Meditation—Your Best Defense Against “Monkey Mind”
The practice of meditation exposes your inner thoughts and emotions, which can be scary, entertaining, and ultimately enlightening.
Meditation can sharpen your concentration, help you become more resilient in times of stress, persevere during trying times, teach you to love more deeply, and experience greater joy and peace. All that from just sitting there? Yes. And more.
Like so many things in life, it’s easier said than done. Meditators do look serene, sitting on those pretty cushions. But there’s something deeper, much deeper going on. Demons are being wrestled, boredom is being fought, tears rise, and hunger beckons fantasies of cheese fries. Then a moment of blissful silence where the mind stops chattering—soon to tumble again into that rabbit hole of thinking, desiring to be somewhere else, or someone else.
Truth is, most of us spend much of our time in what Buddhists refer to as “monkey mind”—an endless, aimless swinging from one thought branch to another. One second it’s a to-do list, the next a childhood memory—on and on it goes. This is an undisciplined mind hijacked by unconscious habit.
Meditation helps make the unconscious conscious. By focusing on what’s going on in your mind, you can learn to be “here and now,” to notice the sweet birds singing, your loved one’s silly laughter, the joyful scent of a perfect cappuccino. Meditation can help you wake up and live a fuller, more intentional life. A life that is less controlled by outside forces, shifting emotions, or scattered thoughts. (See also our post “What Is Mindfulness? And How Does It Make a Difference?“)
Meditation and the Power Within
Imagine being able to contain rising anger, stopping it from spiraling into uncontrollable rage that leads to violence through words or deed, or destruction to yourself through drugs and drink. Or how about being able to focus so intently on your work, your kids, or your workout that you thoroughly become absorbed and even happy while doing it? Meditation can help you get there.
It won’t happen, however, in a single weekend at a blissful mountain meditation retreat center. Though meditation retreats are helpful to jumpstart, maintain, and refresh your practice, it’s what you do every day that matters.
A daily practice is like putting a sheet of a paper under your feet each day. It may feel like nothing much is happening, but by the end of year, you’re standing taller.
Taming the Restless Mind: Why Slowing Down Equals Efficiency
In our highly connected technological society, multi-tasking has become an obsession, and the ability to focus on just one thing may seem like an impossible and antiquated task. But efficiency and effectiveness are possible through one-pointed attention.
Every distraction—the ding of an e-mail, the hum of cell phone, a glance at the clock—is an interruption taking you away from the here and now. Falling prey to these constant distractions makes a mind jumpy, unsettled, and stressed.
Try this meditation:
- Set an alarm clock for 10 minutes.
- Find a comfortable seated position with your back supported and upright.
- Close your eyes.
- Notice your thoughts and your emotions.
- Try to slow them down by turning your attention to your breathing.
- Notice your inhale.
- Notice your exhale.
- Just keeping doing that, noticing and slowing down the chatter by focusing your attention on your breath.
- When your alarm goes off, notice how you feel, and then continue with your day.
That’s just one example of a meditation. It has many forms that have passed down through thousands of years.
Three of the most recognized and celebrated meditation masters are Thich Nhat Hahn, Pema Chodron, and the Dalai Lama. Their books and online content and talks can help inspire your practice. But there’s nothing like finding a local group with whom to practice.
Meditation instructors often offer guided mediations to help you learn different techniques. Joining a group can help you stay more dedicated to your practice and introduce you to people on the same path. Find them at yoga centers, YMCAs, and senior centers or online at meetup.com.
SOURCES & RESOURCES
For more on the benefits of meditation, please visit these posts:
- “Fibromyalgia Natural Treatment: Meditation and Mindfulness Techniques for Chronic Pain Management”
- “3 Surprising Immune System Boosters: Meditation, Mindfulness, and Yoga”
- “Meditation and Depression: Practicing Mindfulness Treats Depression for Some People”
Olympics of the Mind
As unsexy as it sounds, it’s the “slow and steady” that wins the race. Part of what makes athletes (such as Olympians) so captivating is the chance to witness human beings taking themselves to their full potential. We are seeing their end state at the Olympic Games—but it’s the thousands of hours where no one was watching, where there were mistakes, missteps, anger, glory, and exhilaration, that got them where they are today. Every single one of them has one-pointed attention, and through that they have earned their rightful place to be in the Games. You, too, can gain entry to more peace and happiness through meditation.
Consider this passage from the Dalai Lama’s book How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life:
“There are two ways to create happiness. The first is external. By obtaining better shelter, better clothes, and better friends we can find a certain measure of happiness and satisfaction. The second is through mental development, which yields inner happiness. However, these two approaches are not equally viable. External happiness cannot last long without its counterpart. If something is lacking in your perspective—if something is missing in your heart—then despite the most luxurious surroundings, you cannot be happy. However, if you have peace of mind, you can find happiness even under the most difficult circumstances.”
JoAnn Milivojevic, a restless meditator who sometimes experiences the bliss of slowing down her monkey mind.
Meditation takes focus and concentration, but when practiced, it can relieve us of what Buddhists call "monkey mind."
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