One of the challenges of someone who’s new to meditation (or is getting back into it after being away for awhile) is Monkey Mind – the chatter of your brain switching to a contemplative mode. Monkey Mind is a little different for everyone, but basically consists of the flood of thoughts that come into your head when you are trying to be calm, quiet, and reflective.
One reason for Monkey Mind is simply lack of practice. If you’re not used to quieting your mind and calming your thoughts, then you have no excperience dealing with the chatter. For most people, there are three kinds of thoughts that float into your mind when you start to quiet yourself. First, your short-term to-do list will float into your mind. Second, your longer-term worries will wander in. And, third, all kinds of random stuff floating in your brain will break into your consciousness.
Some of these thoughts truly need to be acknowledged. Your unconscious wants you take in the thought and acknowledge the need it represents. You don’t have to take action right now. But once your brain knows that you are aware of the thought, it will let you move on.
Here’s a strategy for getting started on the road to meditating with Monkey Mind. I call it the 1-2-3 method.
Set Your Timer for One Minute
First, simply set your timer for one minute. Get a pad of paper and a pencil and begin to meditate. Take three deep, cleansing breaths and begin to relax. Very soon, the thoughts will begin floating in. If they’re just random images of things, or pleasant memories, acknowledge them and set them aside. If they’re “to-do” items that you need to address, go ahead and open your eyes, write a note to yourself, and go back to meditating.
Take another deep breath and relax. If things come up that require a note, make a note. When the minute is up and your timer goes off, you’ve finished step one.
Set Your Timer for Two Minutes
Next, set your timer for two minute. Begin meditating again. This time you will notice fewer distractions. The reason is very simple: You have acknowledged the to-do list. If you’ve already made a note about the dry cleaning and the shopping, you don’t need to do that again. Your brain doesn’t need to push those thoughts forward.
Two minutes is a short time. It might not seem like it when you start, but it is. And when your brain knows that you can stop and write down a note, it relaxes a little more. Feel free to do this again. Restart as needed with a deep, cleansing breath.
Overall, you’ll find a lot less Monkey Mind.
Set Your Timer for Three Minutes
Finally, set your timer for three minutes. This time you will not stop. You will not interrupt your meditation. You will learn to work through the thoughts that wander into your brain.
This time, as thoughts arise, imagine yourself gently moving them to the side to clear the path before you. Try to clear your mind. Let it wander. You will have thoughts wandering in for a very long time. It takes great practice to truly clear your mind. But now the thoughts will not be the rushing, scurrying, chattering thoughts called Monkey Mind.
With this process, you formally give your brain an “out” to interrupt your meditation. But you also discipline it to get the important stuff out first and then relax. Eventually, you may adjust the timer to 1-2-5 or simply skip the two-minute stage altogether. There is no wrong way to meditate.
Try it and see what works for you.