Monkeys. Too many monkeys. My brain is full of them. My cognitive control center is run by a monkey crew, none of whom work particularly well together or enjoy each other’s company. It’s never quiet up there. One of them is always worried about something, and they trip over each other to inform me about the VERY IMPORTANT THINGS that they think I need to deal with RIGHT NOW. They’re jerks. I really wish they’d shut up, because they’re causing some pretty serious anxiety these days and that’s a lot to deal with.
Many people who seem to have their act together (including my trusted therapist) have suggested I try meditation as a strategy to deal with my anxiety. But I just don’t see how it’s going to work. There are too many monkeys. I know the point of meditation exercises are to quiet your mind, and to just let intrusive thoughts float through and be on their way, but I have too many thoughts. Too many monkeys reminding me about all the things I have to do. Not to mention the 24-hour round-the-clock repeating video of all the things I’ve ever done wrong.
I envy people who can answer the question “what are you thinking about” with a simple, honest, “nothing.” If I’m asked the same question, the answer takes long enough that the listener should probably take notes to follow along:
This beer is good but I probably didn’t need the calories. But that caramel egg put me over a reasonable count for the day anyway. I should stop if I want to fit in any pants by next month. I need new jeans. When can I go shopping? Oh, clothes, wait. There are clothes in the washing machine, better get that in the dryer before bed. Liam needs socks tomorrow, he wore the last clean pair today. Oh, crap. Liam. I didn’t make Liam’s lunch for tomorrow, I should do that. Nuggets? He had those yesterday, I should probably change it up for him. But he won’t eat much else, this food thing is getting complicated. Maybe it’s time for the meal plan? But that’s expensive, what’s $15 a week come to, $3 a day? That’s a lot. Nuggets are cheap, fuck it. Oh, wait, I almost forgot the laundry!
**Note to my readers: I DID forget the stupid laundry after all.
Even if I could manage to succeed at meditation, I don’t understand how it can possibly fix an overactive mind. I guess it gives you a few minutes of calm, with a reduced heart rate and blood pressure and all that good stuff, but once you snap your fingers and pop back into reality, all those problems you were worried about are still there. And you’re now 30 minutes closer to death without having dealt with them. Even considering meditation makes me more anxious because it feels like a wasteful use of the precious little time I have to get shit done. I get angry just thinking about it. Seriously – just writing these sentences out and thinking about possibly trying to meditate has triggered an anger response in me.
To be honest, I can’t even say that I hate my monkeys. They’re so familiar to me now, and my brain would seem so quiet without them. I just wish I could train them to prioritize better.
Friends who meditate: how? How do you make it work? Have you evicted the monkeys? Or are yours just better-trained? What’s the point of the half hour of quiet, if it just means you’ve got to catch up with the world again afterwards? How can I approach meditation with something other than frustrated rage?
I have exactly the same problem. I was able to make meditation work through several basic methods:
1) Add meditation to your to-do list (even if that list is only mental). That makes it something you have to accomplish, and not a waste of time.
2) Don’t expect to succeed out of the gate. For your first, oh, month of meditation, you won’t make to a count of 10 without getting jumped by a monkey. Maintaining calm for 30 minutes is like running a marathon. You are going to strap on a pair of Nikes and “just do it”. You have to train.
3) Like with any training, figure out what works for you and do more of that. For me, there is a lot of visualization involved, because I’m really good at visualization. So I start by visualizing the engine of my breathing, and take readings from the dials. Then I light the candle of my focus. Then I use my breathing to inflate the balloon of my calm. No monkeys are allowed inside the balloon. If a monkey enters the balloon, I have to start all over.
4) There are three points to meditation: To learn to control your monkeys; to get your monkeys to slow down; to learn to live without your monkeys (or, at least, fewer monkeys). The first goal is all about mental discipline and focus. The second goal is all about immediacy and living in the present. The third goal is all about relaxation. Meditation really does help with all three.
5) Meditation is much like any other exercise. It’s best when done consistently. And you can get some great effects from relatively little effort, so long as you are willing to play the long game. You might start with just five minutes a day, skipping the weekends. Before long, you find the five minutes to be easy, so you extend it to ten. Then fifteen. Then it gets hard again, so you plateau for a while. Then you start doing some reading and experimenting with different techniques.
Then, one day, you find yourself writing a blog comment very like this one.
I don’t meditate as regularly as I should, but I use visualization exercises to help me fall asleep, and they are often used with meditation. Some people have had good luck with guided meditation apps. It helps by giving your mind a break, and you can apply the same principles when you feel overwhelmed. It takes practice. And it doesn’t have to be a half hour. It can be 5-10 minutes on your break at work.
Watch the monkeys, notice what they are doing saying, don’t judge them, they are monkeys, your monkeys.
And breathe (belly should go up and down), longer exhale than inhale, parasympathetics.
And if you are not crying in therapy, not my life sucks little tears, big wailing tears. Find a new therapist.
Why is crying in therapy necessary? Different problems need different approaches, and living and reliving pain doesn’t do it for me – concrete actions and exercises seem to work better.