Quieting the Monkey Mind with Meditation
An easy guide to starting a meditative practice right away
Posted October 19, 2011
In meditation circles you'll often hear the term "monkey mind." The "monkey" refers to how our primate relatives are able to swing from one branch to another with awe-inspiring skill. Similarly, our minds bounce from one idea to another, but rather than inspire awe, the activity often fills us with anxiety. Our thoughts sway from fear on one end to desire on the other, and we can rarely focus on either for very long.
Meditation quiets the monkey mind. While there are probably as many types of meditation as there are things to fear and wish for, all techniques are based on a system of repitition and focus. In this post, I'll provide simple steps to start a meditative practice right away.
Although some meditative traditions have very strict rules regarding how your posture should appear, what you should wear, and what your environment should look like, I like to keep things simple. In my private therapy practice and in mindfulness workshops, I teach participants that their meditative environment and their bodily alignment should support their ability to maintain focus. How that appears is different for every individual. But if you're looking for guidelines, I recommend that you find a comfortable space where you can relax. Quiet places are best for beginners. Next, sit in a chair or on a cushion and maintain an upright position that keeps your spine straight. If you sit in a chair, using a back support is fine if you need it.
The first technique is what I call the, "I am peaceful" meditation. Here you'll repeat a mantra, which is a word or phrase that follows your breathing patterns. By paying attention to your inhales and exhales, your breathing naturally slows down.
The "I am peaceful" practice is as follows:
1. While inhaling, say to yourself "I am"
2. While exhaling, say to yourself "peaceful"
If you've never done this before, you'll quickly realize that focusing on "I am peaceful" is easier said than done. You'll find your thoughts headed down memory lane or shifting into the future. Your body may fidget as if a can of worms suddenly opened up in your back pocket. When this happens, which is inevitable, just return to your mantra. When the monkey mind distracts you, use both your breath and the "I am peaceful" phrase as anchors to draw you back to the present practice.
Take the Kind and Gentle Approach
Remember, meditation is a practice that develops focus and it does this through relaxing the body and mind. If your mind wanders, don't be critical of yourself. Harsh words are anything but relaxing, which defeats the purpose of this act of self-care. Even if your mind wanders, you'll still feel the effects of meditation. It takes time and patience, but with consistency, staying focused will become easier and easier. Over time, you'll be rewarded with a peace that surpasses all understanding.