I’m not a cat person. There, I admitted it up front. Yet, these four cats made their way into my office space and they slowly grew on me. I fed them and gave them treats. They purred in my lap and came to greet me when I would arrive. They were playful and most of my clients loved them. So imagine my shock and anger when one bit me! Hard! One minute I am holding him and petting him while he purrs and the next, he bites me! I couldn’t believe it. “We were supposed to be friends,” I thought, and, to my horror, my next thought was, “Kick it!”
Yeah, kick it. I’m not proud of that thought — but I am proud of the fact that I didn’t actually kick the cat. It’s moments like these where I see the payoff of meditation — the payoff of the gap.
What’s the Gap?
The gap is the space between thoughts and feelings and action. I had the thought, “kick it!” and I felt the urge of this thought reflected in my body — the throbbing pain in my hand, the tight and heavy clenching in my chest and the sensation of adrenalin shooting down to my feet. I was able to observe the thought, feel the energy of it in my body and choose to stand there and breathe, even though I wanted to kick the cat.
How Does Meditation Help Create the Gap?
When we practice meditation, we practice being with ourselves and not doing anything. As we follow our breath in and out, we become aware of feelings, sensations in the body, and thoughts, and we watch them all fall away. Through this practice we become less identified with our thoughts, feelings and sensations as “who we are” and what “we have to do,” and see them as experiences that come and go. It also helps us to have a deeper understanding of ourselves as we go beneath the surface of our experience.
Why Did I Really Want to Kick the Cat?
It wasn’t because I was angry. Anger was the protective shield that arose to cover up the more vulnerable emotions underneath. I was hurt, physically and emotionally, and, for a split second, I was scared. My knee-jerk reaction was to protect myself from both my physical and emotional pain by discharging it. Kicking the cat would have felt good– that energy in my legs would have been released and I would have felt safe and in control– for about 3 seconds. Then I would have been left with my feelings of sadness and guilt, as well as shameful thoughts like, “Some animal lover you are!” and, “So you got bit. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?” Worse yet, I could have really hurt the cat.
What Did I Need?
I asked myself. My hand needed to be cared for- washed and soothed. And I needed some compassion. No one was around in the moment, so I gave it to myself. “You trusted the cat not to hurt you. You were offering it love. You were shocked.” I was even able to muster up a small amount of compassion for the cat. “He must have really wanted some space.”
Don’t Kick the Cat.
What I experienced with the cat is a common occurrence. Someone hurts us, and we lash out in anger to try and avoid our more vulnerable feelings, in particular fear and sadness. When anger arises, it is a great reminder to slow down, feel what’s happening in the body and get curious about what’s underneath the initial angry reaction. Slowing down in this way will enable us to offer compassion to ourselves and others- and keep us from kicking the cat.
Jacey Tramutt, MA LPC is passionate about unlearning self-aggression and learning how to cultivate compassion for herself and others in all situations. She has found the best teachers for this usually have four legs. For more information about her Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy practice in Golden, CO, visit her website at: http://www.cultivateconfidence.com
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