According to Buddha the human mind is filled with drunken monkeys flinging themselves from tree branches, jumping around, and chattering nonstop. Our minds move fast and sometimes in no set order. On average in a day we can have up to 70,000 thoughts per day which work out to about 3000 per hour or 50 per minute, just under one per second.
In this era of information and instant gratification we find it hard to stay still or pay attention for prolonged periods of time. Most of our thoughts are usually negative and fear based. Preparing for the future and attempting to avoid harm is how we basically wired. Thinking about the past and reviewing old tapes is also common. The monkey mind loves swinging from past to future chattering tales as it goes along but is highly uncomfortable with the present moment and being quiet. The monkey mind loves being busy and in motion. Doing as opposed to being is where the monkey mind wants to be.
The first step to living amiably with your monkey mind is AWARENESS. Becoming aware that it exists, that it is part of you but doesn’t define you and doesn’t need to result in suffering every time it swings through your forest. The monkey lives within us, but it does not control us if we are aware of its presence.
The second step is to STOP and OBSERVE. When your mind is spiralling out of control or effecting your sleep just stop whatever you are doing and observe what thoughts are going through your mind. Using the image of watching clouds pass by, observe your thoughts as they come and go. You don’t have to react to them nor take them to be your reality, just stop and observe.
The third step is to LABEL. As the thoughts are passing by look for common themes in them and label theme for example. ‘Hey there is worry again’. By reflecting and labelling the cluster of thoughts it creates a sense of distance and objectivity which helps you to respond to your thoughts in a more controlled fashion.
The fourth step is a bit of work ….Write it down. By setting some time everyday to just let the monkey have its say is important. Just write it down. What is the mind concerned about? What are the themes arising? Label reflect and act if necessary. By writing it down we are in fact externalizing the thoughts and it’s an amazing tool to quieten the monkeys chatter thus making way for our own gut or intuition that gets lost due to all the noise.
Fifth and final step is to GET INTO THE MOMENT. They are two ways that work for me. One is bringing awareness to breathe by simply becoming aware of how you breathe. Secondly using your senses to get back into your body. Become aware of what you can see around you as if you are an alien and it’s the first time you are looking around. Become aware of sounds, scents, tastes and sensations. By living in the moment we are allowing ourselves peace and choice for it is futile thinking about the past for we cannot change it nor can we control the future. The only thing we can control is our response in the present moment.
So how do we know if the monkey is quietening down. Well we would notice our thoughts more objectively and be able to identify the triggers that get the monkey chattering. Thus, responding instead of reacting to events. When you notice yourself focusing and enjoying the moment know the monkey has been tamed.