“A teddy bear can be the perfect starting place for developing open-heartedness. We don’t have to worry about this friend stabbing us in the back, selling our plasma TV for drugs, spreading gossip, or leaving us for somebody better looking.”
How Hugging a Teddy Bear Could Improve Your Life
Few of us choose a rehab program because we want to learn how to bond with teddy bears. In fact, we may feel cynical (possibly even outraged) at even the suggestion that we engage in any form of therapy that involves cuddly toys. Let’s face it, the most likely reaction to being handed a teddy bear in rehab is ‘what have I gotten myself into here?’
The Teddy Bear Meditation we do as part of the Hope Mindful Compassion Program is inspired by Ajahn Brahm – an English monk who trained here in Thailand and is now the abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia. We use our bear in combination with metta (loving-kindness) meditation with the goal of developing open-heartedness.
How Open-Heartedness Helps Us Break Free of Addiction
We often think too much as a strategy to maintain a barrier between ourselves and the rest of the world – we build a mental wall around our heart so other people don’t get a chance to hurt us. We have probably used this defense mechanism for so for so long that we are not even aware we are doing it. Keeping this barrier in place requires a lot of thinking – it can get so bad that other people see us as self-obsessed, neurotic, selfish, unbalanced, and unfriendly.
I was a ‘thinking-addict’ long before I became hooked on alcohol, and it was because of this that a chemical solution felt so appealing. I reckon the majority of us who develop substance abuse problems are thinking addicts – even if we weren’t before we started, we will be by the time we finish.
If we are too attached to thoughts, it puts us on a collision course with the universe. This happens because the thoughts created by the brain are only meant to act as simple descriptions of reality and not as a replacement for reality. Obsessive thinking tends to involve a lot of ‘should’ thoughts – e.g. ‘that shouldn’t have happened’, this shouldn’t be happening’, or ‘this should happen’ – and when we indulge these ‘should’ thoughts, it puts us in direct conflict with reality (a battle we can never win).
The excessive thinking needed to protect our hearts from any pain means we become more and more disconnected from the world around us. The pain that arises due to this disconnection then triggers more thinking and further pain – it is a vicious cycle. The most effective way to escape this self-imposed prison created by over-thinking is to begin lowering our barriers, but we can only do this if we feel safe enough to do so – this is where the teddy bears come in.
How We Use a Teddy Bear to Open the Heart
It turns out that closing our heart to protect ourselves from pain is a terrible strategy – it makes life unsatisfying, and it increases our appetite for self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse. The more open we are to reality, the better our life becomes. We can then develop equanimity and compassion as a way to protect ourselves from suffering rather than putting up barriers between ourselves and the rest of the world.
Opening up to the world is not something most of us are going to be able to do right away. It may take years to completely remove the barriers between us and others, but as soon as we begin this work, our lives will start to improve.
Why a Teddy Bear?
At Hope Rehab, we use metta (loving-kindness) meditation as a path to open-heartedness. This practices involves developing our ability to feel good-will in stages – we initially develop metta towards ourselves, and then towards other people, and eventually towards the world in general.
Many of us who end up in rehab have been heavily traumatized, and it can be a real struggle in the beginning to develop any sense of open-heartedness – even sending metta towards ourselves can feel impossible.
We are like turtles hiding in our shells, and expecting us to open our hearts right away is asking us to give up this protective shell. We have devoted our lives to staying safe, and our caution is warranted, so we need to take things slowly. In the beginning, we may only be willing to stick our heads out of our shell for brief moments – once we feel safe, we will be better able to let down our defenses.
A teddy bear can be the perfect starting place for developing open-heartedness. We don’t have to worry about this friend stabbing us in the back, selling our plasma TV for drugs, or leaving us for somebody else. A teddy is never going to judge us, and it will be there to hug us no matter how badly we have behaved. What’s not to love?
How to Do Teddy Bear Meditation
We use the Teddy Bear near the beginning of the metta meditation – you are also invited to give it a long hug before you start.
• Place the teddy in front of you, and get into a comfortable sitting position.
• Use a concentration practice to settle down your mind
• Open your eyes and send metta to teddy using the slogans – may [teddy’s name – e.g ‘Snuggly Puggly’] by happy, may… be healthy, may… be safe, and may… be at ease. You do this for a couple of minutes with your eyes open
• Close your eyes and continue the metta meditation as usual
Once you can easily create a feeling of metta towards your teddy, you no longer need to use the slogans or even have your teddy with you. Just thinking of your cuddly friend will be enough to kick-start your heart at the beginning of the meditation.