Monkey Mind and the 30 day Meditation Challenge

Buddhism teaches that the default state of the human mind is like a bunch of drunken monkeys flinging themselves from tree branches, jumping around, and chattering nonstop.  I can relate to that.  I feel like I am always rushing.  Something is always calling for my attention so I need to hurry up and finish what I’m doing because there are a million other things I need to do, and the only solution is to finish my current task as fast as possible and move on to the next. The monkey chattering and flinging seems to be an apt analogy here.

the default state of the human mind is like a bunch of drunken monkeys flinging themselves from tree branches, jumping around, and chattering nonstop

There is also monkeyness in the myriad  of crazy narratives that evolve in my mind.  Many mornings start with thoughts like “if they find out I’m going to get fired”.  Yes, though it even sounds crazy to me as I write it,  after 20 years of a relatively successful sales career, I  worry that today management is somehow going to figure out that I’ve been conning everybody this whole time, and in reality I’m completely incompetent at my job.  Accrediting that to a simian apparition in my head seems just as plausible an explanation as anything else.

This constant chattering inside our brains at one time probably served some evolutionary advantage which allowed homo sapiens to ascend the food chain, take over the world, and invent Netflix.  Unfortunately, the same constant chattering often leads us to search for quick fixes that offer relief from this relentless taunting, and leads many down a road of self destructive habits like drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, etc. Or just general misery.  Those damn monkeys.

 

Buddha prescribes meditation as an exercise to tame these monkeys.  And modern research shows that he may have been right.  Well, modern research which affirms the testimony of billions of people who have been meditating for thousands of years.  That would be one loud “I told you so”.  The study I referenced in a previous post showed that a Mindfulness regimen decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress, in participants over the course of an 8 week guided Mindfulness regimen.

So, I’m a believer.  I’ve been meditating for a few years now, and I feel there is a benefit.  There are also many people a lot smarter and more successful than me who believe in the power of mediation.  Just google it.

But, how did I make out with my 30 days of meditation?  I failed.  I missed a day around day 20.  I’m still kind of beating myself up about it.  It’s 5 min.  It’s doing nothing.  How did I screw this up?  There’s those damn monkeys again.

I’ve been reading about Vipassana, a meditation technique.  Vipassana literally means “to see things as they really are”.  When learning to meditate, I would get frustrated at how easily my mind would wander.  I would set out to try and only think about my breathing, to concentrate.  Then I would get frustrated as I found myself thinking about a difficult customer, or that instagram post with they guy riding the moped with all those dogs.  Frustrating.

In fact, it turns out that this is actually what is supposed to happen. It is more important to recognize that your mind has wandered, and then focus back on your breathing.  In effect, you are practicing and learning to recognize that your mind has wandered, and that the monkeys have taken over again.  Then, you can redirect your mind inward, and focus without monkey chatter, thinking about the breath coming in your nose, going into your lungs, and then out your mouth. 

It’s like practicing fielding ground balls in baseball.  You practice over and over again and then it becomes almost like a reflex when you need it  during the game.  So hopefully if you practice mediation, the next time when you are about to lose it on a co worker, you will recognize that those monkeys are chattering away, and you will pause for a second, realize what is going on, take a deep breath, and respond in a more calm, mindful, and non apology requiring way.  In theory.  The practice itself should also keep those monkeys at bay.  Kind of like how jogging regularly will condition you to be able to walk up stairs without losing your breath.  

In my post about New Year Resolutions, I intended to rant about why New Year Resolutions are dumb.  In writing the post, I came to the realization that though most people fail to keep their resolutions, more people are successful in whatever lifestyle change they are attempting to make who do make a resolution than those who don’t.  And, as Dr. Norcross, the researcher points out, even though smokers in his trial failed to completely quit smoking on the first try, failing showed them what kind of situations or factors could trip them up in the future.  Then they could come up with strategies to help avoid or deal with those situations or factors as they came up.

So, instead of quitting, I decided to continue with my daily meditation practice.  I’ve decided to try and use the failure to learn better tactics to stay on track and meet my goals.  Here are a few take aways:

1) I learned that these 30 day challenges are fun for 2-3 weeks and then I lose interest.  Maybe a 2-3 week challenge would be better, or maybe I can come up with some ideas on how to get past that initial lack of interest hump

2)  I can learn from failing.  I rarely do anything well the first time and I won’t make changes unless I feel that sting of failure.  This carries over to my job and personal life also.  Instead of not trying something new because I’m sure I’ll fail anyway, I’ll embrace the potential of failure as a necessary learning opportunity for self improvement.

3)Don’t listen to monkeys.  I guess you can listen to “The Monkees”,

but many prefer the Beatles.

 

In the table below, you can see my attempt to quantify a health benefit from  meditation failed to show any significant effect.  My blood pressure started to trend downward then shot back up a bit at the end.  No big deal.  My anxiety seems to have gotten better, and my depression score still says mild but I’m actually feeling pretty good about life right now.

Weekly Progress 3

 BaselineWeek 1Week 2Week 3Week 4
Blood Pressure115/79118/77117/70106/76128/77
PHQ-9 Depression Score9 (Mild Depression)5 (Mild Depression)5 (Mild Depression)
GAD-7 Anxiety Score10 (Moderate Anxiety)
5 (Mild Anxiety)7 (Mild Anxiety)

 

However, the other day I was working on a pricing spreadsheet for one of my customers.  I was trying to copy and paste a pretty good amount of data from one worksheet to another.  The computer was not responding and my blood was starting to boil.  So, what did i do?  I did not listen to the monkey telling me to throw my laptop out the window.  What I did do, was to pause, then shut down the other 10 windows that were open and start again.  That worked.  Once my laptop wasn’t working on 10 things at the same time anymore, it was able to focus it’s memory towards my spreadsheet and paste the data that I needed to copy.

And I think that’s kind of what meditation helps with.  It’s a way take a pause in my crazy demanding day,  move the cursor up to the “x’ on each of of those tabs at the top of the screen, close each window, one at a time, and then focus on the one task at hand, and to see things “as they really are”, not as those chattering, banana eating poop flingers would have you believe.

 

 

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