Before we learn to meditate, our minds are like unsupervised toddlers careening around unsteadily, oblivious to danger. When we learn to be mindful we realize, somewhat horrified, that our uninhibited – quite shameless – toddler minds may wander anywhere, wobbling around from mushing food in our hair, peeing under the table, or suddenly shrieking and running wild. How do you pry open sticky little fingers clutching a favorite fantasy or distract yourself from happily snacking on someone else’s (anyone else’s!) business? How do we open our vise-like grip on our thoughts and cravings?
From Mindfulness in Action, by Chögyam Trungpa: “There is a tendency for our minds to shift around a great deal, jumping from one thought to the next. When this happens, the best way to tame the mind is to give it a toy. The best toy we can provide is something that is similar to the mind. It’s not mind itself, but it feels familiar to the mind, almost like a portrait of it. It is like giving a child a doll or a teddy bear, which is small and cuddly and somewhat like the child. It’s like an image of yourself, almost like a surrogate. In meditation, the teddy bear is your breath.”
We learn how to distract ourselves from our habitual — often hurtful – distractions and addictions with the gentleness and patience of a wise parent. Our teachers offer us a teddy bear of focus on the breath, on our felt sense of what’s happening in the body, on simple, uncharged experiences of being present. We use the teddy bear of kind, understanding support in a class or sitting group. Moment by moment, breath by breath, we build the strength to deal more skillfully with compulsive urges to act out. We develop the courage to face tough times and overwhelming emotions more gracefully, without shame or blame – mindfully.
After a while, we don’t need to hold on to our teddy bear all the time. We relax into open awareness, resting in the arms of the cosmos, in the infinite tenderness of a spacious heart.
Image Credit: T. Goodman