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 an illusion that if you think ahead (about literally everything or constantly about just one) you will somehow prevent and/or at least feel prepared to cope with whatever may be ahead. It is like having your very own reconnaissance troops - always out in front - checking, strategising, scanning . . . forever scanning . . . . in the hope they will spot potential dangers long before those dangers 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 breath cannot be underestimated. Anyone who works with me knows how simple and powerful this is. Breathing with mindful intention - even just for a few moments - can bring you out of your mind and back into your whole being, instantly. You engage your parasympathetic nervous system (your in-built calming mechanism) and regain access to logical thinking and your inner resources.
Feel your body. Find the worry in your physical body. Where do you feel it, where does it resonate or create sensations? Breathe into this space slowly, gently and 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 attention away from the mental chatter and instead place it intentionally onto something healthy and 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); and mind activities (write, read, do puzzles, colour, draw, listen or play music). These activities are well-researched tools to distract an anxious, worrying monkey mind.
Diffusion refers to noticing a worrying thought but not feeling the need to attach to it or get carried away by it. The imagery that helps many of my clients is an image of a beautiful stream, each thought is a leaf floating by you. The monkey mind wants you to pick each leaf up, collect them in your worry basket and carry this full load around with you. Diffusion invites you to simply notice each leaf - "there is a thought about [insert yours here] floating by" - simply breathe, let it float by, take comfort you've acknowledged it, there is no need to pick it up, gather it, or be burdened carrying it around with you. Let it gently pass you by. Thank it for making itself known.
Writing is a powerful way to release troubling or cyclic thoughts and by externalising them onto paper, you create space in your mind, body and spirit, to be fully present, calmer and more focussed. Remove any pressure to write 'well'. Simply write whatever comes. Writing has been shown time and again to facilitate a deep release.
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 the monkey mind. The understanding and meaning sit within you, in this moment. In the retelling of the story, you can connect more deeply to the feelings and your inner knowledge about what needs to be acknowledged and let go.
“The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.”
― Tara Brach