Perhaps you’ve heard of monkey mind. It’s an ancient Buddhist term meaning, “unsettled, restless, and uncontrollable.” In other words, your mind jumps all over the place, usually to your own detriment. Sometimes I have so much non-stop activity in my head that it feels like there’s a whole troop of monkeys swinging to and fro in my head.
Unfortunately, this is not a new challenge for me. In my twenties, I spent two and a half years in a Zen Buddhist monastery (meditating up to 16 hours a day) trying to slow down the incessant chatter, but I found it nearly impossible.
I’ve decided that if I can’t stop it, then maybe there’s value in examining, understanding, and maybe even directing those primates.
Examining my monkey mind has made me aware that a good percentage of the chatter has to do with “should.” Here are some examples of my thoughts from just the last hour:
“I eat too fast, I shouldn’t eat so fast.”
“I shouldn’t be playing solitaire, I should be working. This is a waste of time.”
“My e-mails are piling up, I should answer them more quickly.”
Any time we use the word “should” we are, on some level, feeling guilty… and avoiding taking responsibility for our actions. For example, regarding my pile of e-mails, if I made them a top priority I could answer them in a timely manner, but the truth is I’m choosing not to at this time. A powerful stand in life is to replace “should” with “could.” For example: “I could answer all those e-mails, but I choose not to at this time.”
“Should” implies guilt.
“Could” implies responsibility.
|Here’s an exercise I do with my “shoulds.” This often works miracles for me, and it may be valuable for you too.What are your “shoulds”? List them.After each item on your list, ask yourself, “If someone paid me a million dollars, would I do it?”|
For example, maybe you keep thinking that you should clean the garage, but you’ve put it off for two years, and you’re feeling guilty about it all the while. However, if someone paid you a million dollars, I bet you’d be cleaning your garage (and the neighbor’s garage too) before you could snap your fingers. So, the truth is that you could clean your garage, you are just choosing not to at this time.
When I find myself thinking about “what I should do,” I turn it into “what I could do, put prefer not to at this time.” For example:
I could eat slower, but I choose not to at this time. I’m a passionate eater!
I could do my work now, but I choose not to. I choose to play Solitaire instead… and I love it!
And, I could answer my e-mails, but I choose not to at this time. I’ll answer them when it feels like joy instead of drudgery.
Changing your thoughts can empower you and help you step forward with increased confidence and assuredness. Plus, the more adept you become at releasing the guilt of “should,” the more likely your monkey mind will quiet to a gentle hum, rather than the chatter of a raging troop of monkeys.
Wishing you well on your journey to taming your monkey mind!