Kat Tansey's inspiring, often amusing, story of her journey out of suicidal depression with the aid of cats is for anyone, spiritual cat lover or not.
Choosing to Be, Lesson in Living from a Feline Zen Master is told as a series of conversations or lessons between Kat Tansey and her Maine Coon cat, Poohbear. Poohbear is the Buddhist teacher of the title and it is his wisdom that guides and allows Kat to understand her depression and its underlying causes.
Those without spiritual beliefs or who are not cat lovers may be put off by the perceived style of the book. They should not be. The writing is lively and encouraging. There are lessons and insights to be gained whoever, or whatever, are put in the position of the teacher. Those who are cat lovers can take the conversations at face value; those who are not can treat it as device for self-help. Either way it works well and is an inspiring story.
Although based on Buddhist teachings the underlying ideas are very similar to many non-spiritual talking therapies. The book is broken up into three sections:
Ordinary Mind – How Everyday Thinking Gets in the Way
As we grow up we learn how to cope with the world as we find it. We adjust our behaviour to minimise the pressure and hurt from other people's attitudes and behaviour. Everyone carries such baggage with them and it conditions behaviour and in some case the strain of doing becomes overwhelming, and trigger depression or other mental health problems. The first section of Choosing to Be explores how meditation provided respite and allowed Kat Tansey to explore her Ordinary Mind.
The Hindrances – Thinking and Attitudes to be Overcome
Kat Tansey starts thinking and responding to feelings and emotions that are hindering her meditation. The Five Hindrances are from Buddhism but their nature will be familiar to those who have undertaken or practice talking therapies. They are described as:
- The Hindrance of Clinging – Clinging to the past especially. In Kat’s case this was to her mother who she had lost to Alzheimer ’s disease. Kat was also clinging to the driven and successful person she had been before she herself became ill.
- The Hindrance of Anger – Kat was subconsciously angry with the past which she could do nothing about so she was in a vicious circle of anger that could not be released. Ridding herself of the hindrance of anger enabled her to see other people’s behaviour in light of what caused them to behave as they did.
- The Hindrance of Sleepiness – Meditation often becomes sleep inducing. but to be effective requires a calm but alert mind; sleep limits further progress. For Kat falling sleep when meditating was for the three common reasons: to stop mind thinking about too-difficult things, lacking skill to maintain and alertness but calm mind and quite simply because of tiredness as she had restarted work..
- The Hindrance of Restlessness – For Kat Tansey the restlessness that was hindering her meditation washer Ordinary Mind telling her that she was “not good enough” and this carried over into doubt.
- The Hindrance of Doubt – Kat Tansey’s questioning whether she was a “good enough” was driven by high childhood expectations and reinforced by a successful career until ill-health and depression intervened.
Buddha Mind – Being rather than Doing
Choosing to Be shows how Buddha Mind Is about the true essence of the individual unencumbered by the attitudes and expectations. By finding the inner self, as in Kat’s case, through meditation then allows the mind to make sense of the causes of the depression and the behaviours that drive it. It is then possible to address such issues by learning new ways of being.
Throughout the book the unencumbered inner self, Buddha Mind, is exemplified by Catzenbear who is a Maine Coon kitten. As kittens and young children do, he just "Is" and simply enjoys being without doubt, uncertainty and expectation. As kittens and children grow up they learn and create an Ordinary Mind to replace the Budddha Mind. As adults we stop just "Being" and as Kat Tansey found need to relearn how to "Be", rather than just "Do".
Choosing to Be, a Book That Teaches and Inspires
This is a wonderful story about recovery from suicidal depression. It is told in an enjoyable and positive way and there is much that anyone suffering with depression can learn. The reviewer has found meditation a useful tool for coping and recovering from his own depression, Choosing to Be confirms his experience and provides further insights into self-help therapies for depression. Whatever the would-be reader’s views of cats or Buddhism this is a book that will both teach and inspire.
Choosing to Be, Lesson in Living from a Feline Zen Master (2010, ISBN: 978-1-84409-501-80) by Kat Tansey is published in paperback by Findhorn Press at $12.96 (£7.99).
First appeared on Suite101