Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Motivation: Using a meditation practice to quiet your Monkey Mind

As a follow up to my last week's motivation post about becoming Limitless, I thought I'd talk a little more about the subject of meditation.  I mentioned in that article about how meditation can help create a clear, focused mind.  When the mind is clear, you have the ability to remove so many barriers.  When the barriers are gone, anything is possible.

{My Monkey Mind}
First, let's talk about what meditation is. For me, it's is a way of clearing my mind.  My mind is often running at 100 miles per hour.  At one point I would have sworn that I have Attention Deficit Disorder.  I have a hard time staying on task and my mind gets distracted by pretty much anything.  Operating this way lowers my efficiency tremendously.  Rarely do I ever sit down to do a task and work it all the way through to completion without stopping several times to do something else.  My mind is always active with constant (random) thoughts.  The worst part about it is that I follow those thoughts as they come.  I could be sitting down, completing a task. But if my mind tells me to go check on something, I do it right away.  When I operate this way for too long, I notice a level of anxiety start to build.  I'm stressed out because I'm always moving yet accomplishing little.  Worst of all, my mind keeps shooting things at me that I need to still do which makes me even more anxious. 
This becomes a vicious cycle that takes over me unless I do something about.  The only thing that provides powerful results (for me) is meditation.  

{The Practice}
Here's how it works.  In the morning, before others are up, and while it's still quite, I set my Iphone timer for a specific time period.  Normally between 15-30 minutes.  As the clock counts down I sit comfortable in a chair, on the couch, or on a mat on the floor.  While sitting I close my eyes and begin to focus on my breath.  By focusing on my breath, I try to follow it as it travels through my body.  I feel it as it enters my nostrils, I observe as it travels down into my body, filling my lungs, expanding my belly.  As my lungs are filled, I notice.  When the exhale breath leaves my lungs and travels out of my body, I follow it.  That's it.  That's all I do. 

But here's the tricky part.  My monkey (restless) mind will not allow this practice to happen in peace.  Throughout the entire experience, thoughts are constantly being thrown at me. A feeling comes over me that I need to get up and do the things which my mind is telling me.  Emotions start to appear. Anxiety creeps in.  I follow the conversations taking place in my head.  Then..........................I notice. I notice that I'm deep within my thoughts.  I notice that I've lost focus on my breath.  So what do I do?  I find my breath again and begin to follow it once more.  This process of rampant thoughts and following the breath repeats itself dozens of times during the meditation practice.  Random thoughts. Breath. Random thoughts. Breath. Random thoughts. Breath.

When I first began the practice, I thought the goal was to cultivate the ability to sit through a session without having any thoughts appear.  This way of thinking causes a person to feel like a failure after a meditation session. You think it isn't working.  Maybe you even stop the practice altogether.  My thinking changed when I heard meditation referred to as practicing being focused. As I bring my attention back to the breath, I training my mind to be present for those times when I'm working on a task or project.  If you think about practice the way an athlete practices, the goal is not to be flawless.  The goal is to prepare and sharpen your skills for game time. 

That's exactly what happens. Even if I complete my meditation sessions feeling like I accomplished nothing, I notice it's effect during my day.  Suddenly I notice that I have the ability to finish tasks without getting of course.  Does my mind stop chatting while I work?  Not necessarily, but now I have the ability to easily move my attention back on the work at hand.  Because I've been practicing it for 30 minutes a day, regaining my focus comes easily.  Like I said in my previous post,  I think of meditation like working out.  You do the work at the gym, you enjoy the benefits later in the form of increased energy and looser fitting clothing.  With meditation, you do the work in the morning, you enjoy the benefits throughout your day. 

{Getting Focused}
For me, the benefits go beyond increased focus and attention.  I'm also calmer, less emotional.  My mind becomes amazingly clear.  I become like our friend Eddie as I suddenly notice the details of my environment.  I notice the clutter and I begin to clear it. I notice the birds chirping in the background.  I'm completely present to others when I'm in a conversation with them.  When negative situations arise, I don't react in the same way.  My mind becomes extremely sharp, my performance increases.  I'm at my best.  I become Eddie.  One of the best. thee best, outcomes I  experience is the disappearance of negative thoughts.  Our minds are constantly racing with thoughts. We may not notice it but it's constantly running in the background.  We are always judging everything as good or bad. Every experience, everything someone says to us, everything we do, we constantly make a comment  about it in our minds.   Don't believe me, pay attention today and you'll see just how much you do it.  It's constant. 

When I am consistent with my meditation, I move into the place where my mind quiets throughout the day.  This is an amazing experience.  It creates a freedom where you can create  the thoughts you want versus allow random (negative) judgments to run rampant through our minds. Like I said in my last post, my "fear" seems to disappear because my mind isn't constantly passing negative judgments  on actions that I haven't even taken yet.  When there is no negative connotation on something, there is no reason to fear it. We fear something because we are avoiding a certain outcome.  A person is afraid to speak in public because "they don't want to mess up, say something stupid, or look bad in front of others."  What that same person released those negative views? What would she be afraid of?  There's nothing to fear. There is only space for her to be fully expressed. 

  I've been referring meditation as a practice because it requires consistency.  The more you do, the greater your reward. I try to do at least 15-30 minute sessions but 5-10 minutes of this practice is better than 0 minutes.  You may not notice benefits the first few times you practice but keep going any way.   I've struggled in the past with remaining consistent with my practice and I'll tell you why using a simple analogy. 

{We're just as crazy as they are}
My previous supervisor and I were having a conversation.  He mentioned that his brother was diagnosed with mental disorders that caused him to have extreme paranoia.  His brother also expressed homicidal thoughts of wanting to kill members of his immediate family.  Then my boss tells me that his brother is completely normal & functional when he takes his medicine.  The problem was that once his brother began feeling "normal," he would eventually stop taking his medication because he didn't feel the need to.  Soon, the unwanted symptoms would return and he'd be back to his old ways.  As my boss told this story. I thought about myself.  I do the same thing.  I meditate regularly for weeks and the results are amazing!  I do so well that I start my day doing "something productive" instead of meditating.  Soon, I find that I've returned to my old, anxious, self again. 

So I've decided to put the Slight Edge principle into practice and meditation as frequently as possible even when I don't feel like it.  It's easy to skip a session here and there and not notice the impact. Soon time passes and you find yourself in the old patterns of thinking again. Instead of going back and forth from focused on unfocused. I'd rather keep climbing higher from one level of focus to even greater levels.  This can only come through consistency and I'm ready for it.  It's that time of year when I'm getting ready to plan on how to end 2013 strong so I can get ready for an amazing 2014. I need to be super focused in order to reach those goals still on my list. 

  1. Omygosh! I think we share the same monkey mind! I could totally relate to everything you said about your mind. And I DID think I had ADD!

    Thanks for deciding to write this post on meditation. I can't wait to give it another try in the morning. Now that I know it's ok when the thoughts show up, I can bring my focus back to breathing. Amazing. You really broke down meditation in a very simple and easy to understand manner.

  2. LOL! Monkey mind over here! We should start a Facebook page! :-) I purchase a meditation DVD the year before last called Meditation for Manifesting by Dr. Wayne Dyer. One of my goals has been to meditate more and focus on sending out to the universe my goals.It also makes me focus on my breathing. It has been noted in studies that people who work on the computer tend to take more shallow breaths and that is not good for you. I really need to make a commitment to do this more. I've been bad with consistency. :-(

  3. Im the same way Nadege, you described me to the tee. Its funny Ive been looking for a way to start meditating effectively and I think this method sounds great. Thank you so for sharing!

  4. Since I read this post, I've been meditating every day. I started with 5 minutes and now I'm up to 15. This is HUGE because I always had trouble staying focused. Your simple guidance has made it so easy for me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  5. Good for you Jennifer! Are you experiencing any benefits?

  6. YES! Immediately, my attitude was better. I just felt lighter and happier.

    Also, I'm enrolled in nutrition school to become a certified health coach and I'm coming up with ideas and inspiration from future business constantly. I have notebook to keep track of them all!

    I also noticed my workouts have been much better as well. I can push myself a bit more without feeling like death afterwards. I could just be getting stronger, but I think it's because I'm able to focus during the workout so I can push myself a bit harder.

    To be honest, some days my sessions aren't as good, but I don't beat myself up for it. I just try again the next day. I have learned, that I need to do it within an hour of waking up. If I start doing stuff around the house or on the computer, it's hard to settle my brain down for 15 min. So now, I wake up, go to the bathroom, come right back to bed. I sit up cross legged, set my iPhone timer for 15 min and I close my eyes and just breathe... :)

  7. Your experience is inspiring. I love the part about the increased creativity & new ideas. I went a couple weeks without meditating and the difference in my experience is night and day. Keeping it up is the secret to everything!