The Good News Is, You Don't Have Monkey Mind The Bad News Is
“I tried meditation, but it doesn’t work for me.. I just have too much of a monkey mind!”
If I had a nickel for every time I heard this, I would have a sackful of nickels.
Monkey mind is pretty much what it sounds like — a mind that jumps from topic to topic like a monkey hopping from branch to branch. A monkey mind just won’t settle down and be still.
Sounds like you’ve got monkey mind, right?
Well, the good news is… you don’t!
You see, everyone pretty much has the same kind of mental functioning. Your mind is like a computer, and it has more or less the same basic programming no matter who you are. This means that if your brain is functional, then you’ll be experiencing thoughts.
And thankfully, if you are reading this, your brain is functional!
The idea that meditation is about having no thoughts has become so widespread that whenever you sit down, close your eyes, and notice you have thoughts, you feel terrible.
“Damn this monkey mind!”, you howl within your own head.
This is like getting mad at a dog for eating the food that you left out. That’s just what dogs do. And having thoughts is just what your mind does. Don’t get mad at your mind. It’s actually not your mind’s fault.
So now for the bad news…
It’s not that your mind is too strong and agile like a monkey — the problem is that your heart is too weak.
You see, your thoughts follow the track that is laid by your emotional center,your heart (also called the heart chakra).
Let’s look more closely at the thought patterns that most people would describe as monkey mind.
1. Your thoughts move from one mundane thing to another.
It has long been taught that the mind and the heart are two parts of the same faculty (in fact, the same word is used for mind and heart in Sanskrit). Indeed, the mind is the surface and the heart is the depth. When thoughts move at the mundane level, what it means is that your thoughts don’t have much feeling in them.
You are not in touch enough with your feelings — which are felt in your heart — and your thoughts are therefore colorless, dull, and mundane. When you feel strong emotions, your thoughts become very exciting — good or bad, you would never describe these thoughts as mundane.
2. Your thoughts produce sadness, anger, or some other emotion that you would prefer not to feel.
My friend Mark wants to meditate, but when he sits down, he feels intensely angry over an event that happened at work some time ago, in which he felt betrayed by a co-worker. He doesn’t think of himself as an angry person, but whenever he is still, the anger is there and it comes to the surface, playing out as violent revenge fantasies.
Here’s the thing: you can’t think your way through the anger, or whatever ‘negative’ emotion you’re feeling.
What you need to do is breathe into it, go all the way through it. If the feeling is like an ocean, dive into it and swim to the very bottom. Let it flow through you. I promise that you are more than that feeling. Don’t resist it.
When your heart is strong and energized, you don’t fear your feelings, you don’t waste energy trying to fight them, repress them, or explain them. You simply feel what is within your heart, letting the emotion wash over you like rain.
3. When you sit still, you feel anxiety.
It may be that anxiety is the disease of our time. We don’t have the high-octane version — the heart-skips-a-beat shot of adrenaline thrill of fear — as much as our ancestors probably did, but instead we have a continual, low-grade buzz of anxiety.
One reason for the anxiety is that we are awash in sensory stimulation of all kinds. We are bombarded with images, sounds, messages, and words, all of it trying to get our attention, most of it trying to play upon our hopes, desires, and fears. At the same time, our society is highly competitive. All this tends toward anxiety.
Another, more subterranean reason for anxiety is that your mind is actually not good at making decisions alone. Your mind needs to be connected to your heart to make all of the big decisions in life (and most of the small ones, too). Without the guidance of your heart, which knows what is truly important and what is not, your mind is much like the first mate of a ship during a storm when the captain has gone below the deck and locked herself in her cabin.
The solution to all that anxiety is to strengthen your emotional center. When your heart is strong, you feel confident. You feel like things will work out. You feel like you can do it.
What people call “mindfulness” is really best described as heartfulness. When your heart is strong, your thoughts and mental activity follow in the groove that your heart has carved out of your deep feelings. Your mind feels a sense of peace when your feelings are clear, and when you aren’t fighting to repress your emotions.
Peace comes when all the parts of you are working together in the same direction.
If you tried meditation before and it didn’t work for you, maybe it’s because the kind of meditation you tried wasn’t geared toward strengthening your heart. If you want to give it another shot, I teach a course that can help. Learn more here.