THE PHRASE ‘monkey mind’ is a fairly well-known one, when we speak about the mind and how it tends to hop around most of the time. Scattered attention seems to be more and more characteristic of the modern mind—just driving to work today I had the option of paying attention to billboards, hawkers, other cars, 8 radio stations, 5 CDs…
So, one part of it is the many objects around us, which draw our attention. The other part is inside—the many mental objects we are touching on, then discarding for the next one. If you’ve seen how a monkey behaves, eyes glittering and scanning for objects to grab, eat, explore, the phrase “monkey mind” starts to make sense!
We try many things to settle this monkey mind, from medication to meditation! Mindfulness and other forms of meditation which aim at making the mind peaceful, are becoming more mainstream, and there is a growing body of research pointing to their benefits on body and mind. So we have a “what” and a “why”, now for the “how”!
When we are trying to engage in meditation/mindfulness practice, we are basically trying to keep our awareness on one object like the breath, or to be fully present and aware in each moment. It’s not just about bringing the mind back though, it’s also about HOW we return attention to the object of awareness. So if you are focusing on your breath, for example, and the monkey mind gets distracted by a thought or sound, the typical response is to bring it back (when your realise what just happened), but how are you doing this? You may start out being kind and nonjudgemental—the first dozen times anyway—then it starts to become frustrating and you either shout at yourself mentally, become discouraged and give up, or feel like it’s a never-ending battle but grit your teeth and carry on. Not conducive for inner peace!
Here’s where we come to the main point of this post: if you could think of your mind as the cutest, cuddliest, little PUPPY, ever.. yes, I said a cute, baby puppy, it will make the world of difference! If you had a little pup, and you were trying to train it and it ran off after a butterfly or a ball, what would you do? If you scream and shout each time, it will typically shut down and cower, and with time ignore you or even fight back. Fortunately, most of us respond with gentleness, patience and just the right level of firmness, when training a puppy—and guess what, it responds!
So when you are training your mind, please use the same winning combination of kindness, patience and understanding. It’s a big challenge to suddenly stop distraction and to be fully present, and most of us have not done this before, so be good to yourself and your puppy mind, and you too will grow your mind into a strong and healthy adult!