Advice for Beginning Meditators

Your Monkey Mind is No Problem

Learning to meditate can be discouraging. We discover that it’s not easy to focus on our breath. When we try we discover that we can’t help but mentally but make our grocery list or craft an email we have been meaning to send. As a Denver psychologist I teach meditation to lots of people and getting distracted from what should be such an easy task, focusing on the breath, makes many of my clients just want to quit meditating. They say, “I’m no good at this.” But what’s really happening when we start to practice meditation is that for the first time we are getting a glance at our “monkey mind.” Monkey mind is a term that comes from the ancient texts which the practice of mindfulness is based on. Just as a monkey jumps from vine to vine and tree to tree, our minds have a natural habit of bouncing from thought to thought. We spring from remembering a good meal to our to do list to worrying about a conversation we’ll have with our boss tomorrow. This is how our minds naturally are. Discovering you monkey mind is no reason to stop meditating. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Monkey mind reveals a need to train ourselves to focus. This focus allows us to cultivate a kind of mental and emotional stability.

The word “meditation” comes from the Sanskrit word, bhavana. Sanskrit is the same ancient language you hear in a yoga class. If you practice yoga it’s the language you speak when you talk about the poses. Meditation is our English translation of the word bhavana. It’s interesting that bhavana doesn’t mean to sit quietly and have no thoughts or to be able to concentrate. It means to “cultivate.” Meditation is meant to cultivate the mind. Mindfulness allows us to chose what qualities and characteristics we would like to build, just as a farmer chooses which fruits and vegetables she wants to grow. So rather than allowing anger or impatience to grow, for example, we can choose to develop patience and love.

Meditating is less about whether we can concentrate on one thing and more about making a choice about who we want to be in the future and doing the work required to get there. Every time we let go of thoughts and feelings and come back to the breath, we are becoming the captains of our minds. The most important thing for a beginning meditator is not whether his mind jumps from place to place like a monkey, but whether he can see that this is happening and come back to the breath.

Everybody has a monkey mind. Our job at first is just to make peace with this reality. We don’t need to be calm for meditation to work. Coming back to the breath again and again allows the mind to settle down naturally and from this calmer place we begin to more consciously navigate our lives.

If you are looking for a therapist Denver residents that can help you with meditation or other aspects of mental health, you can call me directly to schedule an appointment with me. Our blog on our website has more helpful posts about meditation such as this one about Mindfulness Meditation.