Saturday, March 14, 2009

Taming the monkey mind

Nothing sets me on edge as much as noise.
Noisy restaurants, stadiums, malls or grocery stores are some of my hang-ups, and I have tried to deal with it the best I can. The doctor said I have a fear of crowds.
No, I don’t have a fear of crowds, just the noise they produce.
I can’t stand loud people, either. I guess my ears are too sensitive to loud noise.
In our noisy world, we often find ourselves longing for peace and searching to find it somewhere else. But searching for it elsewhere will not help you one iota.
While it’s true that there are places we can visit where we can experience peace we do not need to wait until we get to one of these places to feel at peace.
Instead, we can learn to locate the seed of peace inside ourselves and cultivate it so that it grows into a reliable source of serenity that we can always access, no matter where we are. We experience peace when we are in a state of mental calm and serenity. It might surprise you to notice how infrequently you allow yourself to be free from anxiety. Realizing this is the first step to inner peace. If you wait until all the details of your life are taken care of to allow yourself to experience peace, you will never feel peaceful because there is always something that your mind can grab onto to create anxiety.
It is important to consciously set aside your worries and make time to cultivate inner peace. Ideally, you could schedule time each day to meditate on peace and experience what it feels like to be calm and serene. It takes practice to learn how to let go of your worries, so give yourself some time. Inhale deeply, and feel your worries dissolve with every exhale. Remind yourself that soon enough you will be able to take care of everything you need to, but right now you are taking a break.
As the clutter of your thoughts and concerns clear away, you will start to feel more serene. Allow yourself to move deeper into this state with each inhale. Realize that you have the power to free yourself from anxiety simply by deciding to do so. The more you practice feeling peaceful, the easier it will be for you to feel at peace.
Maybe you have a monkey mind like me.
It’s been called the monkey mind because of the endless chattering in your head as you jump in your mind from thought to thought while you daydream, analyze your relationships, or worry over the future. Eventually, you start to feel like your thoughts are spinning in circles and you’re left totally confused. One way to tame this wild creature in your head is through meditation. Although the paradox is that when you clear your mind for meditation you actually invite the monkey in your mind to play. This is when you are given the opportunity to tame this mental beast by moving beyond thought - to become aware of a thought rather than thinking a thought. The difference is subtle, but significant.
When you are aware of your thoughts, you can let your thoughts rise and float away without letting them pull you in different directions. Being able to concentrate is one of the tools that allow you to slow down your thought process and focus on observing your thoughts. To develop your concentration, you may want to start by focusing on the breath while you meditate.
Whenever your monkey mind starts acting up, observe your thoughts and then return your focus to your breath.
Some breathing meditations call on you to focus on the rise and fall of the breath through the abdomen, while others have you concentrate on the sound of the breath.
Fire can also be mesmerizing, and focusing on a candle flame is another useful tool for harnessing the mind. Keep the gaze soft and unfocused while observing the color, shape, and movement of the flame, and try not to blink.
Close your eyes when you feel the need and continue watching the flame in your head.
However you choose to tame the monkey mind, do so with firm kindness. The next time the chattering arises, notice it and then allow it to go away. With practice, your monkey mind will become quiet and so will you.
Take 10 to 15 minutes after waking by focusing on your breath with your eyes closed, and the same thing before you lay down for sleep. You are de-cluttering that monkey mind of yours.

John W. Cargile, Msc.D, D.D. is a licensed pastoral psychology counselor. He is a member of the National Educational Association and Alabama Educational Association. He is the author of a new novel, The Cry of the Cuckoos You can contact him at All conversations are confidential.

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