Cat therapy: the path to mastering mindfulness
2019 was the year I learned that I was a crazy cat lady.
Truth be told, the warning signs had been there for some time. Extensive cooing at random cats I encountered on the street. Concerningly high consumption of cat-related videos on YouTube.
And when our lovely neighbours moved out of town with my favourite puss in tow, I knew that my broken heart could only be pieced back together with a furry family member of my own.
So, like any self-respecting, commitment-fearing Gen Y, I set out in search of a foster kitty. And very soon I reached the realisation that cat contact is an incredibly quick-fix way to achieve mindful happiness.
Lesson 1: Mindful cat magic
Mindfulness has become a bit of a trendy buzzword in recent years. And for good reason. The evidence for the mental health benefits of being ‘in the moment’ are really starting to stack up.
It makes sense, right? Anxieties almost never relate to threats that are actually present; they’re pretty much always about stuff that (might) happen in the future, or (already) happened in the past. Generally, aside from those rare occasions when we’re being chased by a hungry grizzly bear, the present itself tends to be reasonably innocuous.
And cats, I have learned, are like tiny furry Buddhas. They’re goddamn experts at being in the moment.
If they’re annoyed, it’s because you patted them wrong. Not because you might have patted them wrong yesterday. If they’re warm, loved and well-fed, they’re not worrying about whether they’ll still be warm/loved/well-fed tomorrow. Nope — they’re going to acknowledge how good things are right now, and purr like a high voltage electric toothbrush to prove it.
Perhaps more importantly, they’re pretty damn good at forcing us to be mindful as well. Because there’s nothing in this world more mindful than stroking a purring ball of fur.
Seriously. I challenge you to hold onto the stress from a work day while you pat a snuggly cat. No actually, don’t bother. I can tell you from personal experience — it’s pretty much impossible.
Lesson 2: Breaking habits (cat rehab)
Recently I became aware of my mobile phone addiction.
My eyes would constantly flick to it on the table in front of me. I found myself checking it in every TV ad break. If I left the house without it, I quickly began to feel fairly anxious.
From the stats I’ve read, it seems I’m not alone. Apparently the average smart phone user checks their phone every 6 minutes, or 150 times a day. It’s actually nuts.
Enter cat rehab.
Cats are basically our masters the guardians of our freedom. When a cat decides to plonk down on a lap, it’s pretty much game over until said cat deems it convenient to reinstate mobility.
(Heck, for the past 10 minutes I’ve only been typing with one hand because my furry friend made the executive decision to hold the other one temporarily hostage).
Now this is bad news for anyone with bladder control issues, but great news for those of us trying to break addictive habits.
Assuming that my phone/laptop is out of reach when I find myself seated beneath a cat, there’s no way to feed my insatiable social media FOMO. None.
In fact, there’s really nothing to do but pat, feel the purr, and lose myself in thought.
Now that may not sound revolutionary, but in an age where we have trouble sitting on the toilet for 3 minutes without scrolling through Facebook, I assure you that uninterrupted thinking time is as scarce as it is valuable.
I know for a fact that introspection has a super-charging effect on my attention span and fires up my (otherwise dormant) creativity.
After all, Archimedes was having a nice, peaceful bath when he realised the relationship between volume and buoyancy. And I’m guessing Sir Isaac Newton wasn’t scrolling through his Instagram under that apple tree when he hit upon the laws of gravity.
When I fostered my first cat, I joked that my productivity had nose-dived, with my time fully devoted to my new role as human cat cushion.
And it took me a few months, but I now realise the power of being without doing. Of thinking without reading. Of patting without scrolling.
And cat — for that — I owe you.