Sober Up Your Monkey Mind

The (Drunken) Monkey Mind

This is perhaps the aptest description for your mind I’ve heard. Buddha described the human mind as being filled with “drunken monkeys.” In other words, he is saying that without discipline, our mind can be a wildly uncontrolled space. (Forgive me, as much as I searched, I couldn’t find a direct citation here – it seems like fairly common knowledge – but if you’d like to dive deeper into the origins of this expression – forgive me twice because here’s a Wikipedia article).

Your brain wants to work and it’s not always linear. On any given day, we have over 6,000 thoughts.  We’ve trained it to work. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but there is another integral piece of the puzzle here. The brain also needs rest, and our hearts and minds sometimes need a break.

Test it out.

Sample session

Let’s start with a practical application. Go ahead and take out your phone.

.. go ahead. I’ll wait. *crosses arms a la Mrs. Cranwell in 5th-grade music class (she must’ve been a saint). 

Okay so listen to the instructions first, okay? If you don’t, we will be confused and the point of this little virtual exercise will be lost.

Set your timer for 60 seconds. If you don’t have your phone on you – set a clock, or watch, or whatever.

Now, sit up tall, and clear your mind. Get ready to think of absolutely nothing for 60 seconds.

Start your timer, close your eyes. Go. Do. Now.

How was that?

If you’re like me, just by telling me to think of nothing, I start worrying about thinking and start thinking about not thinking. Then I get mad at myself for thinking. All of a sudden my grocery list is top of mind, then something someone said at work, my honey-do (I’m honey) list, next it’s “don’t scratch your nose,” “refocus back on nothingness,” and then the time is up. It’s amazing how many thoughts you have in just 60 seconds. It’s no wonder that meditation can feel like it stretches on forever.

Your mind at work

In short, your mind likes to be busy. At least that’s the theory, right? So now we need to work to train our brain to take a smoke break as it were (what’s the non-deadly, 21st-century equivalent of that apt phrase?).

Training your monkey mind helps you to experience that “silent mind” yogis (and CEO’s) are always talking about. More importantly, this is what helps us to chill-out in stressful situations that are off the mat. As a result, it hopefully makes us kinder, calmer humans who don’t flip off each other off in traffic.

The example I always lean on is how I feel when I stand in line at the grocery store. Arms full because I never grab a cart when I really should, and ten people in front of me. Especially now with a mask, it adds an extra level of impatience. What do my thoughts look like at that moment? How do I see the people around me? Am I calm? No, honestly, most of the time the answer is “no.” However, when I have my regular yoga/meditation practice, it’s better than the sloth garbage-monkey that comes to life when I’m not in a healthy state of mind.

Practical application

In light of this information, let’s talk next steps. You can sober up your little heathens and tamp down your thoughts to a dull roar. Over time, you’ll get into the calm.

  1. Start (or continue) a yoga practice. Online or in-person is fine. The time spent focusing on intentional movement and breath may not feel relaxing at the moment, but it’s meant to get you there. Your instructor will guide you through your practice and then savasana at the end of your class.
  2. Get walking. Mindfully begin a moving meditation. Different than traditional seated meditation, your blood is pumping now. I’ve recently been using the time I have to walk my dog as mediation time. I’ll either stream a meditation with a favorite yoga instructor (hey there Peloton, take all my money) or walk myself through a breath mantra I like.
  3. Extend your day by 5 minutes. Add a 5-minute meditation practice to your morning routine. Get up, put the coffee on, sit for 5 minutes. Honestly, I could sure benefit from this more intentional meditation practice in my daily life. I feel like it’s the next step from my walks. Like graduation almost.
  4. Stare at a candle. Sensory meditation can help to calm the mind and focus your energy in one direction. Light a candle, take just two minutes at first and just gaze.
  5. Try a mantra or two. Repetition is helpful, the slower you say it out loud or in your mind the better. For instance, I enjoy this one – “om gam ganapataye namaha.” It’s really the only Sanskrit meditation I’ve memorized and it’s because I love it.  I come from a Catholic background, so verbal meditation like this is familiar and calming. Here’s a Yoga Journal rabbit hole to journey down if you’re so inclined.

But, why?

First of all, you read to the end of this article for a reason. So you’re interested, right? You’ve thought about it? Listen, I’m not here to preach meditation, just about how to do it if you’d like to try it out. In short, it’s good for you. It’s good for all of us. Above all, meditation is an individual journey. I hope that for you, it’s one that brings about peace and perspective (along with lots of calm). If you have any tips, I’d love to hear them below!

About the Author:

Brianna is a businessperson with a passion for social science (and yoga!). The two (or three!) seem to always intersect and come together in Indie.  If you’d like to know more, check this out! If you like this article, please subscribe & check out Indie for more. Thanks, as always, for reading! If you have a story to share, please share it below! 

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