Drunken Monkey Meditation

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I have been meditating quite regularly (almost daily) for about a year now.  I dabbled in it off and on before and have read quite a lot about the benefits and different styles and techniques.  After fully committing to it, I recommend it to anyone who will listen.

Yet, I often get a typical response from friends, strangers, and clients:  “I can’t meditate.  I mean, I’ve tried, but I can’t quiet my mind down.  It doesn’t work for me.”

The good news is that a) that experience is normal for anyone new to meditation, and b) meditation does not require talent, but rather persistence.

“Many centuries ago, Oriental thinkers recognized that the mind is a constant mover and that it is next to impossible to stop it altogether.  But one can learn to manage it by skillful use of the handle of control.  They compared the mind to a jumping monkey.  To intensify the image, they added that the monkey was maddened; then someone got him drunk; and finally, a scorpion bit him.”  – Ervin Seale from Take Off From Within

Can you picture that?  A crazed, intoxicated monkey jumping up and down because a scorpion just bit him?  Pretty funny (or scary) when you think about it.  I don’t know about you, but that accurately describes what’s going on in my mind on a moment by moment basis.  And when I try to sit in silence, the mad jumping monkey seems to get more agitated.

Through personal experience, and from what most people have told me (if they are least open to trying meditation), they try very hard to clear their mind, essentially “zoning out,” but that it only lasts for a few seconds before a distracting thought comes into their mind.  Then, they start telling themselves a story, or reliving a conversation, or running down a list of responsibilities they don’t want to forget.

They become frustrated because they ended up way down some random rabbit hole not evening knowing how they got there.  They are also shocked, and sometimes either ashamed or angry that they only have the ability to “zone out” for just a few seconds before their mind is distracted.

Please note once again how perfectly normal this is.  Congratulations, you’re experiencing exactly what you should be experiencing!

I’d like to introduce one technique that may help you.  Yes you, even the fast-paced, type-A, high achievers in the group.

Rather than trying to “clear your mind” and “zone out,” I want you to do exactly the opposite.  Instead, I want you to become hyper-focused on one particular thing.  I want you to focus on the distracting thoughts that pop into your mind.

You’re probably thinking, “Wait…what?” 

I know, I know.  You just got done telling me that your mind is too distracted to meditate, and I’m telling you to focus on the distractions.  Here’s the deal though – once you bring awareness to the distracting thought, it tends to lose its distracting powers.

Here’s how to do it. 

Picture yourself sitting alone in the middle of a movie theatre.  It is dark and silent.  As distracting thoughts pop into your mind, they are flashed onto the movie screen in front of you.  It could be images, words, or emotions.  As you see them, say them silently to yourself.  At first, these images and words will appear rapidly like machine gun fire.  As you call attention to them, they will begin to slow down.  This may happen as quickly as 30 seconds or as long as 5-10 minutes. 

Some tips for a happy experience:

  • The key here is to not let the thoughts/ideas/images linger, but to address them and move on to the next one. 
  • Be gentle and kind to yourself.  This is an exercise of persistence.  Your attention will wander a thousand times.  It’s okay!  Just gently and kindly escort yourself back into awareness.
  • Don’t forget to breathe nice and easy.

Here’s my experience.

I take 10 slow breaths (see note below on breathing), and then prepare for “the show.”  My mind might sound something like this in the first 10 seconds:  writing the newsletter, typing, Word, PDF, topic, my wife, her friend, her father, his birthday, buy a gift, oil change, tire pressure, car wash, call a client, edit website.  Yes, this may occur in just 10 seconds!  Literally, those are the random, yet sort of connected thoughts that might pop into my head.

As you get the hang of it and notice the mind slowing down, you can choose to turn your attention elsewhere.  The breath is usually a good place to begin.  In the future, that one thing to bring into awareness may be love, or empathy, or gratitude.    

A word about breathing.

I begin my meditation with ten slow breaths (5 seconds to inhale, 5 to seconds exhale).  Breathing is a highly underrated and underutilized technique for centering and happy living.  Let’s do a quick test!  Look a clock that counts seconds.  For exactly 60 seconds count how many breaths you take (one breath equals one inhale and one exhale).  How many did you count?  Was it 10?  11?  12 or more?

For most of you, I have some shocking news.  More than 6 breaths a minute is considered chronic hyperventilation.  Yep!  It’s an epidemic and there is research to suggest that normal breathing can defeat chronic diseases.  Focus on slowing your breathing down and you will be amazed at the benefits.

Want to learn more?

Email me and let me know what’s on your mind.

Read any of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books on mindfulness meditation and mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR).

Check out any meditation tools such as guided meditation or auditory devices like Holosync.

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