Befriending the Monkey

Examining the Monkey Mind and What to do About it.

Several years ago, I was at a seminar with a monk who said, “The more mindful I become, the more mindful I become of my mindlessness”. He called it his ‘monkey mind’. It was such a simple statement, but a profound way of describing what I’ve been experiencing for many years. My mindfulness practice brings about a mixed bag of emotions (from peace and equanimity, to frustration and depression) and I can get boggled down with feeling discouraged.

I recently noticed discouragement arise while I was observing my mind behaving like a fidgety little monkey and I wanted my mind to behave more like a peaceful soaring bird. I wondered how I could be practicing meditation for 15 years and still get swept away with incessant ramblings? My mentor always reminds me that a monkey mind is part of common humanity and she smiles warmly while telling me I’m not doing anything wrong… but, I still have days when I think I’m going bonkers with my monkey mind.

Whenever I feel like I’m going bonkers, I resort to my life skills toolbox and pull out the tools for processing emotions relating to discouragement. Two of my favourite tools for processing discouragement are; humour and reflection.

The other week I did a Google search for “stand-up comedy videos about the monkey mind and meditation”. I stumbled across an awesome video by Ellen Degeneres, you can check it out by clicking here. She shares a lighthearted description of her experience in a group meditation; I can certainly relate, and it was a nice reminder that my experience is part of common humanity.

Once I got some comedy relief, I moved into reflection. I began to explore the root causes of my discouragement with noticing my monkey mind. I uncovered a connection between my feelings of frustration and lack of acceptance of what was going on. It seems the more I criticize my mindlessness, the more mindless I become, therefore, the more frustrated I feel. It’s a vicious cycle that can disconnect me from the present moment and pull me into unhepful thinking patterns such as; “I’m not as good at meditating as I should be” “Why do I even bother meditating” or “I am weak minded because I can’t even control my head”.

It helps me to think about what that monk said about his own mindlessness. He told us that the best way to work with the monkey mind is to bring attention to the breath; which makes sense because when I engage in rambling thoughts, I’m not paying attention to the present moment, and my breath is always available for me to anchor in the present moment.

Here’s a description of a mindful breathing practice that I like to use:

  1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position
  2. Bring awareness to how your body feels
  3. Bring awareness to the natural flow of your breath
  4. Notice the pathway of your breath as it moves in the chest, lower rib cage, and abdomen
  5. Allow your breath to move in its own natural rhythm
  6. Continue to observe your breath for 3 – 5 minutes

I’ve been facilitating courses to offer tools for optimal well-being and communication since 2002 and I always encourage people to start a mindfulness practice that includes conscious breathing. I admit it can be challenging and discouraging at times; however, there are several benefits to cultivating the skills to anchor our self in the present moment. One is that we recognize our ability to choose how we respond to our mixed emotions. Will we choose to fester, or add some humour and reflection?

I would love to hear from you any stories about your own monkey mind and how humour, reflection, or other tools have helped you persevere.

All my best,