Slowing Down and Enjoying Life ...
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
16.) Find delight in being yourself
Cats don’t give a blessed rip about what you think of them. They have personality but no ego. They are at totally at ease in their own skin. In fact, cats are so comfortable with themselves, they expect you to love them just as they are - when they’re at their best and when they’re at their worst. On the rare occasion a cat becomes angry (say when his tale has been stepped on), he vents the momentary angst then releases it quickly without shame or resentment.
For some practical tips on ways to feel more comfortable in your own skin, I suggest more reading from the tinybuddah.
How to Feel Comfortable in Your Own Skin
Ernest Hemingway honored the emotional maturity of the cat in saying, “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”
So, here’s a big thank you to the cats of the world. Because of your awesomeness, we have a ‘pawerful’ line up of traits to fortify our emotional well being and increase inner peace..
Which ones spark your interest? I actually want to try assimilating all of them! I’ve posted them on my fridge as nudges.
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