Have you ever noticed that stream of voices chattering away in your mind?
Say hello to your ‘monkey mind’.
Essentially your inner monologue.
The Untamed Monkey Mind
And what does your monkey mind like to do all-day, everyday?
It likes to go off swinging from thought branch to thought branch.
Fun for our monkey. Not so fun for us.
Because an untamed mind can become a critical fucker.
A negative nancy.
And when it’s left untamed leave it can leave you feeling exhausted.
One minute it’s off worrying about paying the bills.
Then it’s criticising you about a fuck up at work.
Telling you off because you’ve indulged in a takeaway and ice cream.
You’re being judged for what you HAVEN’T achieved with your life.
And this list goes on…
With our monkey so busy swinging from thought branch to thought branch it becomes incredibly hard to be present and focused on the moment we’re in.
Instead, we get carried away through a forest of thoughts.
So maybe we need to get rid of this naughty little monkey?
The Good Side of Our Monkey Mind
But fighting our monkey and sending it to the naughty corner won’t work.
Whatever we resist persists.
And anyway, our monkey’s not all bad.
We need it.
We need it A LOT!
Because it’s useful in our busy lives. It keeps on top of things.
It gets the to-do list done.
Helps us solve problems and gets us further ahead in our careers.
The problem occurs because our mind hasn’t been trained to stay focused.
It’s too busy thinking about the next thing.
And the next thing.
Which unfortunately can leave us mentally, physically and emotionally fatigued.
So How Do We Tame the Monkey Mind?
We cannot stop our monkey mind.
But rather than letting it roam free.
To run riot in the forest of thoughts.
We can learn to tame it.
To calm it down.
And we do this by developing a consistent meditation practice.
Meditation and the Monkey Mind
Meditation helps us calm the monkey mind because when we meditate we sit still and get our mind to focus on the breath.
And when inevitably our monkey heads off into the forest of thoughts, we try our best to notice when it has and to become aware that it’s lost in thought.
And when we have that moment of awareness, we can begin to calm our monkey down by kindly asking it to let go of the thought branch it’s swinging on.
To come down from the treetops and once again, focus on the breath.
It’s not easy.
It takes repeated effort.
But eventually, by continually training ourselves to focus on the breath in meditation, the mind becomes calmer. And as a result of becoming calmer, it becomes less critical.
And slowly but surely our mind becomes a calmer, friendlier and happier little monkey.
5 Tips to Tame Your Monkey Mind
Whether it’s your first time meditating or you’ve been doing it for a while, some days your mind is all over the place.
It’s like an untamed monkey.
Swinging back to the past.
Swinging off into the future.
Doing anything but staying in the present moment.
So how on earth do you calm it down?
Here’s my 5 top tips to help calm your monkey mind.
Be patient and willing to work with your mind whatever state it’s in.
Learning to observe the mind through meditation is not an easy process and whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, some days it’s challenging.
Maybe you didn’t sleep well or you’re under a lot of pressure from work.
Maybe you’re having relationship difficulties or you’re struggling with depression; anxiety; (insert issue here).
Or maybe it’s the kids driving you cuckoo!
Most of us have a LOT going on in our life. We’re busy.
And our lives are full of challenges. Ups and downs.
So when you sit and meditate you should expect your mind to be busy, easily distracted and restless.
Because unlike the day to day where you’re occupied with your tasks or moving from one activity to the next, you’re now sitting there with nothing else to do.
Nothing else to distract you from what your mind is up to.
It’s now just you, your breath and your mind.
So remember…be patient with yourself.
#2: Beginners Mindset
It might be the same practice day in day out.
But every day is a different mind.
With different thoughts.
A mind you are seeing for the first time.
So every time you meditate you need to check your ego at the door.
What does that mean?
Don’t presume you’ve nailed it because you’ve been doing it for a few weeks, months or even years.
Always approach your practice like a beginner would, with an attitude of openness, enthusiasm and curiosity and with no preconceived idea of how you think your practice should be.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)
So each time you meditate approach it like it’s the first time you’re practicing.
Approach it with a beginner’s mindset.
#3: Be Kind To Yourself
Probably THE most important tip.
Don’t berate yourself if you missed a day.
Don’t be annoyed if your monkey was constantly off in the forest of thoughts.
There is no good or bad meditation.
EVERY practice is valuable.
Even if you spend the whole time constantly off in thoughts.
Every time you sit down to meditate you are learning to observe the mind as it is, not how you would like it to be.
And how you approach the practice is just as valuable as the practice itself.
Some days the mind can be very busy just like life can be sometimes.
Making the time to disconnect from the outside world and dive in is both an act of kindness to yourself and an act of courage.
Being with your own mind can be challenging.
So remember…be kind to yourself.
#4: Be Playful
When I first started practicing I would get annoyed with myself about my mind constantly swinging off into the trees.
‘WHY can’t I stay focused’?
‘Fuck! My mind wandered off AGAIN!!
I’d then give myself a slap to STAY FOCUSED. (I mean a metaphorical slap. I didn’t literally slap myself).
All this succeeded in doing was creating more tension in my mind and more tension in my body.
More bananas for my monkey to hit me with over and over again.
And even now after practicing mediation for over a decade, some days my mind is all over the place.
So when I notice it’s off in the treetops, I sometimes visualise it swinging from thought branch to thought branch because being playful in this way makes me smile.
And the act of smiling immediately makes me feel lighter, less frustrated with my monkey mind.
So every time you feel you’re getting frustrated; restless or angry because your monkey is off playing in the forest of thoughts.
Visualise your monkey swinging through the branches.
And then kindly ask your monkey to come back down from the treetops and be still for a while.
Just don’t fight your monkey into staying still. It won’t like that.
Instead, imagine yourself reaching out a friendly hand that gently guides it back to focusing on the breath.
With a consistent meditation practice you begin to develop an understanding of your monkey mind.
The more you practice, not only do you develop an awareness of WHEN the mind is lost in thought.
But also, WHAT thoughts your mind is occupied with.
And when you know what thought branches your monkey is swinging on you have the opportunity to either let them go or to gain some insight into them.
Do you need to keep rehashing that story of how you embarrassed yourself out on a night out? Or can you laugh at yourself for being a little silly and move on?
Do you need to keep beating yourself up about an interview that didn’t go well? Or can you learn from the experience, so you can improve for the next one?
Do you need to keep worrying about the bills? Or can you find the strength to be OK with it and trust you’re doing everything you can to bring in the money you need?
If we allow our mind to continually get lost in thought without trying to understand them or to let them go, we allow our mind to build up more stress, more anxiety and more negative self-talk.
But when we understand our monkey mind.
When we become friends with it.
We can calm it down.
We can learn what it’s thinking about, so we can take some action that leads to positive changes in our life.
Building A Consistent Practice
Beginning a meditation practice takes some effort.
So start small so you can make it something you can EASILY do everyday.
You don’t want it to feel like it’s another job on your to-do list. This can make you less likely to do it.
Starting small can help build momentum and momentum is key when you want to create a new habit.
Stopping and starting takes a lot of effort, energy and motivation.
I’d recommend starting with 5 minutes a day because ideally we want this to happen most days.
Out of small things, BIG things grow!
Big goals like 20 minutes a day are good, but if you find it’s a struggle to fit in to your schedule it can easily drop off.
But if you start small and you’re consistent, what starts out as part of your routine can soon become a habit.
And when it’s a habit, meditation can become something you do automatically, like brushing your teeth.
Making meditation a lifelong practice can change your life for the better. I can testify to that.
I’ve worked through panic attacks, anxiety and depression.
Processed grief. Built willpower. And self-confidence.
I’ve taken charge of my mental, physical and emotional health.
Taken charge of my life.
So start small.
And then watch as your practice grows.
And your life begin to change for the better.