- Religion and Philosophy»
Monkey Mind Metaphor
Ever have one of those times when your mind keeps jumping from one thought to another? Like a monkey moving restlessly from treetop to treetop, branch to branch?
It happens. Even though we know we can only live in the present, in the here and now, that doesn't stop us from pondering the past or trying to imagine the future. But unlike the monkey in the metaphor, it isn't necessarily a good thing.
Thought to originate with Buddhist teachings, the monkey mind metaphor signifies a state of disharmony within ourselves. While the real monkey swings from tree to tree with a definite purpose, we swing from one thought to another often without knowing why. The monkey is in sync with the natural world around him, while we probably are not.
What Monkey Mind Really Means
Another way to think of your "monkey mind" is the constant chatter that goes on inside your head. This is also referred to as self-talk, the stuff you tell yourself over and over throughout the course of the day.
This "stuff" might be reliving dialogue with another person, thinking through chapters for a new book, remembering a grocery list, or any of hundreds of other possibilities. The thoughts and ideas we're able to conjure up can literally be about anything and concerning any time. They can be real events or imaginary ones, experiences we've lived through or experiences yet to come.
Another analogy compares this constant mental activity to a room full of unruly monkeys, each "monkey" (or thought) unable to keep still. They rush from one thought to another -
- What time's the meeting?
- When did I wash the car last?
- Where'd I put my tie?
- How much money have I got left in the bank?
- Did I remember to pay that electricity bill?
- Don't forget to phone the plumber!
- in a random and disorganised way.
Meaning of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech used to directly compare two unrelated things, such as God and a fortress in "A mighty fortress is my God."
For the purposes of this article, monkey mind is a metaphor for an overactive mind constantly moving from one idea to the next, like a mob of disorganised monkeys.
These thoughts can be annoying, frustrating, scary and stressful. They can get in the way of whatever it is you're trying to do, leaving you so overwhelmed by possibilities that you become unable to act on any of them.
You'd think that having the ability to experience so many thoughts in one day - sometimes multiple thoughts all at the same time - would be a good thing, wouldn't you? After all, as far as we know only humans have this capacity. So surely it must be a blessing?
On one level, it is... but it can also be a curse. For instance, if your self-talk is constantly negative - such as telling yourself you're not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough or capable enough - then it would be highly beneficial for you to be able to switch it off, to be able to stop the monkey from swinging from tree to tree and just let you have a bit of peace and quiet.
So how might you go about that?
Taming the Monkey Mind
We've all had experiences when we've been so wrapped up in an activity that time seems to fly by.
That happens when we're playing a sport, or when we're totally engrossed in a hobby. At times like these we're "tuned in" to the activity at hand so that nothing is able to distract us. We're focused on a particular goal to the exclusion of everything else. Our minds are so busy dealing with what we need to do that they simply don't allow any other thoughts to break in and disturb us.
When you're engaged doing something you love, you stimulate certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals -- such as endorphins and adrenaline -- do more than just make you feel good. They help give you the energy you need to focus intently on one thing, enabling you to ignore any random thoughts that might be trying to sneak through.
So is it possible to tame the monkey and "still" your mind in any other ways? Here are a few things you can try;
- Meditation - don't be scared by that word. You don't need to enlist the services of a yogi or join a cult. All that's required is for you to find some quiet space and sit there for 15 minutes or half an hour on your own. Make sure it's somewhere you won't be disturbed and where there are no distractions. Just sit and let yourself be.
- Breathing - naturally you're breathing already. But deep breathing has been shown to provide many benefits, helping to fill your body with rich supplies of oxygen and cleanse your system.
- Having fun - do something just because it's fun, rather than because you feel you have to. Play a game, write a story, dress up like a Viking. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it has an element of fun in it.
- Exercise - get out your bike, take a brisk walk, mow the lawn or dig up those weeds you've been meaning to deal with. Any form of exercise will give you something to do, helping to distract your thought patterns.
Monkey Mind Video
Eliminate Monkeys from your Mind
Does it feel like there's a forest full of monkeys running around inside your head?
When your mind is constantly flitting from one idea to another it can be distracting. It can happen when you're on your own, such as when you're driving to and from work, or it can happen when you're in a room full of people, such as when you're giving a presentation or speaking in public.
Thinking is a good thing. The French philosopher Descartes summed up this uniquely human accomplishment with his famous phrase Cogito ergo sum - meaning I think, therefore I am. Without the ability to think we'd be no better off than our animal cousins. Thinking helps us reason, helps us weigh up options, helps us make sense of the world around us. It gives us the potential to create products that will improve our lives and to devise imaginary literary worlds that take us on journeys of excitement and adventure.
But as with most things in life, moderation is the key. And that means sometimes we need to just stop thinking and take a break. Here are a few things that might help:
- Relax with a long soak in a hot bath
- Watch some senseless television
- Read a book
- Go on a long walk with a talkative companion or while listening to your favorite music
Take steps to either empty your head or fill it with other things - to keep the monkeys quiet and out of harm's way for at least a little while.