The Monkey Mind
Very commonly in meditation circles you will hear the term “Monkey Mind”. Monkey Mind describes that incessant mind chatter that distracts us from our practice. It’s the part of the mind that is hyperactive, distracted and wanders from one thought to the next. It’s the part of our mind that ruminates on the what-ifs, should-bes, could-bes, oughts-tos and need-tos. The monkey mind dwells on the past and catastrophizes the future. It’s the part of our mind that drives us nutty and it’s the meditator’s worse enemy.
Deepak Chopra in his book "Quantum Healing" quotes a figure that the average person thinks approximately 65,000 thoughts per day and that 95 percent of these thoughts are exactly the same thoughts that passed through the mind the day before. That’s a lot of mind chatter!!
The mind seems to have an aversion to sitting still. From what we’ve learnt so far in previous blog posts, is that any wonder? The sympathetic nervous system driven high frequency analytical beta brain waves are causing a ridiculously high amount of brain activity with little space for rest. How good would it be to turn the volume down on these thoughts, de-clutter the mind so there weren’t so many thoughts in the day, create more space in-between thoughts to rest, contemplate and “just be”… This is what meditation can do for you but first… we must tame the monkey mind…
As we have seen in previous posts, we have a sympathetic nervous system, we have beta brain waves, an active mind and a left brain. We cannot get rid of any of these, and we must realise that we will not get rid of the thoughts. The thoughts are here to stay, unfortunately. What we can do however is decrease the amount of thoughts per day, per hour and per minute, as well as turning down the volume of these thoughts and developing the ability to not jump on board with the thoughts.
We all know our thoughts can take us on journeys don’t we? I’m sure you have experienced it yourself. Remember that the left brain is all about the past, and it’s all about the future. It digs through the database of memories and experiences to try to relate the present moment to something, then it projects into the future the possibilities based on these. So under stress or a dominant thinking mind, our consciousness projects out into the future and the past away from the present moment. Meditation is the practice of bringing yourself back into present moment awareness and not living in the future and/or the past. This is where mindfulness come in. When we are present, we are mindful. When our consciousness is projected out, we are unmindful and that’s where we can make mistakes or poor choices.
"Awareness is key. When you are aware of something you have choice.. choice to change. When you are un-aware, there is nothing to change"
It’s unrealistic to think that we can live in the present one hundred percent of the time. Life happens… it throws curve balls at us regularly. What’s important is how we react and respond to these curve balls. Do we allow them drag us off into future based thinking (anxiety-land) or into past based thinking (depression-land), or, a bit of both? Awareness is key. When you are aware of something you have choice.. choice to change. When you are un-aware, there is nothing to change. Meditation and getting into the deep circuitry of the right brain brings context, perspective and allows us to see things for what they are… it gives us awareness, then we have a choice..
I commonly use the analogy of a roller coaster to explain this point. Our thoughts can take us away from the present moment on the rollercoaster of our minds, and if we are unware that we have projected, they can take us on one hell of a trip. When we are unaware that we have projected then before we know it we are miles down the road doing curly wurly rollercoaster tricks. The key to living a more mindful life, which happens naturally and organically out of a healthy meditation practice, is to recognise when the projection has occurred and reign yourself back in before you get too far out there, before the curly wurlies. In the beginning you may spend seventy percent of your time projected in the past or future (maybe more), and only thirty percent in the present, but as you make meditation and mindfulness part of the way you ‘do life’, you flip the tables and spend more time present and only moments of projection. When you do project, it’s not for long as you have the ability to self-regulate your emotional state. The diagram below hopefully explains what I mean:
As we travel down the “road of life” we meet circumstances along the way that create stress and as a result our consciousness projects out from a balanced in the present state on the “straight and narrow” into the future (to the right) or into the past (to the left) represented by the gentle back and forth snaking action of the road. Remember that our left analytical mind thinks in terms of the past and future to make sense of the situation. Now there’s nothing wrong with this snaking and it is unrealistic to think that we could stay rock solid centered and present one hundred percent of the time, so as long as we recognise that we have projected and pull ourselves up on it, then we don’t wander too far out from the “road”. Every now and again however, or maybe very often in some peoples’ cases, our consciousness projects right out there, right out into the future, catastrophizing the future, stressing out about future based events that may or may not ever happen. This is anxiety. The opposite may happen where our consciousness projects back out into the past, dwelling on past events such as trauma, abuse, a marriage breakup, and financial demise. This is the realm of depressive states. The key to living a happier, calmer and more peaceful life is to not allow these “out there” projections to occur, and if they do, reign them in quickly. Mindfulness and meditation will do just that. When we are more mindful and in control of our mental and emotional health through meditation, we regulate the snaking action depicted above. The art of staying centered and in the present moment stops the projection and the associated stress that comes along with it. This doesn’t mean we just ignore the stress and keep on moving forward - quite the opposite. We sit with our stressors, we FEEL the stress, honour it, untangle it, and move on.
So to keep ourselves more centered and present and to tame the monkey mind, we must not fight or wrestle with our thoughts or try to eliminate them. Attempting to eliminate unwanted thoughts is a futile exercise because this hope or expectation only creates further struggle and triggers internal stress. We begin to have thoughts about thoughts and that is like a dog chasing its tail. Patience, acceptance and gentle perseverance in mindfulness and, daily meditation practice, tames the monkey mind through developing an open awareness that is less dominated by thinking. We cull the amount of thoughts in our waking day, turn down the volume of these thoughts and develop the skill to not jump on board with the thought story as we see them coming.
If you would like to learn even more about stress, health, the relaxation response, meditation, mindfulness and how it can help you to decrease the amount of stress in your life and the impact it is having, join me on one of my Meditation and Mindfulness workshops or courses. I recommend my "An Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation" workshop where you will learn everything needed to establish a healthy mindfulness and Meditation practice - to find out more about this workshop CLICK HERE.
If you would like to reserve your place or find out more information please call 0411 501 979 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. An online version of the workshop is in production and will soon be ready to release. If you would like to make an appointment with me to explore the role that stress may be having in your health issues please CONTACT ME.