There is a moment that seems quiet and everything is completely still on the outside, like watching delicate snowflakes fall from the heavy skies in the comfort of your cozy home. The soft hum from the refrigerator and the buzz of the heater pause for you.
Yet, you still hear sounds. It’s that one familiar domineering voice. You hear it when you first wake up, throughout the day, and it gets worse right when you’re in your freshly laundered pajamas lying in bed. Wide awake. Repeating the same old grievances from that day or last decade.
Zen Buddhists call this concept “monkey mind,” where the mind is filled with drunken little monkeys jumping around from neuron to neuron, screeching, babbling and carrying on without a stop in sight.
You’re at the grocery store: “You always forget the shopping list,” the voice yells at you. At the gym, you’re scolded for missing the other day’s workouts. The voice reminds you how you didn’t prepare well enough as you’re about to give a work presentation to your colleagues. You glance at your tagged Facebook photo and you hear the sarcasm, “Better eat some more fries, why don’t you?”
The inner monologue continues when you’re with your children: “Skipped brushing their teeth and bedtime story? Worst. Parent. Ever.” And to top it all off, you already ran through the other reasons you suck as a parent — not throwing the Pinterest-esque birthday party for them, letting them eat candy at night, blah, blah, blah.
Then the next greatest scandal is plastered all over social media. The posts take up your newsfeed. Every development comes out with a bang. You feel like a lawyer. Or a judge. And Sherlock Holmes has nothing on you. Maybe you should just sign off and be you today. Now the news blares every misfortune. Too many wars. Too many shootings. Your heart bleeds.
The noise continues as you manage to play another tea party with the children, faking smiles and exaggerated nods.
You rushed your evening prayers, leaving no time to connect with God because you were thinking between whipping up a pilaf or sugary cereal for dinner. The voice reminds you of your inadequacies, weakness, fears and worries, and the horrible memories of your past, never relieving you and allowing you to enjoy the moment you are in. Sometimes it isn’t so harsh, just mundane musings, but it is there and it is exhausting.
Have you ever met with someone who, although is present in physical form, isn’t there? No fun at all having a monologue with a ghost. Their mind is elsewhere. They are caught in the loop of their thoughts, not being able to escape and focus on the now.
This constant chatter in our minds does two things to us:
1) It robs us of being in the moment.
While introspection is critical to our overall growth as a person, not allowing ourselves to truly immerse into the moment we are experiencing takes so much away from the potentially satisfying occasion. A possibly fun day at the mall or park can turn into a blur of moments you strain to remember, like a car ride into the lively city, passing the glimmering lights everywhere, but seeing only the bokeh of an out-of-focus image.
The Japanese term “boke” is also used in in the context of a mental haze. Mental noise creates just that, a mental haze that enshrouds the perfectly good moments with its thickening fog.
2) It unleashes a downward spiral of negative thoughts.
This mental murkiness manages to take one negative thought and branch it into a thousand more like it. I am not good enough. I didn’t study/work/worship/laugh/help enough. Nothing is enough. Conversations are overanalyzed. Situations are criticized. Behaviors are scrutinized.
The downward spiral has unleashed.
How do we turn down this mental noise?
We don’t want to turn it completely off because some of it can be constructive and positive, two ingredients for self-growth. It’s the debilitating noise, the voices that cause us to miss opportunities. These need to go.
Have you ever looked at a beautiful painting or scenery? Everything seems to pause. True enjoyment is briefly felt at the moment. This is what it means to hush the constant chatter and allow what actually is present to take over.
Faith traditions have encouraged people to strengthen their relationship with God amidst their busy daily lives by finding that inner peace. But, this can only happen when the mind is quiet. Deepak Chopra’s strategy is to focus on what is coming up next in your mind. This way, you can create positive thoughts to replace the negative chatter.
Meditating and praying – even when the noise even sneaks in there — reading, making art, writing, this all can help clear the mind. Perhaps even engaging with the noise, acknowledging it exists and then telling it off will make it run away until the next time you must actively repeat methods to turn down the volume. Let’s tame those little hyper monkeys!
With a quiet mind, the world becomes clearer. Life is meaningful and most importantly, you love yourself.
Fatimah Popal is an all American lady with a sprinkle of Kandahari and the scent of Rumi. Wife of a gentleman, mother to two button-nosed lady bugs, conflict resolution practitioner & IT geek, motivational speaker, bursting with creative energy & love & pouring it into the world. Despite the hecticness, lives to tell all. Her column, The Heart, the Mind, and some Magic, is published during the second week of every month on Altmuslim.