That negative voice in your head. Do you hear one? No, you are not crazy, it is what some meditation teachers refer to as the Monkey Mind. It talks incessantly, it has a mind of it’s own, it bounces from topic to topic, spinning it’s own truth which often has nothing to do with objective reality. Or does it? Have you ever listened to your Monkey Mind? If people heard what’s in my head, they would definitely think I’m bonkers. But everybody has it to varying degrees.
The Monkey Mind is usually thought of as a hindrance or a handicap because it interferes with focus, limits attention span, distracts us from thinking about what we want and focuses into seeing life’s obstacles, creates problems, sometimes we fight ourselves or other people in our mind.
As someone who has been meditating for 15+ years, I now see some benefits to observing what the Monkey Mind is talking about. Yes, in meditation, we are taught how to mute it, so that we can see beyond it. That is a tremendous power on its own, but after years of suspending it, I now see value in observing it. There is a lot of bad habits that your Monkey Mind has picked up from your daily life, and you might find astounding how those thoughts have become your practiced reality.
Sometimes my Monkey Mind won’t shut up, it keeps me up at night, and at other times it literally gives me a mental slap in the face. Only I am not listening. For years, like everyone else, I believed it to be a negative distraction, something to be shut off. At one point, it drove me crazy so much that meditation would no longer kill it, and I really considered asking for a prescription to dull it’s screaming voice. Then one day, I decided to actually listen to that annoying beast.
Take a pen and paper and keep it nearby as you go throughout your day. I even have a small notepad on my nightstand for those occasions when that Monkey won’t let me sleep at night. Write in as great a detail as you can, even when the thoughts and ideas repeat themselves. Do this for at least a week, a month preferably. Do you see a repeating story, a subject or idea you are stuck on, an anger or a fear that has been there for years, or a story that has actually become a real life problem?
Your mind serves an important purpose, and those seemingly useless thoughts are your body’s way of communicating with you. Spiritually speaking, there’s a higher purpose to mind-body communication, but for the purpose of this post, it is enough to say, Pay Attention! If you have anxiety, you know there are times when you can’t think clearly, if you are dealing with stress or painful circumstances, you may lose awareness, or have a hard time making logical decisions. Trust me, your mind is still operating, it is communicating with you in the best way it possibly can. It is literally screaming. All you have to do is listen.
It is astounding what I have realized about myself, my mistakes, my self-created obstacles, my personal failures, my self-sabotage, those problems I blamed on other people or unfortunate circumstance, once I started actually listening to my Monkey Mind as it keeps warning me on auto-repeat. Wow! Is that really me?
You see, I rely on meditation to ease anxiety, manage stress, but also, after many years of practice, I had some phenomenal experiences meditating that lead to it becoming a regular practice. I even found my personal power in the process. Thus, I always believed that my goal was to suspend the Monkey Mind in order to get into those higher mind states. Higher mental states are life altering experiences. Imagine not needing drugs to get high in less than 30 seconds, touching energy, seeing beyond what is right in front of your eyes. But, the mind still talks on auto-repeat, and don’t be fooled into thinking that those less high mind states are less important.
In fact, they are probably more important because those states are easier for novices to get into, and there is so much value to observing your mind. So, if you don’t like to meditate, you don’t have to. Take a pen and paper and start writing those crazy thoughts that pop into your head every few minutes. I wrote about 15 pages before my jaw dropped and I saw value in those words on paper. After 50 pages, I had some astounding realizations about my self and my own operating system.
At the risk of sounding insane, here is what I discovered. I am angry. I suppressed an anger that stemmed from childhood. I convinced myself that I dealt with it and moved on, but actually I just stomped all over it and suppressed it. Funny, that anger kept coming out and getting stronger after each failed romantic relationship. The Monkey Mind kept reminding me it is still there, I kept ignoring it. I have fear. Deep in the back of my mind, also in the pit of my stomach there is a fear that keeps bubbling up every -10 months. It is a ridiculous fear, but in the last few years that same fear has caused 2 car crashes, accidental physical injuries, etc. I see injustice in everyday situations and I play them over and over in my mind. This has caused me to say some inappropriate things to coworkers. I have had some inexplicable physical symptoms that my physician could not cure. They too made sense, when I started listening to my mind explain what I am doing wrong to my body.
It is amazing how we refuse to listen to our own mind. Why would we, it reminds us every minute of the day what we are doing wrong. It’s like that nagging mother we learn to tune out in our childhood. But the Monkey Mind is a beautifully designed mechanism that fits compactly into our head. Don’t you wish you had an app that could help you decipher yourself, waive a red flag when you are doing something stupid, warn you for the 150,000th time not to stick your finger into the electric socket?
I write about meditation a lot because I am in awe of the fantastical, mind-boggling, and empowering experiences I have had with it. But I do understand that it is not easy, and that some people don’t like to look within. If you have trouble mediating, you can still listen to your mind, by writing down your thoughts, in fact, go a step further, and write out your dreams too. They are even more powerful tools that allow you to witness your subconscious. If you live alone, talk to yourself out loud. You might hear yourself criticize or beat up on yourself, fight imaginary bad guys. Those mental fights and internal anger are just your attacks on your self. Don’t believe me?
When you are angry at a boss, a traffic cop, or your ex, where does the anger reside? Is the anger inside you, or is it inside the cop? It is yours. No matter how angry you get, you cannot put that feeling of anger inside another person. It resides firmly inside you. So who is it hurting? Only you. Who is your fear scaring? Only you. Who is your hate killing? Only you. Allow all these negative emotions to come out, don’t retaliate against your own thoughts. By allowing your monkey mind to speak, by releasing pent up emotions, you can now identify them.
The good news is that once you understand how you are hurting yourself, how your body responds to its own mind, how you create your own negative patterns, how you sabotage you own progress, it is very easy to change course. Don’t believe that it’s that easy to reverse years of negative self talk?
Imagine you are an athlete, a runner, and you noticed a very light, dull ache in your knee after each run. Of course that is normal for an athlete, so you quickly dismiss it. Only the ache persists. You keep ignoring it as long as you can still run. It takes moths, or years for the pain to get worse, but you are so used to it you can’t remember life without that annoying ache. Until one day, you hear a crunch, your knee freezes, and now you can no longer move. If you are paying attention to your own body, you know you caused the pain by yourself by running. At this point, will you stubbornly keep running? You can’t, it’s impossible, your brain knows any attempt to run will do more harm. Even if you took a painkiller, your understanding of how you have caused your body pain would stop you from running and seek medical attention. By that same token, awareness of what you are doing wrong with your thoughts, helps you to easily pause, then change your thoughts. Could you now go to your physician and tell her that the knee hurts because someone made you run too much? Could you convince yourself that the pain is caused by something else? You wouldn’t be able to once you become aware of how you created your own injury.
Awareness of your own thoughts is an extremely powerful self monitoring tool. It allows you to objectively see how you create your own issues, precipitate your own problems, project your negativity onto others, how you are sabotaging yourself. The beauty of this is that it allows you to make changes to your own behavior before that behavior turns into a permanent injury, a crime, an addiction or something that could cause lifelong problems.
The best part is that seeing your own Self as it truly is, allows you to make adjustments. You can now refocus, manage your thoughts, stop certain habits, and create new ones that will drive your life into a different direction.
Your Monkey Mind is like your personal GPS system. It warns you when you are about to derail yourself, and no matter how many wrong moves you make, it will always keep talking. “Course correction, make a U turn”, “Your wheel fell off because you kept driving into that pot hole over and over again. Didn’t you see the pothole you silly goose?”
Don’t fight your Monkey Mind, and don’t force it to shut off. Just, listen. Life’s most important realizations come from within.