September 29, 2009 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
Mind Your Monkey
If you have ever tried some form of meditation or centering prayer you have no doubt experienced monkey mind.† Monkey mind is when, in spite of your best efforts to be still, your mind begins jumping from thought to thought just like a monkey jumping from tree to tree, chattering away the whole time.† The harder you try to not think about anything, the faster your monkey mind jumps from thought to thought.
I am a big believer in the importance of meditation and centering prayer.† Meditation is as good for our emotional and spiritual wellness as exercise is for our physical wellness.† Meditating just five to ten minutes once or twice a day can make a big difference in helping us to be calmer and less stressed.† The idea in meditation is to get beneath the surface of the monkey chatter of our brain to a place of greater stillness and calmness.† The surface of the ocean, or of a large lake, is always in motion, but go deeper beneath the surface and the water is calm and tranquil.
One of the best ways to tame the monkey mind is to have a scripture verse or other word/words that you repeat to yourself on each inhalation and exhalation of breath.† Each breath should be slow and deep, four to six seconds to inhale and the same again to exhale.† Repeat a phrase to yourself as you breathe in and then repeat the same or another phrase as you breathe out.† I often use a verse from Psalm 51:† "Create in me a clean heart, oh, Lord," on the inhalation, and then, "renew a right spirit within me," on the exhalation. †
Monkey chatter will show up from time to time, no matter what techniques we use.† "I wonder what I should make for dinner tonight....darn, I'm not supposed to be thinking about dinner right now....I am SO bad at meditation.....I can't seem to do anything right these days."† So much for inner peace.† Monkey chatter is especially difficult when it involves self-criticism.† The best response to monkey chatter is to simply observe it, like you might observe a person walking by you while you are sitting on a park bench.† Practice observing the thoughts as if they are guests who showed up unannounced, but because you do not invite them to stay, they leave as quickly as they came. You are not your thoughts and you can become skilled at observing your thoughts from the perspective of your deeper self and then decide which thoughts you want to invite to stay and which you do not. †
"Be still and know that I am God," says Psalm 46.† These words are both a profound truth and a great mantra to use while you meditate.† In meditation we are not speaking to God, but rather we are listening.† We are being still, quieting our heart, mind and soul, so that we can hear the soft whisper of truth that God has in store for us this day.
As I come to the end of this column, my monkey mind begins to chatter:† "Is this making any sense to people?....am I telling people anything they don't already know?...does anyone else really care about these things?.....I can't believe† this going out a day later than usual...."† But just as quickly the monkey chatter comes, it goes away.† I smile because this time I am able to simply observe the monkey and let him pass.† As soon as he is gone, I take a deep breath and feel a right spirit renewed within me.
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