The nature of the human mind is restlessness: the mind is constantly secreting thoughts and ideas and jumps from one thought to another. To describe this phenomenon, in Buddhism they use a Pali word papancha, which can be translated as the “monkey” mind or constant mind fluctuations. Western scientists coined another term for this experience: the mind-wandering. In this article we are going to explore how mindful meditation can help to tame the monkey mind and find more inner clarity and peace.
The study of two psychologists from Harvard University, Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert, published in 2010, proved that unless people use their brains for specific attention-demanding tasks, like, for example, recognising words or faces, they naturally switch the mind on the default mode network (DMN) and simply drift from one thought to the other. The bad news is that according to the research most of our thoughts while on default mode are negative and even the most positive and happy people cannot escape the tendency to focus on negative, also known as the negativity bias.
The nature of negativity bias
The negativity bias creates a certain asymmetry in the way we perceive the negative and the positive — negative experiences and emotions tend to make a greater impact on our mood, behaviour and memory. If we persist in the negativity bias most of the time without getting back to the neutral mode, we basically get stuck in the sympathetic “fight flight freeze” responses of the nervous system. Without a regular shift to the parasympathetic restorative mode, the human body and mind become exhausted due to a never ending state of alertness, stress, and fear, which also involves secretion of stress hormons, muscle tensing, and cardiac arrrhythmia.
Evolutionary perspective on the negativity bias
From the evolutionary perspective, we have survived as a species because we have our negativity bias – it is our natural survival mechanism. In fact, the negativity bias gets us out of the water when the waves are too high, or makes us drive slower when the road is unpredictable. Yet, we do need to be able to distinguish situations when fear and anger serve us, and when they do not. Obviously, if fear gets out of control and governs all our emotions and reactions, leading to chronic stress, inflammation and paranoia, we really need to find a way to counterbalance. Therefore, the monkey mind itself is not dangerous, but you need to learn how to tame your monkey mind if it gets out of control.
How to tame your monkey mind with meditation
Meditation is perhaps the oldest and still the most effective tool to tame the money mind and neutralise the negativity bias. Meditation allows you to soften, relax, and anchor the mind in spaciousness and stillness. With regular practice, meditation is actually capable of installing neutral mode as our DMN, while regulating reactivity, aggression, and stress responses.
In ancient India, the practice of sitting meditation was known as Dhyana, and this is perhaps the most popular kind of meditation today. However, meditation has many faces. In fact, various formats of meditation — praying, playing, dancing, painting or chanting, have always been present all over the world, and are still widely used in rituals and practices of African cultures, Indigenous cultures of Americas and Australia, in Sufism, Bhakti Yoga, Sikhism, Art Therapy, Dance/Movement Therapy, etc.
Today, there are many different types of meditation to choose from: religious, secular, sitting, walking, dynamic, sound healing, shaking, meditative art therapy, etc. Each has evolved to serve a specific purpose, and can be applied in different situations to satisfy different needs. However, all meditations can be united with one word, which is mindfulness.
What all meditation practices are trying to teach you is how to become more present, more aware, and more perceptive. They teach you to be vast, immense, extensive, and gain an ocean perspective on life so you can be the ocean, not just its waves. This very vastness is the very opposite of the monkey mind which simply jumps from one thought to another. With this vastness and extensiveness, you can finally find inner peace.
Meditation an invitation to find your inner peace in the midst of chaos and negativity, and reestablish a sense of intimacy and trust with our own hearts and minds. We often lose this intimacy while chasing for money, pleasure, success and recognition. We lose this intimacy while we get stuck in the negativity bias, anger and fears. Yet, while sitting still with eyes closed, observing the breath and sensations in the body, we can come back home – to this very intimacy that is full of loving-kindness, compassion, serenity, joy, awe and hope.
Metta Bhavana: How to Cultivate Loving-Kindness
The Art of Healing Yourself and Others: 5 Reasons to Become a Meditation Teacher