You know that voice in your head that is always chattering away? The one that is usually telling you something is wrong? Or will go wrong. Or that you aren’t good enough in some way? Or that your house, car, job, boss, spouse, family, or life situation are somehow bad or in the wrong, or not enough, or too much? You know what I’m talking about; we all have it.
Lately, I am finding it increasingly important to address my “monkey-mind” (as the Buddhists call it, referring to its restless and uncontrollable quality), and get real about all the unhelpful bull-pucky that it spews on a regular basis. I am convinced that being aware of the incessant blithering in our heads, and consciously shifting our inner conversation, is vital for finding contentment and furthering health on many levels. Yes, you heard that right – the ceaseless chatterbox in our minds is likely negatively impacting our health.
This is because that mental conversation has a subconsciously programmed “default” setting to focus on something we think is wrong, something we DO NOT want. To put it succinctly, it is complaining.
This inner complaining is the biggest source of the stress that we feel. We all have stressful events and situations in our lives; but it is the monkey-mind constantly regurgitating the negative thoughts and feelings about those situations that perpetuates and compounds our experience of stress.
Plus, it actually creates more to complain about. It is self-perpetuating. Take this example…
It is 2 am. You woke up and can’t get back to sleep:
What do you do? You tune in to your monkey-mind complaints…
“…darn it…why am I awake… I have to get up at 6…of all the days this week, tomorrow is my earliest day…why did it have to be tonight…this is so unfair…I have such a busy day tomorrow … maybe I have too many blankets on …what time is it no…how much sleep time have I lost…this is so frustrating….”
Does this sound familiar? What am I focused on here? That I can’t sleep and how awful it is that I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about what I DO NOT want. In no way is it helpful. In fact, the big irony is that listening to the monkey-mind complain is actually keeping me awake!
Once I become aware of my mental complaining, and its uselessness, then I can consciously choose to focus on something else: perhaps some soft music, the sound of the cat purring, or my own breath; and this is when I can fall asleep easily.
The Law of Attraction:
Much has been written about the Law of Attraction recently. It says that we attract into our experience that which we think about most, be it good or bad. And, that the more emotionally charged those thoughts are (again, good or bad) the stronger the attraction of that situation into our lives. (If you are not versed in the Law of Attraction, do a Google search; it is very interesting.)
Most often the Law of Attraction is described as a phenomenon of subconscious or even spiritual manifestation.
Whether or not you subscribe to the spiritual aspect of the Law of Attraction, the fact remains that negative thoughts produce very tangible stress chemicals in the body which invite mayhem; wreaking havoc on every system of our physical bodies, making us more susceptible to pain, inflammation, dysfunction and illness, and doing nothing good for our mental & emotional state.
In addition, these stress chemicals and negative emotions trigger reactive behaviors in us that further harm our physical bodies and mental outlook.
How about another example…
Ladies, how many of you are not happy with what you see in the mirror? Most of us have very negative monkey-mind, complaints about our bodies.
When you look in the mirror, what is your mental conversation? Are you grateful for this AMAZING, living, breathing, moving body which is a miracle of science and engineering, with all of its automatic chemical messaging, electrically pulsing, fluid pumping, cell dividing, self-healing, energy producing, idea forming, memory recalling, fact learning, emotion feeling, offspring making and tissue building functions?
Are you in awe of this mind-blowingly complicated masterpiece of life, forged of water, earth and air, which has the ability to sense, react to, affect and interact with its environment and with other living beings, providing us a vehicle through which to appreciate the beauty around us?
Or do you think your thighs are too fat?
And, when you are thinking about how fat your thighs are, do you feel inspired to treat this incredible, dynamic, body-mind-spirit complex with love, nourishing food, fresh air, adequate rest and movement that feels good and energizing? Or do you feel badly about your body? What happens when we feel badly about our bodies? We feel compelled to wash down a bag of Cheetos and a box of Cinnabons with a 2 liter of Diet Coke, while lounging on the couch watching Netflix.
So now, along with the stress hormones, our arteries are pumping with high levels of trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, artificial chemical additives, saturated fats, sodium, and preservatives, all of which increase inflammation and oxidative damage to our organs and tissues. Not to mention, we’ve made our thighs even bigger! We have created more of what we DO NOT want by listening to and reacting to our monkey-mind.
A Perpetuating Cycle:
Of course, there are countless other examples of reacting to the inner blithering that leads to many other dangerous (even illicit) behaviors, in an attempt to escape the bad feelings that our own thoughts have created. Addictions of all sorts often have their roots here: alcoholism, substance dependency, food addiction, sex addiction, and adrenaline-rush seeking.* Even behaviors that seem healthy to the casual observer could be taken to unhealthy extremes when used to escape the monkey-mind.
These escapism behaviors, though they provide a temporary respite, simply reinforce the bad feelings. It is a vicious feedback cycle that we all get stuck in to some degree or another. The more we are caught in this perpetuating loop, the more it saps our energy, vitality and sense of wellbeing.
Can we Stop the Monkey-Mind’s Complaints?
It is nearly impossible to stop thinking about something. For instance, if I say, “Don’t think about a lion wearing a Santa hat,” what comes to mind? A lion wearing a Santa hat, of course. Our suggestible subconscious minds do not acknowledge the words “no”, “not”, “don’t”, “won’t”, “never” and “shouldn’t.” So, telling our monkey-minds to stop complaining is ineffective. Typically we end up just complaining about our complaining. Instead, we need to shift our focus to something else: something positive that we DO want.
Several years ago I purchased a series of hypnotherapy CD’s. The set included CD’s for weight loss, insomnia, success at work, etc. After the initial relaxation exercise on the weight loss CD, the therapist started making simple statements aimed at shifting the subconscious thoughts and reactions about food:
“My body drops excess weight effortlessly”…“I eat only when I am hungry”… “It feels good to exercise daily”… “I do not overeat”…
…WAIT…WHAT?? Did he really just say, “I do not overeat.”? The subconscious mind doesn’t understand “not” so the focus of that statement is overeating, which is something that we DO NOT want. He should have said, “I eat only until I am pleasantly satisfied,” changing the focus to something that we DO want. I turned off the CD and never listened to any others in the series.
Having a Say in the Matter:
There are a large number of disciplines that we can use to alter our inner conversation. They may be referred to as “stress-relieving” practices because they refocus our minds away from the source of the majority of our stress, our monkey-minds. This creates a shift in our mental attitude and emotional state, releasing us, at least for a time, from the perpetuating feedback cycle discussed earlier. These practices allow our bodies a break from the assault of our stress hormones and unhealthy escapism behaviors.
These stress-relieving practices include, but are not limited to: hypnotherapy, certain forms of talk therapy, focused breathing, spiritual dancing/singing/chanting, guided relaxation, prayer, gratitude practice, meditation, and yoga. Many of these have been around for millennia, and are still practiced by people the world over.
These practices don’t directly address the monkey-mind. Instead, they redirect our focus elsewhere by using one or more of the following techniques:
Making a conscious effort to focus on something we DO want (as in hypnotherapy’s simple, positive statements, certain forms of talk therapy, a request prayer, or creating a new possibility for our lives),
Making a conscious effort to focus on something we are grateful for (as in a gratitude practice, certain forms of talk therapy, or a thankful prayer),
Making a conscious effort to focus on something other than words (such as our breath, the rhythmic movements of a dance, or the resonance of sound in a song, chant or instrument.)
How do these practices differ from escapism behaviors? Escapism behaviors are automatic reactions to the monkey-mind. There is no conscious thought as to why we are doing them, and what long-term effect they are having. Nor are they truly reducing the amount of stress we are imparting upon our bodies and minds. We don’t feel a sense of inner peace or contentment afterward; in most cases, we actually feel worse.
In contrast, stress-reducing practices require conscious effort to refocus the mind away from indulging in and reacting to the monkey-mind. Plus, every one of these techniques has been proven to have beneficial effects on physical and mental health. And, after the practice, we feel a sense of peace, calm and tranquility.
Some Great Options:
Journal-writing can be quite helpful to work through inner chatter, as long as you then shift into writing/thinking about what you DO want, how you might go about creating that in your life, and perhaps even what you are grateful for. Gratitude shuts down the negativity of the monkey-mind very quickly.
Prayer is a powerful stress-reliever, and can produce even more inner peace and health benefits if you omit the words “no”, “don’t”, “won’t”, and “not” from any requests, keeping all statements simple and positive. Again, expressing gratitude is wonderful here as well.
Meditation is also amazing. The difficulty in meditation for most people is that they try to think about nothing, and all they hear is the monkey-mind. Instead, try focusing on something specific. For example: imagine a beautiful rose. Picture its every detail: the lines and folds of each petal, the colors, the scents, the soft, velvety feeling. Imagine it with as much detail as you can muster. That is a simple meditation; it takes your focus off of the incessant chatter.
If you have a smartphone or tablet, do a search for meditation apps. Some of these can be quite helpful.
Yoga is my favorite practice lately. My body always feels great after practice, and the focus on the Ujjayi breath (or “ocean breathing”) is effective to quell the inner blithering. My experience of yoga can be summed up by my new favorite yoga shirt which says “Awareness, Consciousness, Harmony,” reminding me to have Awareness of my monkey-mind, to Consciously redirect my focus, and to enjoy the resulting inner Harmony.
Practice, Practice, Practice:
All of these stress-relieving disciplines require conscious effort to practice in order to reduce the impact of our monkey-mind. Of course, the chattering will pop in during your practice; so, as soon as you become aware of it, without judgement, simply redirect your focus back to your practice.
This is why it is called a practice! The more we do it, the easier it becomes. And the more often we practice, the more benefits we receive to our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
As we approach the bustle of the Holiday Season, I encourage you to take time to practice some of these techniques. Even just a few minutes a day can make a world of difference in how you feel. Give yourself this wonderful gift.
Dawn Potter, AP, Dipl.OM