Under normal circumstances our minds are very busy generating a constant stream of thoughts. These thoughts usually reflect our innermost concerns: worries about our health, our finances, our relationships, about what will happen in the future, or having some regrets about some aspect of our past, etc. The Buddhists liken this chatter in our mind to that of drunken monkeys! Emerged in this chatter, we forget to live in and appreciate the present moment. We also get fooled into believing that all our thoughts are really important and must get our full attention this very minute, whereas in reality very few thoughts are helpful or deserving of our attention.
The “Monkey Mind” meditation is a simple visualization technique that helps us to observe our mind: how busy or how calm it is and what is currently pre-occupying it. When practiced regularly, it can also be used to gradually gain control over our mind and steer it in the direction we want, as opposed to letting it run wild.
- Sit in a comfortable meditation posture with your eyes closed.
- Picture a monkey climbing a coconut tree in your mind’s eye.
- Take your attention onto your breath. Without controlling the breath, just watch it flow: every time you inhale, imagine the monkey climbing up the tree; every time you exhale, imagine the monkey climbing down the tree.
- Keep doing this for a few minutes. You may find that every now and then that the mind has wandered off and you have started thinking of something other than your breath. This is like your monkey having jumped off the coconut tree and gone on to climb some other tree! Each time this happens:
- Make a mental note of what your mind was thinking about. Picture this as a different tree on which you found your monkey, eg the “Shopping List” tree or the “Will I get the promotion?” tree, etc. This will give you an insight into what’s going on in your mind at the moment.
- Gently and patiently, without irritation or judgment or criticism, bring the monkey back to the coconut tree and return to watching your monkey climb up and down in harmony with your breathing.
- When you are ready to come out, gradually let the picture of the monkey fade away and take your awareness to how you are feeling. You may feel calm and peaceful, or you may feel restless – just observe yourself with compassion and without expectations.
To repeat, this meditation is a way of gaining insight into your own mind without judgment or criticism. You may be surprised to find how busy your mind is, and what things are occupying it today; or you may find that there were moments of stillness, calm and peace. If there were periods of calmness, you may decide to spend a few further moments making notes and reflecting upon the other “trees” that your monkey mind had climbed:-)