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Managing your monkey mind

My first teaching job was a middle school English teacher in NYC. All the kiddos were from Harlem, classes were huge, and the majority of the teachers were newbies. To say it was a tough year is an understatement. But one of the great things about it was the autonomy teachers had to try new things.

I piloted daily, morning meditation in my classes. This was before mindfulness in classrooms was a conversation. Back then, I wasn't allowed to call it mindfulness or meditation -- in my class, we called it Focus Time.

All kids learn math, science and cursive. But rarely are we taught coping skills, like how to heal from heartbreak, how to draw healthy boundaries and say no, or how to manage our constantly ruminating minds.

We go into the world having to figure this out from our parental modeling and our lived experience. This can be wonderful or tragic, depending on your past.

We've all felt moments where we can't get out of our heads, where whatever our focus is plays like a broken record.

For today's post, we'll look at 3 suggestions to help manage our constantly ruminating thoughts.

Buddhists have a brilliant analogy known as Monkey Mind that points to the quality of mind wherein you jump from thought, to thought, to thought, never stopping -- like a monkey swinging from one branch to the next in the jungle.

Here are 3 ways to get out of your head if you find yourself a'swingin'.


Most of us are not in constant, physical danger. For many of us, suffering comes not as a result of what is actually happening, but from our associated thoughts with what *might* happen, or has in the past.

One way out of this is to focus on only the next moment.

Let's say you're fearful about not having enough money. As a result, many of your thoughts are projected forward, relating to all the things you'll never do or have.

Interrupt this thought. Instead of projecting forward and playing the "what if" game, focus on only the next moment. Do you have food in your fridge for tomorrow? Do you have a roof over your head, and clothing to wear today?

Bringing our attention back to only the next moment pulls us out of the fear-based future thinking and reminds us that we are safe to go one step at a time. Our nervous system can relax.

I find this particularly helpful for middle/high school aged kids, too. Kids can buckle at the thought of having so much homework to do. But if you help them break it down to only the next moment/assignment, they can better self-regulate to take small steps, as opposed to being swept away by the idea of how much they have.


Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way, became famous for the idea of Morning Pages. She suggests writing 3 pages per day, first thing in the morning, in your journal. Brilliant.

I am a big fan of daily journaling. Sometimes we think we have to use our journals to set goals or write beautiful prose.

This is not at all how I use my journal.

My journal is a space to do a mental dump. All the unprocessed thoughts and emotions that are running through my mind can be put down on the page. Then, something amazing happens. Suddenly, I feel heard. Suddenly, I feel cleansed of all the subtle, emotional energy that's been unconsciously weighing me down.

I find journaling like this to be cleansing. Yes, you will touch insights and truth if you write this way -- things you want to explore or think about more. But you can't go into it looking for these nuggets. They appear as a result of your free-flowing writing.

Buy yourself a new journal and notice how clear you feel afterwards if you allow yourself to really let go on the pages.


If I can't get out of my head, or notice one of my kids is struggling to do so, one of my favorite tricks is to activate one of the 5 senses.

My favorite two to use are SMELL and TOUCH.

I believe these two are less accessed than the overused sight and sound, and I don't like to sooth by using taste as a regular associative modality.

If my daughter can't fall asleep because of overwhelm, I'll heat up a blanket in the dryer and wrap it around her. Or if the energy is high and frenetic when my kids get home from school, I'll use essential oils and rub their necks and temples.

I find that these particular sensory triggers work wonders to move from our overly active heads and into a calm, parasympathetic and body-wise state.

There you have it! Just a couple of ideas to manage your inner monkey. We all swing from time to time, but learning natural ways to self-regulate gives you even more ease and personal control.


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