“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are.” – Pema Chodron
As we approach the holiday season, many people find that their schedules, emotions and thoughts can start to feel stressed. We find ourselves dealing with an assortment of family issues, workload adjustments, travel plans and various financial stressors while trying to greet the world around us with a sense of obligatory “holiday spirit.” Certainly, it can be a wonderful time of year in many ways. But it almost inevitably carries with it a need for healthy stress relief and extra attention to self-care. Our minds and hearts are often overloaded from all the planning and preparing and extra socializing associated with the festivities.
So it is a perfect time to start or deepen a meditation practice! There is often a longing for some kind of escape—a refuge—from all the hectic events and experiences this time of year entails. And meditation can be one of the best solutions to finding refuge. It has numerous benefits, especially in the context of all the materialistic concerns surrounding holiday themes: Meditation is completely free, healthy, portable, environmentally friendly, sustainable, can be done in groups or in solitude, and can be individually tailored in terms of length and format to suit the practitioner. There is a vast array of themes and styles to work with and yet no prerequisite requirement or experience. And it can be something that is ultimately filled with levity and grace and even joy.
Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan founder of the Shambhala meditation lineage that helped pioneer the mindfulness movement in The West, has written about how the mind can be restless and anxious and wild—qualities that may have extra resonance in the face of added stress. One of the wonderful metaphors he offers is that we can give the wild mind a “toy” to help it calm down—and this “toy” is the object, or focus, of our meditation practice. Trungpa suggests that we can use the “teddy bear of the breath” to give our curious or anxious minds something to “squeeze.” In a sense, then, it is a gift we give to ourselves: “The toy of breathing is given to the mind.”
This is a way of understanding that the breath can be something that we return to as a kind of home base, a place of gentleness where we start to experience the beautiful spaces between the thoughts, much like the brief silences and pauses in a musical score that help us to appreciate the sounds even more. We don’t necessarily stop the mind from thinking, but we practice letting go of our attachment to those thoughts and return to the breath. We practice letting go, and beginning again, coming back home. And as the mind wanders, which it will, we notice it wandering, and gently invite ourselves to just let go, come back and squeeze the teddy bear, returning to the softness of the breath. Of course, this practice can also be used with other objects of meditation other than breath awareness such as a mantra or visualization.
In this way, meditation practice is truly something restorative and holistic. It can help the practitioner develop a more open awareness of the various textures of the mind beyond all the surface thoughts. And it can help us to be more present in our interactions with others. By taking refuge from our continuous thought patterns, from the storyline or narrative that the chattering mind is always generating, we become more attuned to the deeper currents of connection and wisdom that are really the essence of our human potential.
*For more discussion about the Teddy Bear of the Breath and other meditation topics, check out Mindfulness in Action or one of many other books by Chogyam Trungpa.
Written by Gabriel Woodhouse for bodono.
Gabriel Woodhouse is one of the teachers at Three Jewels which offers free meditation classes every weekday morning and on Friday evenings. Three Jewels functions as a Meditation, Yoga, Dharma, and Outreach Center for the community. More info at: threejewels.org