Mind monkey or monkey mind, from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin’en 心猿 [lit. “heart-/mind-monkey”], is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. The Buddha referred to the mental state as “kapicitta”.
We all have a monkey mind that causes us to ruminate on fears and stressors. They sound like; “my boss didn’t say hello to me yesterday…I’m sure I am getting fired”, or “what if something happens to me and there is no one to care for my children?”. Weaving narratives, self-criticism, catastrophizing, irrational fears, and (my ‘favorite’ go-to): adding even more tasks to already unwieldy to-do lists are all presentations of our monkey minds running amok. Our ego-lead monkey minds love stimuli.
My monkey mind is loudest when I am overstretched. I may be feeling exhausted by the time I go to bed, but those darn monkeys have decided to party-it-up in the mammalian part of my brain, impeding my ability to get some much-needed optimal sleep.
The monkeys, however, are not A-holes that we need to rid ourselves of. We actually need the cheeky lil’ fellows to get shit done. Our aim is to work collaboratively with them and not let them run the show.
Taming Your Monkey:
- Tend & Befriend: accept the monkey’s existence. It is a useful part of you. Acceptance is an active process that needs to be practiced. Acceptance differs from choosing, wanting, or liking.
Example: The rain may not be something we want, like, or choose, but we accept that we will most likely put on proper attire before leaving the house for the day to make things more comfortable for ourselves.
- Use mindfulness techniques to quiet the mind and nervous system. Label your emotions. Use somatic techniques such as this one:
Left-nostril breathing when feeling anxious or overwhelmed
Close off right nostril and mouth.
Breath in for a count of four, exhale for a count of six.
No more that 5-6 ten-eleven second breathes per minute for one to two minutes.
The oxygen goes to the parasympathetic nervous system and helps calm the body.
An extended exhale allows a greater amount of carbon dioxide to be accessed by the body, which plays a role in down-regulation.
Mindfulness is not something we can easily adapt overnight. Trust in the process. Just like going to the gym builds muscle and strength over time, a mindfulness practice helps foster resiliency and increases our ability to connect with a sense of calm and quiet the monkey mind. For more on mindfulness, see here: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2020/01/why-mindfulness-2/
- Embrace a self-compassion practice so you will have coping tools more readily accessible when the critical monkey mind shows up: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/03/mindfulness-self-compassion/
- Challenge cognitive distortions such as all-or-nothing thinking, negative self-appraisals, and catastrophizing. Your feelings are real, but they are not always reality. https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/12/cognitive-distortions/
- Avoid stimulants such as food that is high in refined sugars, caffeine, and alcohol
- Listen to guided meditations or Theta and Alpha binaural beats which can increase present awareness and assist in grounding, thus helping to quieten the monkey chatter
- Use the Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (Linehan) ‘TIPP’ tool:
Like a small child clamoring for our attention, our monkeys will resurface with fervor. Try to embrace the little fellow with gentle awareness, acceptance, and a desire for collaboration.
Carl Jung famously asserted that ‘what we resist, persists’. Our avoidance of something (like our monkey chatter) most often gives energy for that very thing we are avoiding to not only persist, but to grow.
Personally, I prefer to keep the fellow at monkey size, rather than King Kong size 😉