Today’s the day your commitment to meditation is about to become a reality. You dim the lights, turn off your cell phone, burn some incense, and get comfortable. But within seconds of closing your eyes and trying to focus on your breathing, in creeps the first mind monkey.
Mind monkey? What’s a mind monkey?
“The ‘monkey’,” explains Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and host of “The Happiness Podcast” and “The Meditation Podcast,” “refers to how our primate relatives are able to swing from one branch to another with awe-inspiring skill. Similarly, our minds bounce from one idea to another, but rather than inspire awe, the activity often fills us with anxiety.”
If we accept this commonly espoused premise, it would only make sense for us to start seeking ways to calm, silence, and control our personal mind monkeys. But how in the world can we do that? Where does one learn monkey management? Perhaps the first step is to try understanding them a little better.
1. Introduce yourself. Hey, it’s your mind — so if these mischievous monkeys have taken up residency, you might as well get to know them. Cohabitation just might go more smoothly if you’re on a first name basis.
2. Explain your reasons for meditating. Ask yourself: Why am I choosing to meditate? Why am I seeking a quieter mind? Once these reasons are crystal clear to you, share them with your mind monkeys. Explain to them (and yourself) why this experience is important to you. It may inspire cooperation.
3. Listen and learn. Precisely what are these ideas your mind monkeys are bouncing around while you try to focus? Pay close attention to see if there’s something going on that may more urgently need your consideration.
4. Keep a journal. There may be a method to the monkey madness. Specific topics or ideas may dominate their chatter on certain days or hours. Journaling can help you identify crucial patterns, discern areas requiring your deliberation, and perhaps schedule the most likely quiet times.
5. Meditate anyway. Yes mind monkey chatter can, no doubt, be annoying and distracting, but we could opt to meditate despite the din. Where is it written that mindful meditation cannot occur in a less-than-Zen setting? Pristine isolation may work for a select few but the rest of us have everyday responsibilities to deal with.
6. Chatter back. Two (or more) can play this game. Give your uninvited guests a dose of their own medicine and see what happens. This is another good reason to keep a journal.
7. Embrace your inner primate. If these monkeys are in your head, they clearly represent a part of you. Rather than scolding or banishing them, it could be more productive to comprehend the connections.
8. Allow them to inspire awe. With all due respect to the aforementioned Dr. Puff, why does this primate behavior have to automatically fill us with anxiety? Perhaps, instead, their consistency and relentless energy can serve to motivate us.
9. Allow yourself to inspire awe. Have you ever let your mind monkeys see the best in you? If they seem to feed off your frustration and exasperation, it sure couldn’t hurt to introduce them to the cool/calm/collected you.
10. Choose another mindfulness method. Of course, when we hear the word “meditation,” we visualize something out of an ashram or temple. But think back to the last few times you said: “I simply lost track of time.” What were you doing that captivated your mind so fully and why aren’t you doing that more often?