Guest post by Elisabeth Gruskin, PhD
Thinking about developing a meditation practice or growing your existing one? Do you share your life with a pet or two? How do you fit everyone and everything into your busy life? You can do both at the same time with pet-centered meditation.
Pet-centered meditation (I call it Petitating) can enhance your health and your relationship with your cats and help you to develop a mindfulness meditation practice.
What is petitating, exactly?
Petitating saved my life. Prior to beginning to meditate, I was at death’s door on multiple occasions, with severe bipolar disorder. Fifteen years ago my healthcare providers recommended meditating. I thought it was hogwash until about five years ago, when I finally decided that my life was becoming unbearable and it was time to take my health in my own hands and do something about it.
But as I tried to meditate, my two dogs were always at the door, whining and crying and demanding my attention. I finally decided to let them in and pet them while I tried to meditate. I was amazed at how quickly they calmed down and how much easier it was to meditate while focusing on petting them or paying attention to them. “Petitation” was born!
I now try to petitate with my animals every day, and my life is so much better. As Marsha Linnehan, one of the best known clinicians and meditation teachers would say, “I have a life worth living.”
When we sit quietly with our pet and experience a moment of joy, comfort and peace, we are Petitating. Petitation practices include having your cat sit in your lap and petting her to help stay in the moment with her, focusing on gratitude about having your cat in your life and having that expand out to other beings in your life, sending loving kindness to your cat, and using mantras to help deal with a mischievous cat and avoid unnecessary reactive anger.
Here are tips that can help with this powerful practice:
In the beginning, pick a time when you and your cat are already somewhat relaxed. This will help build a successful Petitation practice. As you develop your practice, you will find yourself more and more relaxed. You will find yourself relaxed more and more often as you develop your practice. As you gain more experience, it will be easier to Petitate whenever it fits into your schedule.
Find a comfortable position for you and your cat—as long as you don’t fall asleep, I recommend being comfortable so meditating is pleasurable and you are more likely to do it.
Try to incorporate petitating as a daily habit. Although I can’t always do it, I find starting my day with a short Petitation or meditation and ending with a longer Petitation or meditation works well for me.
Start small, only a few minutes at a time. Petitating is just like working out in a gym. You will develop your Petitation muscles with practice.
Don’t force it. If you or your cat aren’t in the right space, try again later. Forcing it will only make you and your cat miserable. This doesn’t mean don’t try to stretch yourself a little, just don’t stretch yourself until you break.
Make sure that you prioritize petitating. You and your cat are worth it. Petitating can help with physical and emotional health and can help create a better bond with your cat.
If you or your cat are having a hard time, don’t let it get you frustrated or stressed. Petitating is often challenging even for people with lots of experience.
Incorporate different types of meditations to keep it fresh and build the meditation muscle in different parts of your brain and body. Petitate in the way that is most helpful at the time. Sometimes I am a bit grumpy and need a gratitude meditation with my cat, whereas other times I need to be more centered and my Equanimity Petitation is more helpful. It’s all about training your mind.
Finally, let it be fun—meditating/petitating isn’t meant to be a chore! When we Petitate, we get to improve our health, help our pets relax and form a deeper bond with us, and we no longer have to choose between paying attention to our pets and meditating.
Dr. Elisabeth Gruskin has a doctoral degree in Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley and has been a researcher for 20 years, most recently researching the role of service dogs for children with autism, veterans, and people with Multiple Sclerosis. She has been a pet lover and has had pets in her family all of her life, including three wonderful cats. The creator of Petitations, she is currently working on a book about Petitations. Her Petitations include many guided meditations that are centered on the relationship between pets and their families. You can visit her website at www.mindfulpetitations.org.