One of the common challenges students face, when trying to silently observe their thoughts, as part of a meditation or mindfulness practice, is that their monkey mind plays games.
Our thoughts are running in the background, practically all of the time. They’re chattering, passing judgement, analysing, debating, reviewing, nagging, reminding and doing a thousand other things, while we carry on with our day. Sometimes the simple action of stopping our ‘busy-ness’ to become the observer of our thoughts can seem overwhelming.
That’s when the #1 meditation myth kicks in.
We think we have to silence our mind, to become good meditators.
Luckily that’s rubbish!
Effective meditation and mindfulness is NOT about a silent mind. Seriously, those who manage that have often practised for DECADES.
So your monkey mind telling you that you have to make it totally shut up before you’re a ‘successful meditator’ is an incredibly effective way for it to convince you to give up!
Meditation and mindfulness are NOT about ‘getting rid’ of your monkey mind – or fighting it. They’re about making peace with it; accepting it; even loving it – though not encouraging it 😉
It’s about calm, compassionate acceptance of your monkey mind. Then, once your monkey mind no longer has to fight for your attention, it will automatically start to calm and become quieter. That’s why we talk about being a ‘silent observer’. Our monkey mind likes to suck us in to its drama and stories. When we jump in after it, it takes over control of our emotions and our responses to the world around us. We end up sleep-walking on auto-pilot, rather than living consciously, in the truth of the present moment.
Meditation and mindfulness can set us free from that painful cycle.
With regular practice and gentle discipline it is completely possible to get your monkey mind to slow down and quieten. Then you’ll find yourself more relaxed, less stressed, more at peace and more easily able to handle emotionally-charged situations. Worth the effort?
Without the regular, consistent effort, you’re not likely to see results. Ever. Sorry!
But the effort doesn’t have to be hard work. In fact, trying too hard is a key challenge for students at this stage. If you start trying too hard, you’ll tense up your body. If you’re not relaxed, you can’t meditate. When you’re feeling tense, you fill your body with extra stress hormones – especially adrenalin – putting you into ‘fight or flight’ mode. And guess what the monkey mind does? It gets louder!
So take a deep breath in, breathe out with an ‘ahhh’ sound and let go of that ‘trying hard’.
The whole ‘monkey mind’ thing really does take practice. Rather than waiting for a full-blown meditation session, it’s worth practising for a minute or two at random points in your day. How about grabbing a couple of minutes with your ‘observing the monkey mind’ practice, at random points during the day?
You could become the silent, accepting observer of your monkey mind whilst you:
- Wait for the kettle to boil.
- Sit at the traffic lights.
- Queue up to pay for your lunch.
- Brush your teeth.
- Walk from your home to your car / public transport.
There are many opportunities to play with this, during a typical day.
The key to setting yourself free from the addiction we run to the monkey mind’s games is to love it, unconditionally, as a parent would love their child.
It’s about loving and accepting your monkey mind – not its behaviour.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “What you resist persists – including the antics of your monkey mind.” (Thank you to Carl Jung for your help with that one).
Our monkey mind loves to play games with us – ’tis the nature of the beast. Once you’re cool with that, you can start retraining it, to behave in a way that supports your choice to move towards a life that’s open to inner peace and happiness. If it’s shouting, play with turning down the volume, changing the tone of voice, slowing down the words, if you think in words.
If you think in pictures, you could play with making them less bright, slowing down any motion – even stopping it – or popping them in a cloud bubble and watching them drift away.
Sometimes the mind just chatters to get our attention or sometimes it just chatters to keep us company. Be wary of getting annoyed with it (or yourself).
Take that deep breath and open up to observe. The more you play with this, the more you’ll notice your mind calming down. It will become more quiet. You’ll be giving it permission to relax – to stop racing.
Then, one day, you’ll experience the stillness between your thoughts. It can feel magical. It’s so peaceful. Then a thought bubbles up. And then it passes through. You find yourself able to choose whether or not to engage with it.
That’s when you realise that it’s not true that your mind ‘never’ quietens or that it’s ‘always’ busy.
There is a gap between each and every thought. And that’s where your inner peace lies, waiting for you to notice it.
Giving yourself permission to be the gentle, compassionate observer of your thoughts opens you up to experiencing the ‘gap’.
And, one day, you’ll realise that this gentle, but disciplined practice has helped you reach the point where the stillness of the gap is available to you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whenever you choose to reach out and touch it.
How about choosing to become the silent observer of your thoughts for the next minute, right now?