My mind Never. Shuts. Up. It’s not even that. Most of the time it’s got at least 5 or 6 things going on at once, usually including some song that it’s decided is a great soundtrack to whatever is happening at the time. Half the time it doesn’t know the whole tune or all the words so just repeats short phrases on a loop. When I wake up in the early hours (as I do frequently), there’s no slow rise to consciousness, the noise just suddenly starts up again.
Hey what about that thing at work?/I forgot to send that parcel/bloody hell how am I going to fix that?/ugh I have to go shopping/oh my god bills/better order gas/I should dietseepeoplewriteexercise/the world’s going to shit/I want to go to that thing////
Do I sound crazy? I feel it, sometimes.
Over the years many lovely and sensible people told me to try meditation but I only took it up late last year, in a desperate attempt to get my levels of stress and anxiety under control. Of course, it’s been a massive help: what I now know is that a stressed mind needs is quiet, so it can rest.
Meditation teaches you to rest your brain by focusing solely on the moment: to put aside all your worries and fears for a while and just be. As we understand the brain better, we are learning the damage that stress does to the brain and the protective and restorative benefits that meditation and mindfulness seem to offer.
I’ve learned that cats are great for mindfulness. It’s a year since we adopted (Betty) Rizzo from the RSPCA. She picked us. One handsome grey and white fellow refused to even come out of his cage. She leapt into our arms purring, and stole our hearts. They told us that she was surrendered because she was anti-social but we suspect the opposite is true; she’s small, but bossy. She talks to us constantly, with a rich ‘vocabulary’ of chirps and purrs and meows and squawks that rarely leave us in any doubt of what she wants. I could see how that could be annoying.
But giving my time over to her agenda is the perfect meditation. There’s nothing to think about: all I need to do is be with her while she cats. Pat her, play with her, follow her around the yard while she chases moths. Lie in the sun with her and rub her belly. On the weekends when I spend hours writing, she makes me take a break every half hour or so. If I ignore the plaintive meow at my feet she jumps on the desk and walks across the keyboard. Sometimes I rebel – I’m too busy for this! – but when I relent, I always feel better for it. It’s hard not to feel content when a bundle of fur is purring at you and rubbing against your hand.
I must have been 7 or 8 when I decided cats have life figured out. Apparently I can’t actually be a cat when I grow up, but having a cat around does help remind me to enjoy the small pleasures of life and to mark the small moments in a day. So if you need an excuse to get a cat, here it is. It’s great for your mental health!