At the Mindfulness Project, we’re big believers in taking care of others. We’ve built a house for one of our neighbors, we teach English in local villages, and if anyone shows up at the project during meal time, we invite them to grab a plate and join us.
This mindset even extends to animals — we have yet to turn away a homeless animal that shows up at the property.
As a result, we have seven dogs and three cats. While the dogs freely wander back and forth between the two different properties, the cats seem to have a smaller territory — two stay in the houses where the long-term volunteers live, and one stays full time at the Project.
Her name is Ash.
Ash has an extremely rare personality for a cat. She is so trusting, that if you pick her up, she is very happy to be held like a baby, exposing her belly for rubs. She will let anyone do this, sprawling open her legs and letting her head hang limp. She purrs the entire time and will happily stay upside down for an hour if you keep rubbing her. She’s especially happy to have multiple sets of hands scratch her at the same time.
Recently, we noticed Ash crying incessantly in the mornings.
It’s pretty normal for Ash to start crying for food when the person on breakfast duty enters the kitchen each morning but lately, being fed hasn’t been easing Ash’s mews. In fact, there was one morning where she cried throughout the entire meditation.
A few days later she started sitting in the middle of our evening Talking Circle (something unusual for her). There was even a night that she just climbed into the lap of a volunteer, forcing him to pet her until it was his turn to speak.
This is when we realized why she’s been so loud in the mornings. Simply put, Ash wasn’t receiving enough attention.
Of course, now that we’re aware of it, we all make an effort to pay more attention to her throughout the day, but there are two valuable lessons we can take from this.
1. If you’re a supporter — don’t assume that someone with a large support system is receiving the support they need.
At any given time, there are between four and nine long term staff members on duty, with anywhere from fourteen to thirty-six short term volunteers. Because of this, a lot of assumptions were made with Ash — namely that she probably gets tired of being scratched by so many people. In reality, Ash was getting almost no physical affection, because everyone assumed she received a lot of attention from others.
It’s often wondered how depression and suicide can occur in people who have large support-systems, but the reality is that the larger the support-system, the easier it is to assume that someone is receiving enough attention from everyone else. Thus, hugs aren’t given, questions go unasked, and the person having a hard time starts to feel that nobody notices — or worse — that nobody cares.
If you know someone is having a hard time, don’t be afraid to let them know you are there for them. If they don’t want or need your help, it’s their responsibility to tell you.
2. If you’re in need of support — don’t be afraid to ask for it.
It isn’t fair to assume that people in your life will realize when you’re having a hard time — they are busy focusing on their own lives. It is your responsibility to yourself to communicate your needs.
And if your cries are going unheard or are being misunderstood — make it more clear. If you need a hug, just hug someone. It’s pretty rare that anyone has ever been rejected when they’ve initiated a hug with their friend or family member.