Meditating with Pets

As a pet owner, I know that animals have a habit of needing your attention at the precise moment you can’t give it to them. For me, that usually happens when I’m set to do my ten-minute mindfulness meditation before bed.

My cats, who were satisfied lounging around on my desk five minutes earlier, are then crawling all over me. It’s like they knew I was trying to achieve zen-bliss and wanted to remind me that I am still their worldly property.

Which got me thinking – is there a way to include them in my meditation practice?

James Jacobson, the author of How to Meditate With Your Dog, claims that dogs already do meditate. He isolates four keys to meditating with your pup: developing a regular time to meditate, incorporating rituals, letting go of expectations, and connecting with your dog. The first two elements speak for themselves; animals are creatures of habit and respond well to familiar stimuli.

Since a lot of contemporary discourse around meditation revolves around acceptance — of the silence, of the moment, and of the thoughts zipping through your mind — being comfortable with your pet’s version of meditation is an integral part of the process. When Sparky wants to get up and wander to the water bowl, treat the moment the way you would an errant thought shouting for your attention: relax, acknowledge, let it go.

The latter step, human-pet connection, has been integral to my experience meditating with pets. I don’t own a dog, and to call my felines needy would be to grossly underestimate their narcissistic tendencies.

For me, meditating with my cats starts with allowing them into my space (and onto me, with my body constituting a feline-throne). From there, a gentle, non-invasive petting, according to their preferences, creates a synchronicity of sound (their purring) and touch (the vibrations of the purring as they meet my hand). Tai Chi has been called meditation in motion, and petting the cats in a gentle, rhythmic way seems to relax both human and cat.

So what are the benefits?

In The New York Times article on meditating with cats, David Gelles cites Nicole Scanlan of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation:

“Cat people are different from dog people,” she says. “We must accept that felines are independent, and also cherish the moments when our cat curls up and starts to purr. Cats make it easy to be mindful.” And there’s evidence to suggest that cat-purring has benefits, creating sound waves that trigger healing the way ultrasound therapy does for humans.

But the most notable benefit for me — and my cats — seems to be a moment where civilization gives way to something calmer, less frenetic: a silent, peaceful connection with another living creature.