Animation: Erin Krogh / The Ebbtide
My pillowcase smells like fresh laundry.
I turn left, then right, then left again. I try to grab the blanket with my toes to pull it down a little further. I can’t remember if I’ve locked the door. With a sigh, I head to the living room to find the door is locked. I return to my bedroom and lie down.
I put the blanket back on, lie on my stomach, move my arms into a comfortable angle and close my eyes. “Now I can sleep,” I think to myself.
My mind, however, has different plans.
The Voices in Your Head
According to researchers at Queen’s University, the average person can have over 6,000 thoughts a day.
Imagine 6,000 shooting stars rushing through your mind, and instead of enjoying them as they pass by, you begin to scrutinize each and every one. To me, it seems as though 80% of those stars come raining down on me the moment I try to go to sleep.
After an exhausting day, all I want to do is go to bed and recharge my battery. But as soon as I close my eyes, I remember a fight with a friend I haven’t talked to in over five years. I think about what she said and everything I should’ve told her, but didn’t think of back then. I shake my head in an effort to get rid of the memory.
Then another thought rushes in to replace it: This time, I see my doctor’s careless face when she realized she botched my surgery, causing me to live with numbness for the rest of my life. “I should have sued her!”
“And why the hell didn’t I tell that lady at the grocery store today that cutting in line is unnecessarily rude? I would’ve given her my spot if she’d have just asked…”
“What if I had applied for that job?”
“Oh shit! I still need to pay that bill from the dentist!”
“Starting tomorrow, I’ll work out.”
It almost feels like there’s a troop of Jolly Chimps inside my head — and apparently those little bastards are night owls.
The Monkey Mind
They scream and screech, swinging from branch to branch as I lay there watching them. Each Jolly Chimp has its own name: Regret, Worry, Fear, Anger, Sadness, Grief, Envy and even Hatred. And they all want the same thing: attention.
The mind can always find a reason to summon this uncontrollable herd of monkeys — the minus sign in front of your bank account balance, your angry and frustrated boss, the fear of losing your partner, a voice called “self-doubt” whispering “You could do better” or “You’re not good enough” — the list is endless.
The term “monkey mind” comes from Buddhism. It describes a state in which one’s mental processes jump about like shrieking monkeys. It’s similar to the German concept of the “Gedankenkarussell,” a phrase for the thoughts that spin around and around in your head like a carousel of consciousness.
The Art of Letting Go
Throughout life, you’ll constantly focus on past events, why things are the way they are and what the future may hold — as if there were a time machine to undo mistakes and ensure that nothing but the best lies ahead.
However, there is no time machine. There will always be unfinished business and sorrows to keep you up at night. The question is, how do you deal with it?
Here’s what I think: Most negativity in life begins with how you look at things.
While some people see the screaming monkeys and try to tame them, others take a step back from the noise. When ready, they approach the monkeys one by one and truly listen to what each of them has to say. Instead of overthinking it, they receive the message and move on. (To quote Elsa: “Let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door.”)
My mindset combines both viewpoints. While I try to understand every thought, sometimes I still catch myself overanalyzing. When things get too loud and I’m too tired to listen, I try to distract the Jolly Chimps by counting how many seconds it takes me to breathe in and out. Instead of sheep, I count deep breaths until I fall asleep.
If your attempts to jump off of the Gedankenkarussell are all in vain, I suggest listening to Tibetan Buddhist master Rinpoche Yongey Mingyur for a quick guide on how to calm the “monkey mind.”
When was the last time you had to deal with Jolly Chimps? Share some of your tips and tricks on how to respond to a “monkey mind” in the comments below.