Oct 062011

“Monkey mind” is a common saying for jumpy, nervous thoughts and feelings that cause one to feel uneasy or anxious. Perhaps you have experienced monkey mind when trying to sleep at night but you can’t stop thinking about an argument you had earlier in the day. Maybe you find yourself waking up in the morning pacing around the house talking to yourself as you worry about a tense conversation with someone you don’t like. Our feelings and inner chatter can run around inside us like a frantic monkey, making quite the mess.

Here is a simple exercise called “centering” that you might find helpful for quieting your mind. This exercise is my stripped-down version of a practice known as “centering prayer.” I have removed the spiritual and religious parts to make a simpler exercise. If you are curious about the more complex Christian practice of centering prayer, check out books by Fr. Thomas Keating.

Here are the steps:

  • Start by sitting in a relaxed position. Slow down your breathing, and try to relax your body.

  • Think of a simple word to focus your attention on. I like using words such as “quiet,” “calm,” “relax,” “peace,” or “sleep.”

  • Say the word silently in your mind and wait. As a thought, image, or feeling enters your mind, you will do two things: Do not resist, and do not retain.

  • “Do not resist” means you will allow the thought or feeling to arrive. Think of it as something floating along down the stream of your thoughts. Even if it is an unpleasant feeling or thought, allow it to enter.

  • “Do not retain” means that you will let the thought float away down the stream. You will let go of it and wave good-bye.

  • After letting go of the thought or image, return to your word. Say it again silently and wait.

  • As more thoughts arise, repeat the same steps. Do not resist, and do not retain. Return to your word and speak it silently.

This exercise will help you strengthen your ability to let go of persistent impulses and inner chatter that trouble your mind. Try doing it for a few minutes at a time when you feel calm and comfortable, to get used to quieting yourself. If you practice it every day, you will become better at quieting your thoughts when you are in an emotionally charged situation.

My Resources page has a recording of my “Mood Surfing” tele-class where I demonstrate several thought and breath exercises for calming the mind.

Was this centering exercise helpful for you? Leave a comment to let me know your experience after trying it once or twice.

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