As Elizabeth Gilbert explains in her book, Eat Pray Love:
‘Most of us have what the Buddhists aptly call the ‘monkey-mind ~ ‘the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl. From the distant past to the unknowable future, our minds swing wildly through time … un-harnessed and undisciplined.’
‘This in itself isn’t necessarily a problem’, she says. ‘The problem is the emotional attachment linked to the thinking. Happy thoughts make us happy, but – whoop! how quickly we can swing into obsessive worry, crippling anxiety, anger, self pity, and loneliness.’
I loved reading this, and realising that the monkey-mind is a recognised thing! It’s not just me then?!! I struggle so badly with my monkey-mind, as it swings back and forth, probing and poking, stirring up all my emotions. There are times I’d give anything to be able to still my monkey-mind and calm my emotions; but how can I do that? Is it actually possible?! When my mind is in full monkey-swing it feels like it’s totally beyond my control.
‘The problem with all this swinging through the vines of thought’, says Elizabeth Gilbert, ‘is that you are never where you ‘are’. You are always digging in the past or poking at the future, but rarely do you rest in the moment.’
It seemed to me, from everything I’ve been reading, that the key to calming my anxiety and taming my monkey-mind is to learn how to just rest in the moment; learn how to live in the here and now ~ letting go of the past, forgetting about what might or might not happen in the future, and just focussing on this moment in time; accepting and appreciating what I have right now, without any comparison to what I had before, or any worry about what’s yet to come. Apparently that’s the best way, or maybe the only way, of stilling my emotions and taming my monkey-mind.
That’s all very well, when your ‘now’ is OK; but what if you’re unhappy in your ‘now’. I know it’s all to do with ‘mindful thinking’; focussing on the positives, appreciating the minutiae in our daily lives ~ the crocuses coming into bloom, heralding Spring on a cold wet day; your favourite song coming onto the radio just as you hit a traffic jam; your travelling son sending you a WhatsApp message just when you were feeling all alone. All these things, for me, make my ‘now’ more bearable, and sometimes they’re enough … but when I’m feeling anxious or alone, or miserable and stuck in my ‘now’, learning to rest in it, however mindfully, doesn’t seem to be a very calming or positive thing to do.
I’m at last beginning to understand though, that resting mindfully in the now isn’t just about appreciating all the good things I have in my life right now. I’m coming to the realisation that being mindful and ‘resting in the moment’ actually means staying present to my sensations and thoughts of that moment, whatever they are. If I feel sad, then rest in that sadness and let myself fully understand what it is I’m feeling sad about. If I feel uneasy or anxious, then rest in that uneasiness and let myself be fully aware of what I’m feeling uneasy and anxious about. There are times when life is just really difficult! There will also be times when my mind has built things up to feel much worse than they actually are. Resting in those feelings will help me to understand whether I’m just getting overwhelmed by not very much, or whether I really am dealing with something that it’s going to take time for me to get through, or to get over, or come to terms with.
Letting myself fully rest in the moment won’t take my fears or sorrow and pain away, but will help me to make the best decisions going forward, steering a pathway through the storm. Beating myself up won’t make anything easier, nor will it change anything. Holding a grudge or blaming anyone else for where I am now won’t change anything either. I need to be kind to myself and gentle with myself, let myself cry, let myself grieve, forgive myself (and anyone else) for what I’m struggling with now and just accept it as part of my journey. Acceptance, I know, is key to being able to let things go and move on.
Resting in the now, I’m realising, doesn’t mean that I don’t need to plan for my future; I just need to stop worrying about it! Resting in the now doesn’t mean that this is where I have to stay forever! Everything that’s happened has happened. I can’t go back and change anything, but I can change what I do now. I can change where I’m heading. It’s easy to focus on negatives, especially when we’re experiencing a sense of loss and grief from a sudden or unexpected change in our lives. It’s important to redress the balance by reminding ourselves of everything that we’re grateful for. By resting in the moment and realising what’s important to me, and appreciating what I have going for me, it will be easier to work out what I want to aim for in my months to come; it’ll be easier to know what I’d like to steer towards. If I can learn to embrace where I am now and work out what would make my life better, I can then try and work a way towards making the changes needed to achieve and reach that goal. It’ll help me make the right decisions, without my ‘monkey-mind’ throwing me into a state of anxiety and doubt.
So, I’ve finally come to realise that to calm my anxiety and tame my monkey mind, it’s time I learned to rest in the ‘here and now’, learned to rest and ‘be alert to the moment’, whether that moment is happy or sad ~ at last understanding that that doesn’t mean I can’t plan for a better future!