Is your mind full of noisy monkeys? How to deal with wild and stressful thoughts.
It’s one of those days when seconds after I wake up my head is filled with stressful thoughts. Like wild, worried monkeys, they spring out of the darkness and wreak havoc. My stomach and chest tighten and waves of fear start to flow. If this is what they mean by “monkey mind” then I don’t like it!
I’m deeply respectful of wild animals, especially cheeky and dangerous ones. I want them to have their untamed lives. It’s the same with wild thoughts and emotions; there’s a place for them in my life. But to be honest, in the past they’ve run the show for a fair bit of the time. When the monkey mind takes over, it’s not pretty. There’s a heaviness that makes it hard to get out of bed. I’m more likely to get irritated with those around me. I push myself too hard and get easily exhausted.
The time for fear-based thoughts to run this life is winding up. There’s another impulse at work here too. It’s the impulse to recognise the ground of Being or Awareness from which all the thoughts and feelings within me arise. It’s a call to embody the radical simplicity and peace of Beingness. Those wild, fearful thoughts are getting in the way.
There is nothing disrespectful about doing a bit of inner housekeeping. Instead of letting the wild thoughts run freely in my mind and capture all of my attention I want to gently, tenderly tidy them up and investigate them more closely.
Time to put the monkeys in a pen
I build a couple of temporary “holding pens” for my thoughts so I can slow them down and get a better look at them.
The first step is to write them down. This sometimes seems like a bore, but I’ve found that it really helps to disengage the belief that these thoughts are “me”. Once they’re on paper there is a different perspective.
The next step is to put the thoughts into one of two pens:
The first pen contains all the thoughts that are about the past or the future. Today’s thoughts in this pen were mostly about money: “The stock market will crash and we won’t have enough money” and “We have been spending too much money in the last months”.
These thoughts are compelling, but I’ve come to understand that they are all fiction. All of these thoughts about the past and the future are actually occurring in the present – the only reality that actually exists. The mind is brilliantly imaginative and has been trained to concoct meaning out of the past events and to project scary stories into the future.
The second pen contains thoughts about “me” and “mine”. These thoughts are mostly about trying to fix, control, improve and protect “myself” or “my family”. There is an emphasis on safety and lots and lots of thoughts that start with “I should” or “he/she should”. Lots of these thoughts are also about the future; things that I should do or fix to keep myself and my family safe and comfortable.
In this “holding pen” I put thoughts like this:
- “I should work harder to grow a business”
- “I should increase my level of physical fitness and fix my foot pain.”
- “My son should be more polite and respectful towards me.”
- “What I write about doesn’t interest people. It’s not good enough.”
What is to be done with all these penned thoughts? I don’t just push them away, ignore them or try and distract myself with “positive” thoughts or affirmations. Sometimes this works in the short term, but they tend to come back later and make a nuisance of themselves again.
Instead, my preference is to investigate them more deeply. I want to find out if they are really true.
I understand that all these thoughts have served some purpose in my life. That doesn’t mean I want to keep them around or to continue believing them. The fact is that none of them stand up to close scrutiny; I can’t be certain that any of them are really true for me at a deeper level. But I can see very clearly how much fear and stress they generate in my life.
My preferred way of dealing with these monkey mind thoughts is to ask myself the questions taught by Byron Katie that she calls doing The Work. (If you’re curious, you can learn more about this at https://www.thework.com).
When you “do The Work” you write each thought down on a separate piece of paper and then ask yourself 4 simple questions:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be if you didn’t believe that thought?
Then you also write down the opposite of your original thought and see if that is also true.
The beauty of writing down my thoughts and doing this gentle, respectful investigation of their truth and their impact is that I have found that many of the thoughts let me go. My firm belief in them dissolves and they are seen for what they really are – Just troublesome old, habitual thoughts that come and go. They are not “me” and they are a real nuisance.
Doing The Work is a great way to interrupt these old, habits of thought and send them on their way. Like wild animals, the monkey-mind-thoughts escape from their pens and disappear back into the wilds, leaving me to enjoy the peace and quiet of Beingness once again.