Sometimes on Sunday mornings when I have the opportunity, I join in a Sangha group on zoom. Sangha is a Buddhist community that gathers for meditation, study and mutual support. In the 20 minutes of meditation that precedes the study topic, I often have what is referred to as “monkey mind.”
According to Buddhist principles, the “monkey mind” is a term that refers to being unsettled, restless, or confused. I experience it as a jumble of thoughts leading me on a not-so-merry chase. So this past Sunday I began to play with the image of a monkey performing its antics, swinging from branches, careening from one tree to another. Eventually I imagined the monkey just sitting on a limb. A client to whom I had lent a meditation CD I had recorded once told me that whenever she played it, her cat would stretch out contentedly in front of the speaker. So I imagined the monkey stretching out on the limb for a nap. While I never could quite get the monkey to sleep, he did seem to doze a bit.
Focusing on the breath is always the path to quieting the mind. There are many techniques that have been suggested but I discovered one Sunday I had not heard recommended before. As you breathe in, gently open your palm. As you breath out, gently close it .
Behavioral researchers find that using our hands for activities stimulates brain activity, promotes mental health, and relieves stress. Kelly Lambert, neuroscientist at the University of Richmond made up a term she called “behaviorceuticals.” instead of pharmaceuticals. She used this in the sense that when we move and when we engage in activities, we change the neurochemistry of our brain in ways that a drug can change the neurochemistry of our brain.
Everyone can discover for herself or himself what techniques work best for meditation. But, to borrow a phrase, it never hurts to have one more “tool” in the “arsenal.”
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: Another tip involving the body is to ask yourself “Where are my feet?” Put them firmly on solid ground. If your circumstances don’t permit that, imagine planting them on terra firma. This may seem a little absurd if you have never tried it. But it can pretty quickly connect you to the present moment, key to meditation.