Buddhist teachers often refer to the “Monkey Mind” as the state of mind that is unsettled, racing, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch. When our mind is racing out of control, we are at its effect.
We become the unwilling subject of our own criticism, unable to remove ourselves from the spiral, worried about our future, or preoccupied with our past. This state of mind is most closely associated with the ego, self-criticism, anxiety, and doubt.
In the present moment, when we achieve a flow state, we can transcend these feelings. The ego recedes to the back of our mind when we are truly inflow. Distractions are abundant, and we constantly ingest information designed to fill us with worry. Think about how much social media triggers most people. There are many ways to become captive to the monkey mind and only a few ways to counteract it.
First, why should we want to quiet the mind? Isn’t it our job to just buckle down and power through? Isn’t hustle what brings success? Not necessarily. Clearly, effort and discipline are rewarded, but racing thoughts can produce stress and impaired judgment. Taoism uses the metaphor of a willow branch, which remains strong but flexible in the wind. Bruce Lee famously said, “Be like water,” which flows smoothly but also can crash down with powerful waves. Clarity and stillness of mind can produce not only calm and relaxation but power as well. Many people avoid meditation with the simple rationalization that they do not have time. But even one minute a day can produce amazing results in one’s ability to still the mind.
There are many different modalities of meditation, all with a different focus. Some examples are Mindfulness, Zen, Transcendental, moving meditations in the form of Yoga asana or Tai Chi. Each has its own precepts and techniques. For the purpose of ease, we’ll introduce just a couple of basic techniques here.
Basic mindfulness meditation:
Basic mindfulness meditation:
1) Take a seat
Find a place to sit that feels quiet and calm to you.
2) Set a time limit
If you’re just beginning, feel free to start with something easy like 1-10 minutes. You can always work up to as long as you like.
3) Notice your body
You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor; you can kneel or sit cross-legged. Just make sure you are comfortable staying in this position for a while.
4) Feel your breath
Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in and as it goes out.
5) Notice when your mind has wandered
Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. When you notice that your mind has wandered—in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—simply return your attention to the breath.
6) Be kind to your wandering mind
Just come back. Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you experience. Simply notice them and let them pass.
7) Close with kindness
When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.
This technique can really be practiced anywhere. You don’t need some special sanctuary or mountaintop ashram. You can pull your car over on a stressful day or take a few minutes at your desk between meetings.
As your meditation practice deepens, you will want to seek out other ways to practice calming and strengthening your power of concentration. Meditation practitioners report reduced stress and anxiety, and while we all encounter difficulty and frustration in our lives, learning to center oneself using the breath can shorten the length of negative states of emotion.
So take a moment today to “be here now.”