Sticking Your Head Under the Faucet: 8 Ways to Calm Monkey Mind Without Meditation

I love the phrase “monkey mind”. It perfectly describes the phenomena of constant chatter up in the ol’ hat rack. I am The Queen of Monkey Mind. Sometimes it’s so bad, I want to repeatedly slam my head against the dull corner of a concrete brick. But that would feel like an ouzo hangover, and I pinky swore myself that I would never endure THAT again.

So what to do? All fingers point to meditation to shut that monkey up. I envy those who practice regularly. I have tried and will try again. Even the miniscule amount that I managed really did help. Why I don’t make it a regular practice is beyond the scope of today’s blog.

Stop that incessant cymbal clanging you stupid, stupid little monkey!                                                 

So I need other outlets while I am learning.

I also know and love people who would never choose meditation. It’s just not them. They may not realize meditation doesn’t have to involve incense and a statue of Ganesh. Just a quiet room and some deep breaths will do. But let’s face it, some will never start because it goes against their grain.

Finally, we find ourselves in environments unfavorable to meditation. My sister-in-law currently resides in Afghanistan, bless her little heart. Her living quarters are less than a hundred yards from a fully functioning airfield that regularly sends flights out at night. She is constantly on alert.  She has little to no options to create her own “gentle environment”. Her brain is racing.

What does SHE do?

So here are a few suggestions for the rest of us. Some are my own. Others came from really smart people off the Internet.

All these techniques are for relatively mentally healthy humans with fairly manageable levels of monkey mind. Although they may benefit from these suggestions, people with clinically significant anxiety should also talk to a health professional about treatment.

1. Understand that monkey mind has a vital purpose. It’s not all insignificant or negative chit-chat up there. Your brain makes every attempt to organize thoughts that come from challenging situations or a conflict of values. Sometimes it gets overwhelmed. If we examine why the chattering is getting louder we can make monkey mind work FOR us. This lady says how.

2. Allow yourself to wallow in the chatter. This cognitive-behavioral technique helps you with #1. Don’t quiet your thoughts, give them a chance to scream. Set a timer for up to 30 minutes and actively devote that time to let mental chaos ensue. Exhaust your thoughts. Ultimately, they’ll lose their racing power. You will get sick of sitting there thinking. You might not come out with answers, but you might reduce the clutter.

3. Exercise. Reap the natural anti-depressant/anti-anxiety benefits that exercise brings. Even a quick walk around one block can bring some peace or trigger some clarity.

4. Shower. One of my former office mates shared my inclination to over-think. Her sister, a clinical psychologist, told her to literally stick her head under a cold faucet to break particularly strong thought patterns. Maybe she was just getting her sister to do something unfounded, but it works. I prefer a hot, relaxing shower over the cold faucet.

5. Build and access a support system. Verbalizing thoughts helps clear them out. Talk to someone who understands excessive rumination. They sympathize. Then talk to someone with little patience for listening to obsessive thoughts. They give you pragmatic observations and solutions. “You’re crazy-talkin’…go stick your head under a faucet!”  Just don’t exhaust one resource, mix it up. If you’re getting signals that someone is done with your issue, it’s time to give them a break and pick a different coping mechanism. Have a list of “happy places”, not just people, that you can easily access.

6. Access humor. Put on an ugly hat. Blow bubbles. The Internet is full of funny shit. Humor lifts the needle off the broken record, just enough to remind you that funny exists and that you need to temporarily shut of the serious.

7. Listen to bluegrass. Really. Who can wallow in thoughts whilst a rapid banjo plays?

8. Stop comparing yourself to the Dalai Lama. If you have time, read this opinion piece.  If you don’t, I’ll summarize. The Dalai Lama, for all his wisdom, comes from a place of privilege. His JOB is to meditate and be wise. OUR jobs are to hunch over desks or bag groceries at the Piggly Wiggly or work 100 yards from military airfields. OUR reality causes us to spend more time making decisions about money and family and healthcare, than mediating. Last I checked, the Dalai Lama didn’t hold puke bowls for sick kiddos or deal with crashing servers. I’m not dissin’ the Dalai, let his wisdom inspire you.

But our monkeys will always be louder. Don’t beat yourself up for having daily worries and ruminations he will never experience. Accept the monkey.  Love the monkey.

If you ARE interested in mediation, I found this site to be an easy read.

Good luck monkey minds!

Photo chris hau/flickr creative commons

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4 thoughts on “Sticking Your Head Under the Faucet: 8 Ways to Calm Monkey Mind Without Meditation

  1. Anonymous says:

    Amy, I’m just getting around to reading this one, and I have to say that I must have put it off for a reason because I needed it today!!! Thank you for such wonderful suggestions and reminders. I’m going to pet my monkey today and let him feel that he has a place in this ol’ crazy medicated head of mine 🙂 Love you! Keep it up; you’re an inspiration to many!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Good suggestions! Especially the bluegrass.
    A bit off subject, as I am one of them for whom meditaion is “just not,” I have found comfort and joy in the Roman philosopher Senica who studied anger and found that our expectations are often absurd. (ie Everything will be just fine./Traffic will be smooth./My mother-in-law will love the wine.) And/or we’re stressed by things that take us by surprise. Thus his suggestion and my New Year’s Resolution: Lower your expectations. (Within reason.) So far so good! And it’s a resolution easily kept!

  3. Jennifer Baker says:

    Amy…great point with number eight…it leads to more monkey mind if we think we’re not meditating right, or long enough, or in the right place…just important to feel good about personalizing the quieting of your mind in your own way….like coming out of saddle pose watching a Paul Grilley DVD:)

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