Updated: Feb 23
Pre mindfulness, what annoyed and upset my family the most, was my dislike of animals – cats, in particular. I know that a lot of people don’t like cats, they are arrogant little pests and seem to convey a level of superiority over every human they encounter. But I was more arrogant than them, and selfish, and I took it too far. I wouldn’t even let the family cat, ‘Ickle’, be in the same room as me. I hissed at any cat that I came across and would have happily culled the entire population of them if it wasn’t frowned upon and illegal. When it came to dogs, I was okay with them until they either stared at me for more than a couple of seconds, barked, or made stupid sounds. My fuse was pretty short. I just couldn’t tolerate the personification of animals, yet I was guilty of the same ‘crime’ by thinking about their presence and mannerisms in the same way as I thought about humans, attributing their actions with motivation and malice.
My youngest sister, is a massive animal lover and her reaction to my innate hatred of cats was totally justified. She never laughed at my hissing and taunting and would chastise me for treating animals with such disdain. I used to have personal battles with Tilly, my parents’ dog. She would unrelentingly stare at me for what seemed like hours, winding me up no end. In retaliation I would stare back at her, approach her and then lurch forward, making her run out of the room and avoid me for the next few minutes, before doing it again. She knew when I was especially frustrated with her and would move away from me when I was in the same room, even if there were other people present.
I knew it wasn’t normal to behave like this, so I made sure that my parents never witnessed it when I was living at their house. On one occasion, however, when I walked across the kitchen to the oven, Tilly ran away from me when I approached where she was resting, which prompted my father to question why she reacted in such a terrified way. I did not acknowledge the incident and carried on cooking but my father could see what had just happened and told me that if he ever saw me mistreating her again, I would be out of the house.
In the early stages of my practise, I didn’t know what to expect and I was merely meditating to calm my agitated mind. I was doing it every day and very slowly I started to see myself in a different light. I think the first time I recognized a change in my mindset was when Ickle was reaching the end of his life.
When I walked into my parents’ kitchen and expected to see him scurry away, he merely lay on the floor, next to the range and looked at me pitifully, visibly shaking. For the very first time ever, I not only felt remorse for the way I had treated him for most of his life, I also felt compassion. Only when he was a kitten had I tenderly touched him but in this moment of benevolence, I sat down beside him and stroked his entire body. Never before had I heard a cat purr so loudly and it was in that moment that I suddenly realized the misguided path that I had been following for so long.
Having had a thunderbolt of compassion run through my veins, my attitude towards animals changed in an instant. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt when Ickle died but I at least reached sanctuary in the knowledge that I had helped him see his final days out with a bit of dignity – and he had helped me to regain some, too.
By this stage I had ceased partaking in staring competitions with Tilly and we were building our relationship. A few months later, my father and I took Tilly out on a country shoot, where they were using a tractor and trailer to transport us around. Tilly was kept on a lead to ensure she didn’t jump off the trailer, but unfortunately there was too much slack in the lead and she jumped off when she spied a deer. Hurtling through the air, the slack in the lead quickly reached its limit, pulling Tilly to the ground and then, much to everyone’s horror, under the wheels.
There were 12 of us on the trailer and the face of every person turned a ghostly white as we all felt it run over Tilly’s head with both sets of wheels. Shouts of ‘STOP’ promptly brought us to a standstill, at which point Tilly shrieked the most heartbreaking sound I have ever heard and then tried to run away. My father and I hastily followed her on foot, until she couldn’t take any more and collapsed to the ground.
She was clearly in absolute agony and growled at my every touch. After a few minutes she gradually calmed down and lay quietly, murmuring and yelping every so often. My father called for help and Tilly was taken to veterinary hospital. She was in intensive care for the next two weeks and was back home in time for Christmas.
My recently established benevolence for animals was being clearly put to the test here, having to contend with a dog that couldn’t really do anything other than stare at me or yelp constantly. I felt no annoyance, though. I know I would have done mere months before, and felt only compassion and love for this dilapidated black hound that was in need of a lot of attention.
In a funny sort of way, I felt I could understand what she was going through better than anyone else.
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