Friday, August 13, 2010

Meow Mind

Buddhists call it the “monkey mind” or the “mind monkey.” It describes the restless nature of our thoughts. I don’t know much about monkeys, but I know something about cats. I have had a cat as a pet for almost my entire life.

I have heard some people speak about cats in glowing spiritual terms, as if they were natural born sages embodying spiritual virtue. One guy calls it “the power of meow.” Cute.

Well, he has not met my cat. I love my cat, but he can be a pest. Like when I need to cut his claws, or put him in his animal carrier. He is especially a pest when we are trying to sleep at night.

We do not have central air in our home. That means that these dog days of summer can be very uncomfortable. But we have a window air conditioner in our bedroom, so that we can at least get a good night’s sleep. That means our bedroom door must remain closed.

Our cat cannot decide whether he would rather sleep in the coolness with us or be free to roam the rest of our hot home. In and out, in and out, all night long. It is the closed door he hates. Whenever he sees a door, he wants to go through it. He meows and scratches relentlessly until it is opened. Once he is inside, he wants out again.

It is not just this cat. We once had a cat named Arminius (his name is another story) who accidentally shut himself in our basement bathroom. He succeeded in ripping up my newly laid vinyl flooring in his attempt to get out. Robert Frost penned, “Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That wants it down!" If he had owned a cat he would have written a poem about doors.

My mind is like my cat … but not in a good way. When I go into my prayer room, close the door and kneel to pray, my mind wants out. Something there is that doesn’t love prayer, that wants out!

What is it about the silence of prayer that raises my restless animal nature? The apostle Paul calls it the flesh, often mistakenly identified with the body. It is not the body that is the enemy. That is why some biblical translators refer to it more accurately as the “sin nature.” Paul elsewhere refers to it as “the old man.” It is our unredeemed nature.

It feels deeply instinctive, as if it were originating in the reptilian core of my brain. It is definitely bestial and primal. It is in rebellion against God and his salvation. It is not the true me, at least not my best me. My true nature is the one who watches the cat nature in me and is annoyed at its restlessness.

Once my cat was literally closed in my prayer room. He had been sleeping under the guest bed and emerged from hiding shortly after I was engrossed in prayer. He started scratching at the door wanting out. When I ignored him, he came up to me, put his paws on my chest and nose in my face to let me know he needed attention. Just like my inner cat mind. I found that if I just patted him a little and spoke gently to him, he would curl up at my feet and let me pray. It works for the cat mind too.

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