I don’t know about you, but most of us seem to have what the meditation world calls a monkey mind. I call it my grasshopper mind, because it can flit from one thing to the next with an amazing level of skill, constantly hopping around, making plenty of noise and rarely still.
When we sit for silent meditation, or try to practise mindfulness, we often find that our biggest challenges, such as knees hurting or back aching, are nothing compared to the chattering of our mind. Yet, although we might not be aware of where the thoughts come from, we can do something about them.
You don’t have to ignore your monkey mind.
And remember the #1 meditation myth? Meditation and mindfulness are not about making your monkey mind shut up!
Sometimes our monkey mind is trying to get a message through to us. It might be worried that we’re going to forget to do something; sometimes it’s telling us about things we are afraid of; sometimes it’s just used to filling in the chatter so we don’t feel lonely; sometimes we have just got into the habit of having an unconscious commentary running of everything we are seeing and doing.
When your monkey mind is shouting and yelling, it’s worth sitting quietly for a moment and asking yourself why. Is there a message it’s trying to get to you? Is there something you need to know?
Often, if you listen without judgement or interaction, the monkey mind can have its say and then relax. Sometimes it helps to jot down the thing it wanted you to remember, so you can let go of it and get on with your meditation.
What Are Some Of The Games A Monkey Mind Can Play? And What Can You Do About Them?
I’m curious: what are the games that your monkey mind plays, when you’re trying to meditate or practise mindfulness?
Here are some of the ways that my meditation students have experienced it:
- Getting bored
Your monkey mind tells you it’s feeling bored. It tells you that meditation is boring. It can be pretty convincing.Of course meditation is boring for a monkey mind that is used to running the show, at faster than the speed of sound…But accepting that your mind is playing the ‘bored game’ and allowing yourself to go more deeply into your practice will prove to your monkey mind that meditation is far from boring!
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- Playing music
Your monkey mind has usually been trained to be scared of silence. So, even if you manage to accept your thoughts, it might try new tactics, such as playing music or singing a catchy song.Again – just accept this. Stick the music on the conveyer belt or whichever other technique is working for you.Turn down the volume. Slow down the tempo, if it starts yelling for attention.Don’t engage. Don’t get annoyed. Don’t play the game. Just practise accepting it and let it go. It will eventually get the idea.
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- Reminding you about your ‘to do’ list
Classic trick, this one! Again – you know it’s not true. It’s VERY rare that something won’t wait 10 minutes.Stick it on the conveyer belt!
A previous student on my online meditation course shared:
“For the first time *ever* in lots of ‘trying and failing’, I got some sense of what it is like to watch thoughts and actually observe them, moving on. I love the conveyer belt.”
Another shared a great tip for accepting – and not engaging, with your thoughts:
“I chose to sit outside a cave, in the sunshine, while my thoughts stayed in the cave. They seemed quieter; more distant. And it made it harder for me to interact with them – easier to accept them and just let them be.”
What are your monkey mind’s games? They’re different for each of us.
And how do you deal with them?
What has worked for you?
What could you do differently, to make peace with your monkey mind?
Do You See What’s Going On?
Often we’re not even aware of the fact that we’re living our life according to the whim of the monkey mind. It is triggering our emotions and filtering our experience of life, without our conscious permission. Sounds scary? Yet this is what we have spent many years training it to do!
And we have spent a lifetime, learning to ignore its behaviour and pretend it isn’t there.
The mind’s ‘default setting’ is thinking, not awareness, peace, stillness or being. So it’s no wonder that it objects, when we dare to suggest it might quieten down for our meditation time…
How to tame a multi-tasking mind
Many of us have trained our mind to need to think of many things at once. It’s a real skill. But it doesn’t help you to relax, de-stress or learn to meditate. An interesting question (that sends your mind into a spin!) is:
“What won’t happen if I don’t think of three things at once?”
What won’t happen if your mind doesn’t chatter three conversations at once? Just let an answer bubble up for you, without analysing or judging it. This can help you unlock the key of why you have been feeding your monkey mind. Are you scared of silence? Are you scared things won’t get done? Are you trying to avoid thinking about something else?
Usually the answer to that question contains hints on how to set yourself free from that old grasshopper mind habit. If the answer feels uncomfortable, don’t dive into the drama.
Thinking isn’t ‘bad’.
But an out-of-control mind produces thinking that is ‘unconscious’, ‘unaware’. This feeds our love of drama, creating painful emotional states and keeping us stuck worrying about the past or stressing about the future.
So it is ‘untamed’ thinking that is the issue, not the presence of the thoughts.
It is our attachment to the thoughts that causes the pain, not the fact that they exist.
Be gentle, but firm, with your monkey mind.
Remember that with every breath we can choose to make a fresh start. Anything the monkey mind is telling us about our past belongs just there.
Having chosen to go on a meditation journey, you’re already taking positive steps towards creating a new future.
Meditation and mindfulness can really, really help calm a monkey mind, but you need to be careful which kind of meditation you pick. For example the types of meditation where you sit silently for hours might not be the best place for you to start, if your monkey mind stresses you out.
Mindfulness, which we are looking at next week, is about being fully present and aware of the moment – including your thoughts. It can be a lot easier for somebody who’s running a strong monkey mind pattern.
Practical solutions for today
You might like to experiment with some subtle tweaks you can make to remind your grasshopper mind who’s boss and calm it a little. You are the boss of your monkey mind, whether it accepts it or not!
If your thoughts are mainly words:
- How about telling your thoughts to slow down? Cutting the speed at which your mind is speaking can help cut your stress levels dramatically.
- And when you have played with that, how about changing the volume, making it quieter?
- You could experiment with changing the tone of the conversation that you are hearing in your head and making it sound kinder and softer.
If your thoughts are mainly pictures:
- How about slowing down any movement in the pictures? This can really help you relax.
- If the pictures are bright and colourful, you could tone them down a little.
- If they are big, you could make them smaller.
All this – and plenty more – is possible. You just need to play with the techniques.
Don’t wait till you’re meditating – practise these techniques at any time of day when you want to quieten your mind and de-stress.
If your monkey mind is a bit rebellious, there’s something you can do to get it to help you, instead of hindering your meditation journey:
Give your monkey mind a job to do, while you’re meditating!
For example, it could be ‘in charge’ of reminding you, when your attention drifts. Or perhaps it might like to be the ‘boss’ of letting you know how your big toe on your left foot is feeling. The job doesn’t have to be serious!
Your mind is used to working very hard and, like any workaholic, it finds it hard to switch off. It deserves your compassion – but not your sympathy! It’s time for you to get back in the driving seat….
So my invitation to you today is to play with understanding what your monkey mind might be trying to tell you – and then to remind it who’s boss – lovingly, but firmly.
Want to tell us your Monkey Mind’s favourite games? Or discover how others are handling theirs? I’d love to hear from you, via the comments!
I give my monkey mind permission to let go, just for ten minutes.
And if you’d love to make meditation – even just 10 minutes – part of your daily routine, then you’ll love my 10 week online programme: How To Meditate. I’d be honoured to share the journey with you.
With love, Namaste,