Turtle Attitude for Mental Wellness
By Bhante Saranapala – the Urban Buddhist Monk
Here is a Buddhist story I tell everyone. One day a turtle was foraging for food along the shore of a lake. At the same time a jackal was also foraging for food along the shore of the same lake. The jackal saw the turtle in the distance. Aiming at the turtle, the jackal slowly moved closer to the turtle to catch it for its food. The turtle seeing the jackal getting closer withdrew its four legs and neck and remained calm inside its hard shell. The jackal came up to the turtle and hovered around it while thinking, “As soon as the turtle stretches out its neck or legs, I will seize it, tear it off, and eat it”. The turtle, knowing the jackal is hovering around, remained calm. The jackal got tired, fed up and disappointed of hovering around the turtle and went away. When the turtle noticed the jackal left, and there is no more threat or danger, it put all its limbs out and started walking again freely, foraging for food happily and peacefully.
I find this story interesting. There is a lesson to learn from the turtle. To feel safe, healthy, well, strong and happy, we also have to learn to withdraw from external affairs and devote ourselves daily to a secluded resting place. Emotional and mental wellness could come from introverted attention such as a mindfulness meditation practice. When something makes us upset or when we feel annoyed and frustrated, at such time all we have to do is to pay attention and stay inside. This is a major paradigm shift we help people make during their mental struggles. Happiness, wellness, freedom and peace are inside jobs, not outside. As Buddha and Carl Jung, a great Western psychologist, made it very clear, “those who look outside, dream and those who look inside, awaken”. When we train ourselves to look inside, we feel it is our real home where we feel secured and free from dangers of cognitive dissonance.
No doubt we are living in a world that demands us to work nonstop and be competitive. We have a lot on our plates. There comes a day when we cannot cope with multiple tasks. This is the nature of the world today. Although we feel we can do multiple tasks and everything, there comes a day when we feel emotionally drained. Time to time we complain about fatigue, exhaustion, stress, anxiety, depression, over thinking, self-negative talks, etc. When we get symptoms of these mental issues, we need to follow the attitude of the turtle. Despite these warnings, if we continue to indulge in our work, duties, commitments and many tasks, there will come a day that these symptoms are going to knock us down by making our life miserable. For mental wellness, we need to turn cognitive dissonance to cognitive consonance through the practice of mindfulness meditation.
This is why I always encourage people to find some free time every day for meditation. As we make sure to take some time to feed our body, we also need to make sure to find at least half an hour every day to feed our mind and heart with some relaxation exercises. One of the best mental relaxation technique for mental wellness has been proven to be mindfulness meditation. The mindfulness technique taught by the Buddha is an art of relaxing the body and calming the mind. Instead of indulging ourselves with external things continuously, we need to remind ourselves to withdraw and go inwards. We need to be in touch with the essence of life which is breathing. As we continue working we forget this most essential part of our life: Breathing. Forgetting this task could slowly cause a buildup of mental issues like stress, anxiety and depression. We should be mindful to take several deep breaths every working hour. Stop doing everything for a minute. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and hold the breath for ten seconds and slowly let it go through nostrils.
As you continue doing this deep breathing for a few seconds every hour or so, be mindful also to find at least thirty minutes in the day to resort to a secluded resting place. You can lie down or you can sit on a cushion comfortably being neither too rigid nor too loose. Let your hands rest on your lap. Take a deep breath and let the body and mind relax. Bring your full attention to the ingoing and outgoing breath. Just be with the flow of breath. Let the body relax as you inhale and exhale. Short or long breaths, continue being with the breath attentively and intentionally. Feel the breath going in and going out. See if you can sustain your full attention on the ingoing and outgoing breath. Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out. As you continue doing mindful breathing, simply let the body and mind relax and calm down. After thirty minutes of mindful breathing, you will feel physical relaxation, joy and comfort for mental wellness. This has to be a daily mental exercise. This meditation is all about caring and being kind to yourself. As the turtle doesn’t want to be a prey to the jackal, you also don’t want to be a prey to cognitive dissonance, anxiety, angst, depression and pain arising from work and other social and family engagements. So, be mindful to meditate every day for thirty minutes.
In addition to this mindful meditation exercise, see if you can train your mind and brain with these five steps for mental wellness as follows:
1. Be virtuous. Let go all negative actions. Cultivate all positive actions.
2. Restrain your senses. Instead of looking at something, see how you are reacting to the sense objects.
3. Be moderate in eating. Don’t gobble too much or too little.
4. Be devoted to wakefulness all the time try to purify your mind of obstructive emotional states.
5. Be possessed of mindfulness and observe everything with mindfulness. This is to be introspective of everything.
May you be well, happy and peaceful ! May all sentient beings also be well, happy and peaceful !