Do You Have a Drunken Monkey Mind?

06/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Have you ever felt as if your mind was driving you crazy? Does the chatter in your head ever feel like it goes on endlessly? Meditation appears to be a simple answer to this: just calm the mind and pay attention to the present. Then how come it is not so easy? My thoughts are driving me mad! My mind will not be quiet! I can't relax! Sound familiar?

The mind is notoriously resistant to being quiet, so as soon as we sit still it seems to do everything it can to distract us. Habitual thinking kicks in and within a few minutes an internal dialogue takes over, the body starts to fidget, or trivial things that need to be done suddenly appear vitally important. The mind has often been compared to a "drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion." Just as a monkey leaps from tree to tree, so the mind leaps from one drama to another, constantly distracted.

When we start to meditate we then find all this chaotic activity going on and it seems so noisy that we believe that we cannot possibly be still. Actually, it is simply because we are now becoming aware of the noise, whereas before we were so immersed in it we were unaware that such chatter was so constant.

In our book, Be The Change, Professor Robert Thurman says: "The first step is to try to focus our mind on something, like counting the breath. When we do, we see all these runaway thoughts that race through the mind, like I wonder when my car will be ready, is my parking meter overdue, will I get a ticket, is my girlfriend happy? Our minds are filled with these preoccupations, and we do not even realize it. But we can just let them go and bring the mind back to something we do want to focus on. This is a beginning, calming, waking-up step. But more important is to choose positive thoughts to focus on, such as I want to be more loving to that person who annoys me, I want to be more content, I want to be more friendly, peaceful, happy, and I no longer need to suffer."

Having a busy mind is very normal. Someone once estimated that in any one thirty-minute session of meditation we may have upward of three hundred thoughts. After years of distraction the mind is not always so ready to be quiet. We cannot suddenly turn our thinking off; that would be like trying to catch the wind. But having a busy mind does not mean we cannot meditate, it just means we are like everyone else. What we can do is make friends with our mind, thereby changing it from being an enemy to our ally.

Meditation takes awareness and a willingness to keep going. The good news is that it is not possible to fail! As you continue, it will begin to feel more natural and cool things will start to happen. Being still happens in a moment, but it may take some time before that moment comes. Remember, it is a great gift to yourself!

In other words, meditation is a letting go of resistance, of whatever may arise: doubt, worry, feelings of inadequacy, the endless dramas and desires. Every time you find your mind is drifting, daydreaming, remembering the past or planning the future, just come back to now, come back to this moment. In meditation, paying attention is both the key and the practice. To be with what is; nothing else is going on.

One way to become more focused is to label the thoughts. If you drift off into thinking, silently repeat: thinking, thinking. Ed likes to repeat monkey mind, monkey mind, when meaningless thoughts appear. If you get distracted, simply label it distraction, distraction. You can also see thoughts like clouds in the sky, just moving through the sky without stopping, or like birds and watch them fly away. Everything comes and goes, nothing stays, no matter how strong or insistent the thought or feeling may be. There is no need to struggle; meditation is really your best friend.

Breath Awareness Meditation
Sit comfortably with a straight back so you can breathe easily and freely. Hands are resting in your lap. Eyes are closed or lowered. Take a deep breath and let it go.
Now simply focus on the natural in and out flow of your breathe without trying to change it in any way. Let your breathing be normal and relaxed; your attention still and focused.
If you find you are getting distracted or caught up in thinking, simply label your thoughts as distraction or thinking and let them go, or see them as birds in the sky and let them fly away. Do your best to do this for at least ten minutes. Just breathing and being.
When you are ready, take a deep breath. Gently open your eyes.

Is your mind like a drunken monkey? How do you find quiet? Do comment below. You can receive notice of our blogs every Tuesday by checking Become a Fan at the top.

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Ed and Deb Shapiro's book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Marianne Williamson, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Jane Fonda, and others.

We will be teaching at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, June 18-20, with special guest speaker astronaut Edgar Mitchell

Our 3 meditation CD's: Metta--Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi-Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra-Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at: