Buddhists have a name for the constant chatter in our minds, the reel that keeps playing, pretending to be in the background, talking through our fears – they call it the “monkey mind.”
The monkey mind is the stream from one thought to the next to the next (“what did she mean by that email?…what does she think of me anyway?…I’m not sure I can pull this off…what if we don’t, then what…?…). But it’s a treadmill – you never get anywhere, never reach any conclusions.
It’s pernicious because it’s pervasive and passive – so you may never confront it head on, and never understand how much it is holding you back.
I’ve found two pieces of advice helpful in taking this on. The first was suggested by a yoga teacher years ago. He said, at the start of class,“Take all the things that are worrying you, that are troubling and stressful and on your mind, and leave them outside of class – on the sidewalk. Just for the duration of class. I promise you they’ll be there waiting for you when class is over.”
I love this because it’s so practical and it’s actually asking less of us, so it feels possible: don’t stop worrying forever, don’t pretend that you will simply rise above. Just commit to leaving the worries aside for 90 minutes. By promising yourself that you get to go back to your worries, you discover that it is easier to let go of them. And sometimes, leaving them aside temporarily can free you from them permanently.
There’s another approach, equally deliberate, which is the opposite of letting go of the chatter: go straight towards the chatter, address the thoughts and take them all the way to resolution. Instead of letting go of the loop, you break through by moving forward and making a commitment to a resolution. The circle is broken, and the next time the thoughts start, you have broken the reel, and you’re free.