Be a Buddhist Turtle: A Mindfulness Metaphor

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be a different kind of animal? A few years ago, when I was going through a difficult time in my life, I developed the practice of trying to be like a Buddhist turtle. Yes, I know this sounds weird but go with me for a moment! By their very nature, turtles are mindfulness experts, always grounded in the current moment. Excellent: during this tough time, I needed to stay anchored in the here and now rather than getting lost in churning thoughts and emotions. (Note: Although I am not a turtle expert, I feel fairly certain they do not get lost in thoughts about the meaning of life or who has hurt them or what they need to do to feel fulfilled in their lives.) Turtles move slowly and intentionally through life. Perfect, I wanted to be thoughtful and intentional with my choices and actions rather than emotionally reactive. Turtles retreat within themselves for protection when threatened. Such a good metaphor! They carry their protection with them. I wanted to stay true my values and protect myself from sticky problems that were not mine to solve, and the best way to do this was to stay connected to the quiet wisdom within. Why was this turtle a Buddhist? Well, honestly, this had more to do with the visual image in my head than with any specific religious tenets. In my mind, this turtle was very spiritual and contemplative so it made sense that it wore a prayer shawl and beads. This visual also helped me remember to continue meditating, practicing daily mindfulness, and doing yoga as part of my own self-care.

I still find the Buddhist turtle practice very comforting and helpful when I’m moving through something stressful in my life. I encourage you to play around with this practice in your life to see what it might do for you. By the way, your turtle can be affiliated with any spiritual tradition you choose. Maybe your turtle wears a different style of prayerful, meditative garb. Or perhaps you might choose a different animal altogether, one that better symbolizes a mindful, steady approach to your life. Have fun with this practice and allow it to be a little bit silly. Although the Buddhist turtle was born as a coping mechanism for difficult stuff, there is something inherently amusing about the image of a meditating turtle that still makes me smile.

With well wishes,

Dr. Jen