Meditation for Taming the Monkey
I fought with a monkey in Thailand once. Ok, not actually fighting, but I was struggling to get him to stay still for a selfie. The harder I tried, the more difficult he became. It was like he knew it was frustrating me, so he kept pushing my buttons for fun.
The keeper of the monkey told me to just stop feeding his agitation and let him do his thing and he’ll eventually calm down. It’s not the best feeling to be told to relax by someone other than your meditation teacher, but he was right. When I let go of control, the monkey calmed down and I got the photo I wanted. I also lost my camera the following day.
The most common question I get in meditation is, “How do I deal with all the thoughts and emotions that come up?” Our mind is very much like a monkey—constantly jumping from thought to thought, emotion to emotion. Much like dealing with a monkey, the best way to deal with it is to learn to let go of control.
Aside from training attention, meditation also trains the important skill of letting go. There are two things you are training to let go of: grasping and aversion.
Grasping is when the mind clings onto something—a thought or emotion—and refuses to let go. Take anger, for example. When someone does (or says) something to you that makes you angry, your mind desperately holds on to that emotion of anger. The only way to be free from this anger is to stop feeding it and to let it go. To not identify yourself with this anger. “I’m feeling angry” is very different from “I am angry.” It’s much easier to let go if you don’t identify the emotion or thought with yourself or your self-worth.
Aversion is when the mind tries to keep something away and refuses to let it come. This is common with jealousy, loneliness, and fear. Your mind thinks, “I hate this feeling, I don’t want it, go away!” Like the monkey, the harder you fight it, the more difficult it is to deal with it. Instead, simply welcome the feeling or thought, acknowledge it, and then let it go (again, not identifying it with you or your self-worth).
“Letting go allows you to live your life from a place of choice instead of compulsion.” – Tweet this.
The norm is to live in a reactive mode where you’re constantly compelled to react to your emotions and thoughts on impulse. Letting go of control over your emotions and thoughts gives you the power to choose your response—which equals more control in your life.
The Practice: The Art of Letting Go
During your meditation, when distractions, thoughts, and emotions arise, practice letting go of grasping and aversion before gently bringing your attention back to your breath (or whatever activity you’re doing).
1. When the emotion or thought comes up, don’t fight it and let it come. Just simply bring your attention to it.
2. Recognize the emotion or thought. Try labelling it—“this is anger” or “this is a distracting thought.”
3. Don’t identify yourself with the emotion or thought—“I am feeling this emotion of anger” instead of “I am angry.”
4. Let go of control over it and just let it go. Let it flow out with your out-breath.
5. Gently bring your attention back to your breathing or your meditation activity.
6. Keep a cool attitude of playfulness. If the emotion or thought arises again, don’t get frustrated, just repeat this practice of letting go. Like the monkey, it will eventually calm down. Choose response over reaction.
Practice letting go in conjunction with your meditations. Instead of just bringing your attention back to your breath each time a distraction, emotion, or thought comes up, practice letting go.
The next time you get in a conflicted conversation with someone, practice this art of letting go with your mindful conversation meditation.
What’s one thing you need to let go of right now?
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