Is your mind doing constant loops in restless worry?
Are you tired of thinking about things you know you can't control (or even those you can) and find it hard to switch off from them?
Does this cause disconnection or tension in your relationships?
Does this random mental activity pull you out of yourself just enough that you find it difficult to be fully
present in day-to-day activities, even those you really enjoy?
Allow me to introduce you to
the 'Monkey Mind'.
The term 'monkey mind' comes to us from Buddhism. It aptly describes the restless swinging from branch to branch, akin to your mind leaping from one thought to another, to another and yet another, in a seemingly endless mental gymnastics that drains your energy, zest, optimism and vitality.
When you have an active monkey mind, you live under a kind of illusion that if you can just think ahead (about literally everything or about specific things on repeat) you will somehow prevent and/or (at the very least) feel prepared to cope with whatever may be ahead of you. It is like having your very own reconnaissance troops - always out in front - checking, strategising, scanning . . . forever scanning . . . . in the hope they spot all potential dangers long before they find you.
“Worry pretends to be necessary
but serves no useful purpose”
― Eckhart Toll
Your monkey mind takes its job extremely seriously. From somewhere deep inside you, it truly believes it's doing an important, life-saving job for you.
The problem is . . .
- it robs you of being truly present, in the here and now
- it drains your mental, emotional and physical energy
- it blocks your ability to trust your hard-earned coping skills
- it fills you with self-doubt
- it wreaks havoc on your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing..
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
― Corrie Ten Boom
Ask yourself these questions:
Q: What is the part of you that replays or attaches to worry or cyclic thinking?
Q: Is this a part of you that is familiar to you?
Q: When do you recall first meeting this part of you?
Q: What job does this part believe it is doing for you?
These questions can help you begin to understand the 'why' of monkey mind's presence in your world. Once you have this awareness, the rest of the journey to change lies in interrupting its antics and replacing them with helpful, mindful alternatives that serve your inner calm, acceptance and resilience.
So what next?
Try these powerful, tried and tested tools, to get back into your mind and body and reclaim your mind from the mischievous monkey.
The power of the breath cannot be underestimated. Anyone who works with me knows how powerful yet simple this truly is. Breathing with mindful intention - even just for a few moments - can literally bring you out of your mind and back into your body, instantly. You calm your sympathetic nervous system and regain access to logical, calm thinking. If you learn nothing else, please harness the power of your breath and interrupt monkey mind's harmful activities.
Feel your body. Find the worrying thoughts in your physical body. Where do you feel them, where do they resonate or give you sensations? Breathe into this space slowly, gently, mindfully. If it helps, place a hand gently there and breathe into the warmth of your hand. Let your body know you hear its message and ground yourself (I recommend doing this through the feet by breathing and imagining your breath flowing all the way down through your body into your feet, then deeper, into the ground beneath, supporting and holding you underfoot). Breathe here. Be with, yourself, your body and the world around you.
Distraction is a powerful tool because you focus your attention away from mental chatter and intentionally place it onto something helpful. Distraction comes in many forms but try some of these: physical movement (dance, walk, run, cycle, swim, anything that makes you feel good in your body); focus your mind (write, read, do puzzles, colour, draw, listen or play music). All of these activities are well-researched as tools to distract an anxious, worrying monkey mind.
Diffusion is a way of noticing a thought but taking the stance you need not attach to a thought, as it is simply that - just a thought. The imagery that appears to help many of my clients engage in diffusion is to imagine sitting by a lovely stream, each thought is a leaf floating by. The monkey mind demands you pick each one up from the stream, collect it in your little basket and carry the full, overloaded basket around with you, constantly inspecting and wondering what the purpose of each and every leaf may be. An alternative is to simply notice the leaf on the water, for example, "there is a thought about [insert yours here] floating on that leaf", You can simply breathe, let it float by, take comfort that you've noticed and noted its presence, but there is little need for you to collect it, or be weighed down by it. Let it go.
Writing is a powerful way to release troubling or cyclic thoughts and by externalising them onto paper, you create space in your mind to be fully present in the now, calmer and more focussed. Remove any pressure to write 'well'. Simply write down whatever comes to mind, or free journal. This has been shown to bring more of a mental 'release' than writing poetically or grammatically, though if you have the talent for this, please do this too!
Talking to another person, whether it's a friend, your partner or a professional, helps you create meaning from the narrative running on repeat in your mind. My firm belief in my work as a therapist, is that the understanding, meaning and solutions sit inside you - and in the telling of the story, you connect more deeply to your own inner knowing. This is the immense benefit of talking things out, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, confused . . . human.
“The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.”
― Tara Brach
Get in touch if you have answers to the questions above and would like feedback or support from me. If you have something to share about your own process to quiet the monkey please consider sharing it with me.