How to train your monkey mind: a psychotherapist explains
We race from one goal to the next, multitasking, multi-screening and telling ourselves that doing more somehow equals being more.
‘I'm soooo busy’ is the modern mantra. There's a sense of status in implying you barely have time to sleep these days. In a world of ‘busy-ness’, you'd think people would realise it's even more important to learn the art of stillness.
Yet research published in Science magazine shows that many of us are so turned off by the idea of sitting quietly in the presence of our own thoughts that we'd rather receive an electric shock.
Amazingly, participants in 11 studies felt so uncomfortable about the experience, that 67% of the men and 25% of the women opted to self administer an electric shock rather than sit with no distractions for 15 minutes.
Study author, David Reinhard, a doctoral student at the University of Virginia, was initially astonished that participants not only found the task difficult but felt miserable when doing it as well. Researchers tried different ways to encourage participants to sit it out, offering a variety of topics to think about or giving an object to focus on. Still, many chose to zap themselves instead.
They shouldn't really have been so surprised by the results. The human brain evolved to interact with the outer world; to detect threats as well as opportunities. In fact, it was the hyper-vigilant chimps who were the ones that survived long enough to reproduce and allow evolution to take us to where we are today; not so much survival of the fittest as survival of the jumpiest you might say.
Yet we do have the ability to mentally step back, even if our first instinct is to resist.
Buddhist monk, Mingyur Rinpoche says we over complicate things. In his short film on YouTube, called ‘How to train your monkey mind’, he says ‘You can meditate anywhere, anytime; when walking, when eating, even in a meeting.’
Most people think they’ve got to stop thinking altogether to be meditating. They say to themselves ‘think of nothing and they force it too much. But we need our thoughts. The monkey mind is always giving its opinion. It’s our choice whether tor not we listen to it.'
Actually, making friends with your inner chimp could not be simpler. Just give it something to do, like focusing on the breath. Mingyur says, ‘Just breathe in and breathe out. Thoughts come and go. As long as you don’t forget the breath, everything is ok; even one breath or two breaths, then you can meditate anywhere, anytime.’
More formal meditation can seem a bit more daunting and certainly, some do need a little help when faced with the challenge of sitting with only their thoughts for company for fifteen minutes or so.
A little while ago, I recorded a guided meditation called ‘Relax and be Happy’.
Now you can down load it for free, silence your inner chimp for a while and start to lean in to your mindfulness practise rather than resist.