I am including this exercise here because a few people have asked me for the script; but like most mindfulness exercises it is best experienced rather than read and understood with the mind.
It is adapted from Benji Schoendorff’s “Six steps to flexibility: put the matrix to work for you and your clients” (2016). It is a practice in two parts: the first is a little story, and the second is the meditation.
If you don’t like cats, feel free to use the image of another mammal.
The Kittens Metaphor
You may know that when a mother cat is pregnant, we might prepare a comfortable box that is put somewhere safe, out of the way. When the kittens are born nothing much happens at first in that box, beyond licking and feeding. Then the kittens open their eyes and start exploring, first the box, and eventually scampering further away. So, picturing this,
One day all the kittens come back to feed, except for one who is still somewhere beyond the mother cat’s line of sight. All of a sudden she hears the noise of a kitten in distress. She instantly leaves the box and makes a beeline for the kitten, picks it up gently by the scruff of its neck, and brings it back to the box. She licks it until it is soothed and begins feeding once more.
This behaviour isn’t particular to cats. In similar circumstances, pretty much all mammals would behave as the mother cat does…. except, maybe…. humans.
Now I invite you to call to mind something that you are struggling with at the moment. It may be a thought, a judgement, an emotion, something you hate remembering, or something you don’t like about yourself. … And I’d like you to see if it’s possible to think of this thing you’re struggling with as a kitten in distress.
Noticing how you receive this hissing kitten, and all that it spits at you.
What does this kitten need from you, from its own perspective?
How would the mother cat that you want to be, want to receive the kitten?
Is it possible to receive it in a way that is soothing, validating, nurturing?
When one of the kittens of your own distress, whether its harsh self-talk, or painful feelings or memories, starts hissing and spitting – do you take the shortest path possible to go and provide comfort until it’s soothed, or do you do something else?
The invitation is to notice, over the coming days and weeks, how you tend to the kittens of your distress.