Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mental Naming = learning to observe the crazy monkey

Sometime when we sit to meditate, our mind can feel like an untamed monkey hopping around from thought, to body sensations, to emotions. we can struggle with this untamed monkey for a long time, but if we cultivate a compassionate attention we can allow this jumping monkey to be just another sensation that can anchor our awareness to, that actually helps us stay connected to this moment. the monkey hops to either pleasurable things that we enjoy, so naturally we try to grasp on to it, to keep it. Or the monkey hops to things that we don't like and in this case we try to avoid it, push it away or numb it out.

This grasping or resistance to an experience stops our practice and stops our opening to our divine truth. As we encounter these experiences with a mindful attention, we discover that one of three things happen:

  1. It will go away.
  2. It will stay the same.
  3. It will get more intense.

Whichever happens doesn't matter. When we expand our practice to noticing whatever states arise and choosing to not react to them, we can make them part of our practice. Instead of wanting to reach out and grab the monkey to keep it, or push it away and avoid it, we simply witness what the mind is doing. A helpful way to witness this is through a practice called mental naming. Consciously name the experience as it arises as a way of acknowledging what is present, instead of getting hooked by the story line and carried out of the present moment.

Begin by sitting comfortably, focusing awareness on you breath. As you feel each breath, simply name it as "in" "out" or "rising" "falling" say these words silently in the back of your mind. This mental naming gives your thinking mind a way to support awareness rather than wandering off. It helps connect you to the now experience. This is your life right here. This is what is happening when your not chasing or avoiding the monkey.

This process of naming can be extended to all the experiences that might arise in your awareness. You can name body sensations that come up, such as "cold", "itch" or "cramp". You can name feelings, such as "bored", "restless" or "tired". You can name also use mental naming for the kinds of thought experiences that arise, such as "planning", "remembering" or "anticipating".

When starting this practice first name the breath until a stronger experience arises that interrupts your attention. Then move your awareness to the stronger experience, feel it, name it, but don't label it good or bad. If judging comes up, name that "judging". Just be with whatever is most dominant in your now experience. One you name the experience, it will normally shift. Continue to name whatever is most prominent in each moment. When there is no dominant experience, return to naming the breath until the next strong experience arises. Stay simple, focus on one thing at a time. let the monkey mind be a tool instead of a nuisance.

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