The Monkey in Your Head

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Last week, one of my cats, Frack, managed to sneak his way outside during a repairman visit. He was used to being outside until a few months ago, when my new landlord requested that all cats remain indoors. But he got out, and I saw no sign of him for nearly a week. During this time, I worked myself into a frenzy thinking of all the bad things that might happen...What if he never comes back? What if a dog gets him? What if he gets hit by a car?

Do you ever do this? Create extra stress and anxiety around a situation that is beyond your control?

If this scenario sounds familiar, then you have experienced the effects of “monkey mind.” Monkey mind is a term used in Buddhism to refer to an unsettled, restless mental state. If you're like most people, all day long your mind constantly speaks to you. It tells you stories, makes up things that haven't happened, remembers things that have, etc...in effect it's like a movie drama that's constantly playing in your head. All of this thinking creates a lot of stress in your body, because when something is happening in your head, your body doesn't know the difference between whether it's actually REALLY happening, or it's a past or future story.

To demonstrate: recall a stressful past situation. Remember the story of what happened in as much detail as possible. Notice that, as you do this, your body starts to react similar to the way it felt when you were actually IN the situation.

Recalling stressful past stories, or worrying about stories we're telling ourselves about the future (that aren't even real—as I was doing with my cat) are a major factor in high modern-day stress levels. It's like we're compounding all of that stress from both the past and the future into the present moment. So how to stop this? It's all in creating more PRESENCE within each and every moment, and this can only be achieved through AWARENESS. The good news is, it's actually quite simple, it just takes practice.

How to Tame the Monkey:

  1. Become aware of your thoughts. Notice when you are beginning to think thoughts that have nothing to do with your present situation, that haven't even happened or are beyond your control, especially if you notice your body reacting to those thoughts.
  2. Bring yourself back. Shift your focus to the task at hand. Observe your surroundings—the colors, smells, and sights all around you. Feel your body supported by the chair you are sitting in, and the earth beneath it. Also, saying “I'm back” out loud is a great way to really ground yourself in the present moment.
  3. After coming back, thank your monkey mind. I like to say, “Thank you monkey mind for sharing, but I'm doing THIS right now.”

Use these steps to practice keeping your mind in the present moment. Your mind will eventually wander again, so be gentle with yourself when it does...being hard on yourself for not “doing it right” is only another monkey mind thought. Keep practicing and it will get easier!

As for Frack: he came back pretty much as soon as I allowed myself to quit worrying about him...after I opened myself to TRUSTING that things are as they should be, and let go of needing to control the situation. The next morning he showed up, a hungry black kittie on my back porch, and it was as if he'd been there all along. Hell, he might have been, and I might have just been too busy worrying to notice =)

I am here to serve you, so I totally appreciate any and all questions, feedback, and requests...simply leave me a comment, or drop me a line at yogadose@sacurrent.com.

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