Taming Your Monkey Mind
If you've ever sat down with the intention to remain still and put all your focus on your breath for a period of time, you discovered your monkey mind.
You might get through one inhale before your mind tosses up something to distract you. If your mind moves this quickly when you are trying to be still, imagine how quickly it moves when it perceives a threat.
Over and over I've heard clients and students express their frustration regarding their ability to access the skills of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in the heat of the moment. They find themselves in reaction, saying and doing things that makes things worse even though they know there is another way.
For the purposes of this article, I define reaction as unconsciously acting from the judgments, interpretations, associations, and stories your mind creates about a particular person or situation. This means monkey mind is in charge of you. When monkey mind is in charge, connected relationships, happiness, and peace are lost.
I want to offer two ways to tame your monkey mind.
One, cultivate a regular meditation practice. At the very least begin to watch the monkey mind.
There are many meditation practices. I am specifically recommending a concentration practice for taming your mind.
Choose a do-able period of time for you –anywhere from 5 minutes to 1 hour. Sit comfortably with your back straight but not tense (it helps to have your hips above your knees). Begin by mentally telling each part of your body to relax. Then put your focus on a chosen object – counting your breath, watching a candle, or listening to sounds. Notice each thought that arises and go back to your object of focus. Try to do this at the same time every day.
Two, cultivate a mindfulness practice.
The most basic definition of mindfulness practice is that you are noticing the content of your mind and your sensations and feelings in a given moment.
When you bring awareness to your experience of the present moment you open the door to conscious choice. You can choose to spin stories and interpretations about someone or you can choose to connect with the feelings and needs alive for you with regards to that person.
Every thought you have can move you towards or away from connection to life. Without mindfulness you have no choice about which direction you move.
Cultivating mindfulness practice starts with intention. I find it helpful to hold both a general and specific intention.
My general intention sounds like this: "I want my mind to stay in the experience of the present moment. I will ask myself many times a day: 'What am I thinking now? Where is my mind?'"
Each morning my husband and I tell each other a specific mindfulness intention for the day. Specific intentions sound like this: "Today I will be mindful of anxiety. Noticing it each time it arises and looking for the thoughts behind it. I will check in several times today to see if anxiety is present." At the end of the day we check in about what we discovered with that mindfulness task. I might keep the same mindfulness task for several days. If you would like further support with mindfulness tasks you can sign up for weekly mindfulness task at http://www.zendust.org/dharmatask.htm
One key to mindfulness practice is learning to use the little spaces in your day: standing in line, stopped at a spotlight, waiting for an internet page to load, on hold on a phone line, bathroom breaks, walking from one room to another, making coffee, etc. In every space you can remind yourself of your intention and bring yourself present to your body sensations and breath. Letting your awareness rest in the breath and body allows the mind to rest.
This week schedule a regular mediation practice. Set up a space in your home and choose a do-able period of time. Write down both a general and specific intention for mindfulness practice. Post what you have written in a place where you will see it every day.