We're all aware of drug addictions, alcohol addictions, gambling addictions, etc., but most of us never think about another very powerful and lesser known addiction—which is to our thoughts. I'm not talking about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is a clinically diagnosable disorder involving repetitive and intrusive thoughts and/or behaviors. What I’m referring to is something more subtle and common that I believe affects most of us in Western society today and has a deeply profound impact on our health, well-being and happiness.
What I'm talking about is a basic inability to "shut off" or slow down the constant commentary in our heads, even when we want to. The Buddhists so beautifully refer to this phenomena as "monkey mind," but I like to think of it as the "monkey on our back."
We all have a running commentary going on in our heads throughout the day almost non-stop. Thinking about what we have to get done for the day, the next day, the next week, what we’re eating for lunch, problems at work or home, traffic, etc. Constantly thinking about things from our past and then jumping into the future, only to be brought back to something in the past again. Constantly judging, analyzing and assessing every little thing in our environment. But is this way it's supposed to be?
Now let me be the first to say that this doesn't need to be one more thing we have to add to our list to start worrying about since we already have enough of that. But I would like to say, that this is something we need to bring more awareness to because when we're unable to slow down or stop the running commentary in our heads, at some point, it has a negative impact on our mind and body as well. And I would even go as far to say, that it's at the core of most of our physical and emotional issues.
A very simple and yet all-too-common example of the impact of our "thought addictions" can be found with chronic sleep problems. How many people can’t fall asleep or wake up in the middle of the night unable to stop thinking or worrying about things? How many times have you found yourself unable to sleep because your mind was replaying an event from the day or you were thinking about something that was going to happen the next day, the next month or the next year?
Or maybe you experience a lot of chronic stomach problems? Or chronic headaches? Find yourself tired, depressed or anxious? Or a number of other symptoms that can be connected to an over-active and thought-addicted mind. And the list goes on and on.
So how do you know if you've got the "monkey on your back?"
An easy way to check this out is to just find a quiet space, by yourself, for 5 minutes and to close your eyes and see what happens with your thoughts and your body. If you can, try not to think about anything. Notice what type of thoughts come up in your head, how fast they change, your emotions and what’s going on in your body. Are the majority of your thoughts postive or negative? For most people, just a couple of minutes can be extremely difficult and they may even begin to feel agitated, nervous or irritable. Don't worry if this happens. Just take note of it.
As you begin to notice your thoughts, see if you can then slow them down or stop them completely. This is the foundation and basis of meditation, which focuses on taming our minds, and utlimately, is one of our most powerful tools and most direct paths to happiness and inner peace as well.
Now in a perfect world, I would tell everyone to meditate for at least 5 minutes per day, but seeing as this may not happen anytime soon, just becoming aware of our own mental activity is a a good and important start. Becoming aware of what types of thoughts are going through our head during the day can also help us to understand why we may be feeling tired, angry, frustrated, etc. And wouldn’t it be nice to be able to shut them off when we want to? To go on vacation, go home after work or lay down in bed at night and be able to put the monkey back in it’s cage?
So if you should decide to start “taming your monkey,” just follow the steps I provided above once to twice a day for 5 minutes to start, adding more time as you become more comfortable. If you would like a hands-on and practical guide on how to start your own meditation practice, you can read my article, "How to Start Your Own Simple Meditation Practice." The most important thing is to just do it. There are many techniques and ways to calm the mind, but the easiest I find is to just do what works best for you and your life.
Finding a quiet place will also be critical, but remember that this exercise can even be done on your lunch break in your car or your office, or even your bathroom if you don’t have any quiet spaces in your house. Anywhere you feel comfortable and can have a few moments to yourself is fine. Try not to judge whatever happens. If you feel overwhelmed at the beginning, don’t worry, it will pass with time and practice. It’s just that your mind is not used to being quiet. If you find that too much emotion or negativity comes up, take a break and try again later. Afterwards, you may even want to write down a few notes about what you noticed, felt or thought.
Bottom line, just get started noticing what's going on in your own mind. This can be done a thousand different ways and I recommend experimenting with different tools and techniques to find what works best for you. Whatever steps you take in this direction of taming your own mind are positive, so be gentle with yourself and patient and stay open to whatever happens. There’s no right or wrong, just you making space for more peace, health and happiness in your life. Happy monkey taming!
Tania Manczarek is a holistic swiss army knife. A trained therapist, intuitive energy worker, certified yoga instructor, massage practitioner and hypnotist, she focuses on healing through the mind/body/spirit connection and is passionate about helping people live an authentic and balanced life. Originally, from Los Angeles, she left to travel the world over 5 years ago to find her own path of healing and to follow her dreams. Now living in France, she offers individual wellness services by phone/Skype, events and retreats in France and abroad.