“We are like servants OF our mind; whenever it wants to do something we have to do it without any choice… but if we sincerely practice we can reverse this situation. If we want to be free of problems, we must transform our mind.”
The teaching traditions of the east refer to the “monkey mind”, the thoughts that swing from thing to thing, branching out in multiple directions, often simultaneously pulling us all over the map of our lives, and almost always driving us away from what’s right in front of us. In the west we are very, very familiar with this tendency of our thinking mind, especially when we finally want to stop thinking and get some rest, or simply connect with the child or partner who is seeking our attention.
To practice taming this uncontrollable monkey mind, there are a few things we can begin to do:
1. Either move or stretch your body. Our thinking energy and our physical energy can re-enforce each other. If you are wound up mentally, try to circulate your body’s energy through some form of motion or exercise; if you are blocked mentally, try to stretch open tight spots within your back, hips, shoulders, neck, etc. By taking some control of what we can –our position, posture, or movement — we can begin to influence the mental energy that we will experience. For more tips on this please click here.
2. Take a few moments to feel your breath. We have probably all been in situations where we were uptight and someone said: “hey, step back and take a deep breath”. Sage advice. Biophysically, our breath is a critical part of our nervous system, and can literally shift you out of the adrenal pumping “fight or flight” mode and into a state that is more “tending and mending”. For more tips on this please don’t click anywhere for more information; stop, close your eyes, and feel your breath.
3. Consider changing your media diet. Fill your mind more with words of inspiration and images of beauty, instead of bad news, polarizing ideas, and violence. If you need a place to get inspired, try checking out some of the things on Ted.com.
4. Work directly with your thinking mind by practicing concentration. Many people have heard of meditation, maybe even have tried it, but then decided that their monkey minds were too crazy to just sit and “not think”. They are not wrong. Meditation is very much like sleep; we can’t just snap our fingers and fall asleep; nor can we do the same with meditation.
However, we can create conditions which make it pretty easy to fall asleep, like turning off lights, lying down, snuggling under the covers, having no sound or soothing sounds, etc. Similarly, the yogis discovered and teach that the preliminary step to “meditation” (“dhyana”, in sanskrit), the thing that we actually can practice doing, is not to stop the mind but to “concentrate” its attention (“dharana”) on one object When our powers of concentration become very, very strong, we then slip easily into a meditative state, like easily drifting off to a peaceful sleep.
Initially even this task of holding the mind to one thing can be difficult and frustrating. But so too would be trying to lift a 400 pound weight without any previous gym time. In every field, “every artist was at first an amateur” as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, and it is no different with mental concentration. You aren’t supposed to know how to already do it; but every time you try, you practice, you exercise your concentration you will be building that “muscle” and becoming more skillful.
The Mind Unwinders found below can be used as “concentration muscle” builders; with repeated and sincere effort, you may soon begin to get glimpses of the peace and bliss (“samadhi”) that are underneath and currently being crowded out by all of those run-on thoughts.