Monkey Mind and Meditation 101

Are you Meditation curious? Maybe you want to try Meditating, but you have no clue where to start? Perhaps you even tried Meditation before, but you did not feel any different. Maybe you thought you would see a light show in your mind's eye, or feel the activation of your Kundalini energy in your core. Not only did that not happen, but you didn't reach a mystical state of enlightenment either. Well, it would seem that as Meditation practices become mainstream and popular, so do the unrealistic expectations of the practices. 

Yes, some people do get pretty out there and have trippy experiences while meditating (especially when used in conjunction with breathwork), but that should not be the goal. The goal of Meditation is not to have a psychedelic experience or instant enlightenment. The purpose is to wrangle your Monkey Mind and to achieve inner peace. It will help you live more fully in the present moment, which will improve physical, mental  and emotional health and wellness.

In our first blog in this series, we introduced the concepts of Meditation and Mindfulness. Meditation being like a verb, or the act of Meditating and Mindfulness being like an adjective, describing the state of being aware in the here and now. In this blog, we will go over the concept of Monkey Mind, a major stumbling block to Meditation (and life in general), and a brief introduction (with step by step instructions you can follow) on how to Meditate.

Monkey Mind

Many people find the process of meditating to be an act of futility due to their "Monkey Mind". This is when you are trying to focus on something, and your mind jumps around like a monkey, thinking all sorts of thoughts, rather than what you were trying to pay attention to. Or, it could be when you are trying to clear yourself of thoughts and the mind is busy thinking about all the things and details that you do not need to be concentrating on at the time. The mind often seems as though it likes to keep itself busy, preferring to not be calm; much to the chagrin of the person trying to Meditate.

Imagine your Monkey Mind is like an animal at the zoo. There is always a sign that says, "Don't Feed The Animals." Its the same idea, don't feed your Monkey Mind by acknowledging the thoughts coming through. Once you choose to not grant these thoughts attention, they will fade away more easily. You need to let the Monkey slow down and take a nap.

Meditation 101

One of the first pitfalls when people try Meditating, is exactly that- they try to meditate. Meditating is not something one can force. In fact, this will only push them further from the goal and entice their Monkey Mind. It's kind of like when someone says "Try to not think about a pink elephant." By trying to force the pink elephant out of our thoughts, we end up doing exactly what we did not want to do- seeing a pink elephant (Are you picturing a pink elephant now?).

During Meditation, you might even find yourself focusing on thoughts like- Am I doing this right? When is it going start? When will I feel different? Chasing thought after thought. Instead, treat the mind like a glass of dirty water. When we have a glass of dirty water and we want it to be clear, we do not voraciously stir or agitate it. Instead, we let it sit and wait. Slowly, the particulates in the water begin to settle and fall to the bottom of glass, leaving clear water, with the messy junk at the bottom. The mind is the same during meditation. The messy particles suspended in the water are your thoughts. If you try to force and push the mind to Meditate, this is like stirring the water in the glass. Instead, just sit, relax and let things settle, without judgement or effort and the mind will become clear. 

Meditation Exercises You Can Try Today

We suggest you try out an actual Meditation class with a teacher, especially for the more in depth Meditation styles. In the meantime, here are a couple of simple Meditation techniques that you can try today, by yourself, in the comfort of your own home.

Simple Breath Focused Meditation Technique

    1. Sit Down and Create a Space- Find a comfortable spot to sit that is quiet and feels calm and safe to you. This can be indoors or outside. Turn off any devices that might be a distraction.

    2. Set An Alarm- If you are new to Meditating, it can be helpful to set an alarm for just a few minutes (maybe 5 to 10 minutes to start, working your way up to 20 minutes or more). This helps to build up your concentration and ability to Meditate. Time dilation can and does happen during Meditation. By knowing the alarm will sound when your time is up, you do not need to wonder how long it has been or how soon it will end. 

    3. Close Your Eyes- It can be helpful to either fully or half close your eyes to limit distractions and go inward. Limiting distractions is key. If meditating indoors, you can also turn down the lights or close the drapes to create a dark space.  

    4. Bring Your Attention To The Body- Although some Meditation schools and lineages have strict Meditation position protocols, the position you Meditate in is not the most important aspect of Meditating. Many believe that the best way to sit for Meditation is in Lotus position, with an erect spine and head over shoulders, shoulders over hips, but this position is often not comfortable for people for any length of time. The important thing is to find a position that you can maintain for an extended period without too much fidgeting that is comfortable for your body.

    5. Notice Your Breath- Bring you attention to your breath. Feel it as it enters and leaves your body. You can either focus on the rhythm of your natural breath, or you can focus on a breathing pattern. Focusing on your natural breathing rhythm sounds easy, but many people find that having a pattern to pay attention to gives them better ability to avoid the Monkey Mind. 

    There are many breathing patterns you can try, here are a few:

    • The easiest is to simply count 1 as you inhale and 1 as you exhale, 2 on the next inhale, and 2 on the next exhale, 3 on the next inhale and 3 on the next exhale, continuing on for the time you want to sit. This type of attention can bring more awareness to your breath. 
    • You can also inhale slowly, as deeply and fully as you can, while counting how long it takes in your head. Allow your entire body to fill with air. Notice what you count to... is it 5, or 8 or even 10? Then when you exhale, do so at the same pace, counting to same number. Repeat for the allotted time.
    • You can also hold the breath between the inhale and exhale... Inhale to a count of 8, hold the breath for a count of 4, exhale to a count of 8, wait a 4 count, then repeat. Feel your breath as it enters your body and again with each inhale. Keep the rhythm. 

    6. Redirect the Monkey Mind- Monkey mind is a term for when your mind jumps around from one thought to another, when you are trying to Meditate. Bring your awareness back when you notice if or when your mind has wandered off. It is ok and it will happen, simply redirect your focus back to your breath. 

    7. Practice Kindness- Be kind to yourself. Try not to judge yourself when the mind has wandered, for any bodily fidgeting or for any thoughts that arose that you may not have liked. It is a practice and there is no one perfect way it will happen. 

    8. Ending The Meditation Session- Open your eyes and slowly come back to your body before getting up. Practice appreciation and gratitude for yourself and for taking the time to show up and Meditate. 

    Mindful Walking Meditation Technique

      1. Set Aside Time- Plan your Walking Meditation into your schedule as you would any important activity. Make time for yourself on purpose. 

      2. Go For A Walk- Find a nice, peaceful place to walk. This could be in a meditation a hall, out in nature or even in a labyrinth. The key is to find somewhere that feels calm and you will not need to interact with people, cross walks, distractions, etc. 

      3. Walk In Silence- Whether you are practicing Mindful Walking Meditation alone or with other people, always walk in silence. Turn off your phone and other devices, better yet leave them at home or in the car. 

      4. Become Aware Of Your Feet- You can walk mindfully, by concentrating on each step you take; how you place your foot, where the pressure is applied, finding balance, etc.

      5. Do Not Rush- Walk slowly, with awareness and without rushing. There is nowhere to be and nothing to do. The fruit of the practice is the practice itself.

      6. Sense and Feel- Mindful Meditations are Open-Monitoring forms of Meditation. This means that you are present and aware of whatever comes up. Whether this be a sensation like a rock under foot, or the sound of a bird's song. Simply be aware of the sensation, but do not judge it or be upset about it. Some find it helpful to label things as they arise. For example, they might label things (In their head.) as a sensation, an emotion, a thought, etc. without judging them as good, bad or worthy. 

      7. Ending The Meditation Session- Like the first technique, come back to yourself slowly before moving on with your day. Practice gratitude for yourself, for taking the time to Meditate. 

      Final Thoughts

      Meditation, like Yoga, has become increasingly popular in recent times. You have probably heard many of the reported benefits Meditation can have. Some make it sound like Meditation can turn us into super-heroes or experience grandiose states of mind (A future blog in this series will take a look at what Western Science has to say about Meditation). Although this has a ring of truth, don't be fooled by charlatans peddling snake oil, it is not a one stop easy road to instant enlightenment. There are many different methods and goals within the types of Meditation available today, but what Meditation is really about, in all of its various forms, is raising awareness and helping you control your Monkey Mind.
      In this blog we have given you a brief introduction to the concept of Monkey Mind, as well as how to start a simple meditation practice. We hope that this information has helped kickstart your meditation journey. Even if you just do a quick 5 minutes of sitting and focusing on your breath, that's better than not starting at all. Yes, it can be that simple! 


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