When your mind is like a forest full of endless chattering monkeys.

The ancient yogis called it ‘endless chattering monkeys’. I liken it to a bunch of toddlers post sugar consumption playing in a ball pool. Dublin friends, you might get the analogy of the dance floor in Coppers at 2am on a Saturday night. 

I can’t quieten my mind. I can’t meditate. The thoughts just keep coming. It stresses me more because I keep thinking I’m doing it wrong. I find it hard to concentrate. I find it hard to sleep. I wake early and can’t go back asleep because I’ve so much on my mind. 

There are things I hear all the time as a meditation teacher. I know. I get it. Me too. This is me … all of the above. This is all of us, to some degree, a lot of the time. 

Consider, for a moment, the times you’re not like this. Think of a moment you might find yourself in quiet, contented reflection. Maybe you’re sitting around a dinner table, full, happy, engaged. Unaware of time and obligations you find yourself taking a deep breath and thinking, life is good. Maybe you’re on your holidays, enjoying a beautiful view and you think, this is the life. Maybe you’re engrossed in a task that’s consuming your thoughts to the extent you are wholly and fully in the ‘zone’ of quiet, contented productivity. In the gym, on your yoga mat, at your desk, cooking, engaging with loved ones, we all enter the ‘zone’ multiple times in the course of our days. We rest our endless chattering monkey mind. 

Usually in life, these states just happen to us. Often we’re not even aware, we don’t even notice or care to notice or define these states. In meditation we seek to cultivate a state of calm in the mind by training it. We learn to observe our states of mind so we can notice stress creeping in and we learn to restore calm at will. 

Like any training this takes time, patience, commitment and effort. Initially it may seem unobtainable. Can you remember how you felt the first time you sat on the wobbly saddle of your little bike and you were told you would soon be able to balance and ride it? 

The busier the mind the more ammo required to calm it. ‘Just listen to your breath’ is a wonderful meditation practice. Some of you reading this will be able to switch that on at will, even now, as you read. However, at times, more is required. We need to give that relentless noisy mind something much more compelling to think about, we need to give it a very specific task to focus it. 

Visualise a large clock. Take a moment to ascertain it’s size, find the centre, find 12, 6, 9 and 3 o’clock. Now take your eyes to 12. Inhale. As you exhale take your gaze to 1. Inhale. As you exhale take your gaze to 2. Inhale. And so on. Go around the clock. 

How is your mind now? How is your breath? How is your body feeling? There are no right or wrong answers here, just notice and observe. Don’t criticise or judge. Don’t worry if you weren’t able to do the practice perfectly. This is your practice, getting lost and returning. Falling down and getting back up. Losing yourself in the madness of the dance floor at 2am and immersing yourself fully in the beautiful sunset you happen upon at a random, unexpected moment in life. 

We’re all on a journey. We’re all doing our best. We’re all getting it wrong at times, we’re all finding it hard at times, we’re all subject to endless, relentless thoughts. That’s ok. Practice self-soothing; learn how to find calm at will.  

“Forgiving yourself and starting over is the whole game”. Dan Harris, 10% Happier.

Sylvia Ferguson