Joanna lived in the country and she had no brothers or sisters. Of course she had friends at school. But at home, there was only herself and the grown ups - and Stardust,the old cat,
the middle-aged dog,
(oops! can someone send us a graphic of a small white pony?)
who lived in a field at the bottom of the garden, and didn't seem to belong to anyone.
These were Joanna's friends. Her best friends. Stardust and Sage and Freedom. And so she dreamed that they could talk with her. Actually, she didn't have to dream very hard because they really could talk. The dream part was that Joanna could understand them, and nobody else would even listen. The animals didn't have to dream, because they knew. They understood everything.
"You really do know an awful lot," said Joanna one day to Stardust. "Do you know everything there is to know?"
The old cat smiled to himself and began gently purring. He knew that when one knows everything there is no need to say so. And if perchance there are a few things one doesn't know, then why tell anyone? Joanna squished herself up beside him on the window seat and stroked him lightly from the top of his head all the way down his back to the tip of his tail. She liked to close her hand gently round his bushy black fur and feel his tail pull firmly through her fingers. He waved it back and forth.
"More," he said. "More."
He didn't speak out loud of course, he spoke inside her head.
"Do it again. And harder this time."
He pressed his head up inside her hand to make SURE she understood. To show her what he meant. And the harder Joanna stroked him, the louder he purred. This purring had a very soothing effect upon Joanna. It made her feel very peaceful and extra dreamy. She was feeling just about as relaxed and content as Stardust seemed to be.
"That's what cats are for," said Stardust. "To calm you humans down. You'd be all jittery and looking for something to do if I wasn't here to help you be at peace with yourself. And while we are catering to your needs, we are observing. Cats are great observers you know. Oh, we don't just notice things like when you go to bed, or what time you have your lunch. We observe real things - like what makes you happy, and what makes you sad and how the room feels when you are angry. And how it makes me feel when you laugh."
He stared at her through half closed eyes. "We feel these things you know. You call them your moods and emotions. I call them your energy fields. When you laugh and sing I feel all these little waves rippling out from you. They tickle my whiskers and make me warm and snugly all over. But when you're mad, oh boy! All those bristly spikes shoot out from you and stab me all over. I'm very sensitive you know, to your moods."
"What about when I'm REALLY angry," asked Joanna. "when I get cross and don't want to do what the grown ups think I should do?"
"Ugh," said Stardust. "Yuk."
He went stiff and rigid all over, just for a moment, just thinking about it.
"When you're angry, why I just get all churned up inside. Bothered, you might say. I feel sick at heart and it puts me right off my food. That's what anger does you know, distresses me because I love you - your unhappiness is my unhappiness sort of thing."
Joanna resolved that the next time she got angry she would think about it first and try and figure out WHY she was so cross. Now she remembered reading somewhere one is never upset for the reason one thinks. She liked that - it was a puzzlement! Then she could discuss things with Stardust and he would be able to help her decide how to express her anger without hurting anyone else. Maybe she could pound pillows! Joanna giggled to herself as she imagined Stardust pouncing on the flying feathers.
She wondered what happened to all this stuff when Stardust wasn't around to catch it. She supposed the plants might take some of it. Or maybe it just got stuck in the walls and gathered there like dust and cobwebs. It certainly would make a place gloomy and uncomfortable if that were so.
But what about if she laughed and sang, and sent happy thoughts out into the air? They could get stuck in the walls too. Joanna smiled to herself - and the whole room seemed to lighten, brighten.
"Thank you, Stardust," she kissed the top of his head, "you really do know an awful lot."
Joanna felt good about herself and wanted to share her joy with someone. Stardust was asleep and Sage was nowhere to be found. She decided to visit Freedom. She half skipped, half ran down to the bottom of the garden and climbed over the old wooden gate. It was mostly overgrown with a variety of vines and ivy and probably wouldn't open anyway.
There was Freedom standing under his tree, just as she knew he would be.
"Hi, Freedom," she said, gently running her hand down his nose. "I'm going to dabble my toes."
Freedom didn't say anything. He often didn't say anything.
Very near the tree was a nice little stream. Joanna sat down, pulled off her shoes and socks, rolled up her jeans and dangled her feet over the edge of the little bank. Now she could dream all she wanted to. She and Freedom didn't have to look at each other to carry on a conversation. They could talk through the back of their heads. He always knew what she was thinking.
Thoughts are things, he liked to say. He was very fond of saying that indeed. One day, he said it eleven times in one visit. How could thoughts be things, Joanna wondered? You can't see thoughts.
"I can," said Freedom, "I can see your thoughts very well."
"Oh, Freedom," groaned Joanna, "you're not supposed to DO that. You're not supposed to come into my head uninvited and see what I'm thinking. I might have been thinking ANYTHING."
"I'm not in your head," said Freedom. "You're in mine!"
Oh, REALLY, thought Joanna, Freedom was impossible. And it was useless arguing with him, he always won.
"I especially know what grown ups are thinking," continued Freedom nodding to himself. Joanna picked a handful of wild flowers and walked over to her friend.
"Tell me," she said, sticking the stems into his wiry tail hair. "Tell me how you know what the grown ups are thinking." This might be very useful, Joanna thought to herself. Freedom was pleased with himself. Now he had her full attention, and he liked to have her scratching around in his tail.
"For example," he began, swishing his tail so Joanna hadto begin all over again, "when they want to catch me. It's not so much the fact that they bang buckets around and hide ropes behind their backs that alerts me - anyone could guess they were up to something from that.
"No, it's the picture in their minds of what they plan to do, that clues me in. Pictures of them catching me! Pictures of them putting me in a trailer and driving me away! Pictures of them hammering things onto my feet, or tying things onto my back, or shoving hard bits into my mouth. Thoughts are things I tell you." He stamped a front foot to emphasize his truth.
"And I won't have it. I don't want to leave my field. Oh, sometimes if there are enough of them, they get me in a corner and I let them catch me. I don't want to hurt them, so I just stand still and they are so pleased with themselves! Good pony they all say. That's what they say, but some of them have thoughts that don't look good for this pony!"
"You always let me catch you," said Joanna. She was getting some thoughts herself, pictures of Freedom diving past people, and people tripping over themselves, and buckets flying through the air and everyone waving their arms about. It was quite a funny sight altogether.
"That's because you don't have any thoughts most of the time," said Freedom. "Mostly your head is empty. You see," he added kindly, "when you don't have any plans, any intentions, there's no thought to turn into a thing.
When you come down here, you just climb on my back or pick the flowers or paddle in the water - you just live from moment to moment. You live in the now. When you come down here, you're not worried about tomorrow or wishing yesterday had been different, you are just being here now. Living in the present moment."
Joanna had stopped playing with his tail and was frowning with the effort of keeping up with what Freedom was saying.
"Oh, it's a good way to be," said Freedom quickly. "Very good. I can't tell what you're thinking because you're not thinking! You're just sending out a sort of warm buzzing GLOW!"
Joanna liked the idea of her head being filled with a warm buzzing glow - especially if it meant that Freedom couldn't tell what she was thinking.
She decided she would practice more often at just Being Here Now!
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