There are a lot of aspects of our lives that are not under our control. One of the simple (not simple to practice) realities is this: you are your thoughts. As you dwell on anger or resentment, so is your experience of life. If you can turn your face towards the sun, the affirmations and gratitudes in your life also become your life as well. Happier.
How To Stop the Flood of Thoughts
It’s not easy to train the monkey mind to obey your wishes. Much of our lives we spend chasing the whimsical imaginings of the monkey mind. “I want this. I need this. This person sucks. My life is hard because of these things.”
Here is the deal: Stop the crazy thinking and you stop the ruminations on bad, negative, and resentful feelings. And guess what? If you’re not ruminating on the bad stuff, you open up your mind to the good stuff. That’s one of the reasons affirmations are so powerful. You ruminate on the good stuff in your life. The things you are happy and hopeful about.
So, how do you learn to calm the monkey chatter in your mind?
+++ Listen to this article on the Love on the Air podcast +++
Breathing and meditating by following your breathing is a great start. But it’s not enough to say, “Meditate for 15 minutes a day.” That’s not really all that helpful. Yes, it would help you, but there’s a lot more going on in our lives between knowing what we should do (don’t eat that 2nd donut) and what we’re doing (eating the 3rd donut). It’s not enough to say, “Be more mindful.”
Yes, Mindfulness Is the Key
It’s true, mindfulness is a process of building more awareness into your thinking. It’s like setting aside a bit of RAM (random access memory) in your mind for monitoring and being aware of your mind. Like an observer who’s along for the ride with you. A co-pilot who might say something like, “Wow, you’re really upset. Maybe a walk outside would be a good idea. Or a nap.”
If you can allocate a small portion of your thinking for thinking about thinking, you can unlock the main process of mindfulness. Yes, this is a very logical explanation that may not work for everyone. But if you like process, and focusing your attention to achieve a goal, then stay tuned.
The visualization: Imagine your observer is floating above the scene of your life, like a ghost attached to the ceiling, looking down on what is occurring. This observer is not making judgments but merely noting what is happening at this moment. Like: “Wow, you’re really upset about that text from your son.” Then your present mind has to respond. “Yes, it sucks when he just asks for money all the time.”
Here Is the Pivot
My monkey mind would love to dwell on the bad feelings, the angry stuff, the stuffed stuff. Your stuffed feelings are always there just waiting to be given an opening. My observer just notes the emotional charge and asks, “Okay, so what is the next right action for you to take?”
At this moment you have a choice, provided by the intervention of the observer. 1. you can continue with the angry thoughts and give voice and attention to the resentful and hurt feelings; 2. you can redirect your thinking to ways of reaching out to your son to talk about what’s happening; 3. you can be aware of both options and still choose to do nothing, remain neutral, and let it all go.
Letting it go is a good solution for MOST problems. Sometimes, it can be avoidance, but in this case, the issues and the actions are clear, and still, it’s okay to NOT TAKE ACTION. Just breathe and let the moment be. The moment just is. Your son sent a shitty text. You responded emotionally, then rationally, as you allowed your non-monkey mind to have a say. With that fulcrum of intelligence, we can become more self-aware and self-directed.
At this point, I have options. What I chose this morning was to not respond. To observe the text, observe my feelings and potential counteractions, and then, just pause in the uncomfortable present, where nothing is solved.
Can You Be Still In the Chaos?
We know the world is in a very stressed-out place. If you’re too empathic and too sensitive, you’re going to be in crisis more than normal. Little things may trigger bigger emotions as the underlying stress begins to manifest in your confusion and unclear thinking. Stress is the enemy of creative and helpful thoughts. You cannot be optimistic and stressed out at the same time.
So, what is the answer?
It’s a bit like the observer trick above. Your monkey mind is attaching to Ukraine, or the virus resurgence, or some personal stress that has gotten under your serenity.
Stop and breathe for a few seconds. Check-in with the observer. Here’s how that might look.
Me: I’m stressed about Ukraine. I can’t stop watching the horror on the news.
Ob: Is this helping or making it worse?
Me: Well, it’s awful, but it’s the real world, it’s what’s really going on.
Ob: Do you have a goal in learning about Ukraine?
Me: No. But it’s important.
Ob: Yes. That’s true. And how does Ukraine affect you?
Me: That’s not the point. This is the crisis of our time.
Ob: You don’t have to pay attention to the news.
Me: Isn’t that avoidance?
Ob: Nope. You can remain aware of the atrocities in Ukraine, and you can pray and send money, but there’s not a lot of action you can take to solve the crisis.
Me: I’m so angry. I feel powerless to help them.
Ob: In most ways, you are powerless in this situation. It’s like the serenity prayer says, “Let go of the things I cannot change.”
And that’s how it works.
Pay attention to your mind. When the monkey mind jumps into gear, try and find a moment to observe your thinking, as if you are an observer. Then decide: do I want to continue this runaway train of thought, or should I focus on something that I can actually have an effect on? The choice is still yours. And I understand, that when I’m depressed, my “observer” abilities are greatly diminished.
Sometimes, when I’m DOWN, the best I can do is this,
“Wow, that’s a really fkd up thought. My brain is not giving me the best data or options. Let me pause, and stop the runaway train, at least.”
Somedays this works. On other days, I can be pulled along on the train for an entire afternoon. Today, take a break from giving the monkey mind full access to your brain and activities.
Take Your Observer Out for a Spin
Be aware of the monkey mind and its obsessive and circular thinking. Then give yourself a moment of peace by letting it all go: the thinking, the action, the anger. Just breathe for a minute. Count the breaths. And let it all go.
- Uppers and Downers: Caffeine, Alcohol, and Micro-dosing < start here
- F2N Scale: Understanding Sex and Energy in Relationships
- mindfulness < a new index of happiness and hope
- You Are Already There: Taking Stock of Your Perfect Moments
- Pura Vida: Finding and Sharing Our Eternal Optimism
Here are a few of my books on Amazon:
- Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce: Advice and Strategies on Learning How to be Loved Again
- Fall of the House of Dad: My journey through divorce, from loss to joy, again and again
- A Good Dad’s Guide to Divorce: One father’s quest to stay connected with his children
- The Sex Index: Getting Our Love Languages Right in the Bedroom
- Here Comes the Darkness: Surviving and Thriving After a Mental Illness Diagnosis
- The Third Glass: When Drinking Becomes an Issue
- The Storm Before the Divorce: When One Parent Wants Out, That’s the End
- Dating 2.0: Aiming for the Love of Your Life