Taming The Monkey Mind
The Monkey mind is a real and often frustrating phenomenon. It happens all day long, throughout all our daily activities, but it’s especially noticeable when we’re trying to be still. I know, because every morning I sit dutifully in meditation and mentally wrestle with that little pest that takes over my solitude with his endless chatter. He reminds me of all the appointments I forgot, and the obligations coming up, and where I fell short of success, and how my pants are too tight, and where exactly are all the places in my middle-aged body that hurt.
We all know that quiet mindful activities are good for us. And so we try. And yet, that little monkey has apparently not received the message. He wonders if we should be worried about our aches and pains. Maybe something is wrong with us? What if we’ve ignored it too long and it’s now more serious. Oh wait, the pain is gone. Maybe it was nothing. But what about our children? Or our relationship. Perhaps we did something wrong – again. That’s why things aren’t perfect. Why can’t we eat better? Sleep more? Be a better spouse or parent? Maybe it’s something from our childhood. Perhaps we should explore that. Right now. As in this exact second, no matter what else we’re doing.
Wait, maybe it’s just hunger pains. We should eat. But we just ate a couple hours ago. It’s too soon to eat again. Let’s just drink some water. But water is so boring. We need something with flavor. Water is good for us though, and we need to do more that is good for our bodies. Let’s get water.
But wait, we’re trying to meditate!
SEE ALSO: Kids Can Meditate Too!
If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone. For many of us, it seems our monkey brain works 24 hours and it treats this job like a business. From time to time, it might even make a good point. For example, “You’ve been so busy you forgot to eat today. Let’s take a break and get some food.”
Our monkey helps keep us focused, alert, aware of our surroundings. It helps us keep our lives on track and in line. It helps us notice when something seems off. It keeps us safe, in ways only a monkey can. Yet, the incessant nature of its chatter is enough to drive anyone insane if it goes on for too long. And often the content of this chatter has a detrimental effect, keeping us constantly in a state of worry, shame, fear, and disconnection from reality. It’s nearly impossible to listen to the constant concerns about health, failure, relationships, career and more, without feeling as if the monkey has it in for us.
So, what to Do?
It’s important to note that the monkey will only get worse if we try to silence him. After all, he’s a part of our inner world and none of us like to be silenced. So banishing him is likely to fail, and is likely to make him more vocal in order to be heard. Because we all need to be heard. And what happens after we feel heard? We usually don’t need to talk anymore, at least for a while.
What if, then, we gave the monkey mind his own space to be heard? Below are a few suggestions to help gently and respectfully tame that monkey mind.
Listen to What he has to Say – Within Reason.
We’re in charge, not him. And he needs to know that. But he also deserves a chance to share his thoughts. Allow the monkey to chatter for a few minutes, get some thoughts out. Then ask him to wrap it up. Like any undisciplined child, you may have to repeat the request – and be firm.
Write it Out – and Validate his Contributions
Sometimes that monkey actually brings forward some good info you don’t want to forget. That’s often how we get stuck in a loop, because we know if we don’t focus on what he says, we’re going to lose it before we’re done meditating. In this situation, take a break and write down what you don’t want to forget. As a writer, I always keep a notebook with me anyways, and it comes in extremely handy when that monkey won’t let something go. Plus, he gets validated for sharing something useful. And like being heard, we also like to be validated.
Mentally Chant a Mantra
Once he’s had his turn, the monkey really is capable of taking a break. However, he’s quite attracted to an unfocused mind. And for so many of us, we’re practicing mindfulness in order to cultivate more focus. If we’re not consistently there yet, that monkey has an opening. One antidote is to have a mantra, or phrase, to use as a focal point to help keep the monkey from sneaking back in. For me, it changes daily. Sometimes I call on a yogic mantra, such as “so hum” or the Buddhist mantra, “om mani padme hum”, repeating them silently. Other times, I visualize the ocean and imagine myself going deeper and deeper, repeating the word “deeper” whenever I feel my mind wandering.
Any word or phrase which helps you stay focused on the present moment is helpful.
Gently Lead Him Toward Speaking in Third Person
Why? Because the monkey is part of our inner guidance system. We’re accustomed to him speaking to us in terms of “me, me, me.” That can become overwhelming and feel a bit narcissistic. When we guide our inner thoughts toward “you”, we start to tap into the more overarching guidance we all have, that of our angels, guides, higher self, and other higher vibrational helpers.
As we gently thank the monkey for his concern and invite in our higher guidance, the message begins to change. Our monkey mind might thoughtlessly say something like, “You’re so stupid for forgetting your friend’s birthday” or “Here’s what you should’ve said to your ex instead of what you did say.” But our loving inner guidance would never speak to us in that way. Discerning between monkey chatter and higher guidance helps us to feel more balanced, loved, and clear on our next steps.
Above all, Be Gentle with Yourself – and the Monkey
We are whole beings, monkey mind and all. When we love and embrace all our parts, set clear boundaries on how we interact with those parts, and show our gratitude for all the guidance we receive – even that which we don’t or can’t use – we find that we feel less scattered, frustrated, and fearful. In other words, we feel more integrated into the whole, beautiful being that deep down we know we are.
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