Why thoughts are like cats

Thoughts are a lot like feral cats. If you get into the habit of feeding them, you'll find more and more at your door every day. Soon you won't be able to hear yourself think because of all the meowing. They'll be there all day and all night, howling for more food. You might think that by feeding all of them they'll go away, so you leave a can of tuna outside your door. Some of them do stop meowing and for a moment it seems like the problem has been solved, but the next day there are twice as many.

Now there are dozens of cats meowing for food. It all becomes too much and you decide something has to be done. Maybe you can try to scare them away. You run outside with a broom and shout at them. This also works for a few moments, but soon enough they're back at your door meowing for food. When you go back inside you notice that some of them managed to slip inside and eat the food in your cupboard (cats can be very crafty). So you lock your cupboards, make sure the back door is closed and stop feeding the cats completely. But they still wait outside meowing, because they know what you're hiding, and that if enough of them meow you'll eventually crack.

Now the pressure really mounts, because you've stopped feeding them and they're still outside trying to get in. You don't want to feed them the food, because they'll just come back for more. What to do?

The only option then is to eat the food yourself, open the door and allow the cats to see there's nothing there. Now they see that they have no food, and no hope of being fed. One by one they start to leave. A few of them pee on your floor to signal their disapproval, but you can always clean that up. And once you have, you'll have peace and tranquility within. 

We feed our thoughts (cats) by reacting to them. When we react we fall into a cycle of automatic reactions, judgments and habits and the cycle grows. Even if you stop reacting to new thoughts, if you have hidden away inside you some idea, judgement, fear or desire that you don't want to think about, the thoughts will continuously bombard you until you open up. The solution is to integrate everything, to bring in all parts of yourself into one whole. This is done first by letting go to the way things are, then drawing everything into yourself, accepting every part of yourself completely. This requires a full and unflinching awareness of your thoughts, your feelings, your hopes and dreams and desires and fears. When you accept all of these at once, amazing things begin to happen.  

Bear in mind that some thoughts have been fed for a very long time and grown large - these thoughts have metamorphosed from a cat to a ravenous tiger. As you meditate and become more mindful, you may come across these more entrenched thoughts (or rather thought patterns) and decide they no longer serve you. You no longer want to spend the time and energy feeding them that you did before you were aware what a burden it was.

It isn't easy to stop feeding a ravenous tiger. It will snarl and growl and even threaten to kill you. This is just the desperation of a cornered animal, and the only thing you need to do is to focus all of your attention on it, not reacting to it, not giving way to fear or doubt. The more you commit to this, the smaller the tiger will become until eventually it dies.

If you want to learn how to stop feeding the cats, come along and learn mindfulness meditation at our Weekend Intensive at the end of March in Finsbury Park. There won't be any cats, but there will be food ;-)




They're even in the trees...