Calming the Monkey Mind
Do you have an inner voice that hinders your success?
By: Diana Raab PhD
According to Buddhist principles, the “monkey mind” is a term that refers to being unsettled, restless, or confused. Writer and Buddhist Natalie Goldberg, who teaches many writing workshops, suggests that the monkey mind is the inner critic.
It’s the part of your brain most connected to the ego, which contends that you can’t do anything right. It’s also the part of you that stifles creativity and prevents you from moving forward with your passions. The monkey mind insists on being heard, and sometimes it takes a lot of self-control to shut it down. It is also the part of your brain that becomes easily distracted, so if you want to get anything done in life, your challenge will be to shut down the monkey mind.
The first step in doing so is to become grounded and calm the mind—that is, remember to be in the here and now. Being present in this way is called mindfulness. It is an essential state for inspiring the best writing because it taps into the messages of your heart and soul. Being mindful encompasses awareness and interconnectedness between your inner and outer worlds. If you are more awake and alert, you can more easily receive messages from within as well as from the universe.
In her book, The True Secret of Writing, Natalie Goldberg reminds us of the importance of mindfulness as we move about our days, whether we’re writing, doing errands, or engaging in interpersonal relationships. Some of the characteristics of mindfulness also include being nonjudgmental, patient, accepting, trusting, and letting go.
When considering how to quiet your mind, try to sit still for a minute and think about what calms you. Contemplate how you can incorporate these activities into your daily life. Even just a few minutes of walking meditation or mindful breathing can bring you into the present moment. In addition to incorporating mindfulness into your day—even when standing in line at the bank—it’s wise to practice mindfulness before sitting down to write. My day always begins with a meditation, sometimes even before I have my coffee. Sometimes I do a shorter meditation later in the afternoon to give me a boost of energy.
In her Zen writing retreats, Goldberg reminds her students to anchor their minds to their breath by using paper and pen to write. This helps them stay in the moment, as does the mantra: “Sit. Walk. Write.” She calls this the “true secret.”
Even though the mind is a wonderful thing, it can sometimes get in the way of creativity, mainly because the voice in our head can get in the way of what our heart wants to say. Sometimes this voice turns dark and can lead to feelings of fear, guilt, anger, sadness, envy, and resentment, instead of a sense of lightness of being. This voice might seem like a nagging parent or spouse.
The ego has the ability to create false thoughts, which is the inner chatter we hear most often. In fact, it is the voice in our heads that we sometimes tell to “shut up.” Otherwise, we can become overwhelmed by these thoughts or even lose touch with reality. This is one reason why during meditation it’s a good idea to let thoughts come and go, rather than becoming obsessed with them or focusing on anyone in particular. If we focus too intensely on our thoughts, there’s a greater chance that we’ll lose touch with the here and now.