Weighty Matters

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Chattering Monkeys

on July 13, 2014

Chattering Monkeys is a term we use at Tai Chi for the distracting thoughts that assail our minds. As I learned in a book that I recently read, it’s akin to the term monkey mind that Buddhists use. Call the condition what you want, it indicates not being mindful.

I continue in my quest to become more mindful. My priority is to be mindful and aware about my eating habits, specifically my compulsive eating. When I am not vigilant and aware, I eat things that I don’t want, am not hungry for, and that are not on my food plan.

One of the reasons I love practicing Tai Chi is that it is like meditation in motion. I can be totally present in the practice, focusing on the moves, the flow, the actions of my body as I do the moves. There is very little room for stressful or distracting thoughts when I am focused. When I get distracted, I either don’t do the moves correctly or to their fullest extent for the most benefit, or I lose my place and forget what comes after whatever move I just did. So, quieting those chattering monkeys helps, but it takes practice like everyone else.

Knowing how my meditation in motion benefits me, I’ve lately been interested in learning more about sitting meditation. The closest I’ve come to trying it in the past was to do some deep breathing exercises and, honestly, my mind wanders quickly even when I’m trying to rein it in. In thinking about meditation, it feels like it will help improve mindfulness. Improved mindfulness could lead to more control over the impulse to eat food in compulsive ways.

I recently finished a book by ABC news anchor Dan Harris in which he talks about his journey into self-awareness, learning more about mindfulness, and becoming a meditator. The book is called 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — a True Story.

I’m glad I bought the e-book on my Kindle, although I would love to see how they fit that entire title on the spine of the book.

I admired Harris’s candor in writing about his life and career including a couple of panic attacks that he suffered while live on the air on Good Morning America, the coke addiction he developed, and his brutally honest assessment of his own personality, work drive, insecurities, etc. When I say brutally honest, I mean it. He all but says that he tended to be an asshole sometimes. I was surprised to find out the things I did about his life off camera. I’ve watched him do tv news for years and never suspected that he had problems with insecurity, anxiety, stress and other issues.

The long and short of the book is that he looked for answers to his problems, exploring various paths and approaches, including the writings of Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, Joseph Goldstein, and others. He ultimately learned that meditation helped him realize all of the things he included in his lengthy book title.

What he experienced in the process resonated with me. Things like responding to situations, not reacting. Taming that voice in my head that triggers poor decisions. And again, the whole idea of mindfulness. This book is my first foray into reading about meditation. I’m going to read more and if any of you are meditators and have suggestions, please share some in comments. In the meantime, I’m working on five minutes a day of simply focusing on my breathing, being in the present, noticing what I’m feeling or hearing and, most importantly, bringing myself back to focus when the chattering monkeys in my head attempt to distract me. Once I can consistently do five minutes, I’ll see if I can extend the time.

In other news, I’ve been away from the blog for awhile, mostly because my living space is in disarray, including my laptop not being set up in its regular position. For several months, I’d planned to get some remodeling work done on my living room/dining room area. I thought it would happen in August, but the guy was available now, so we rushed in and started last week. The dining room walls and ceiling have already been ripped down and rebuilt with new sheet rock, including new insulation where needed. Fast progress. I picked out the trim, crown molding and baseboards I want. I’ve pored over paint options. (OMG, have you ever gone to Houzz.com? It’s like design brain crack! I spent hours looking at room designs until my eyes blurred.)

John just has to prime, paint and do the trim, molding and baseboards and the dining room will be done. Then we’ll rearrange so he can do the other half of the space, which is the living room. It’s a little disruptive but manageable.

I also had an incredibly busy work week. Seems I say that a lot these months. It isn’t super stressful, but there are nights when I just don’t have the brain alertness to blog. On the last blog post I did, I actually fell asleep at the keyboard while writing and typing. When I’m that tired, it’s a challenge to be coherent. Rather than produce drivel, I opted for a few days’ break.

Hopefully my brain will not be as challenged this week. I have some things underway that I think are positive developments and processing them with the blog always helps.

How are all of you?

2 responses to “Chattering Monkeys

  1. Cathy M says:

    I like that phrase – chattering monkeys. When I am possessed by repetitive, unproductive, negative thoughts I always think of my mind as a squirrel on an exercise wheel – racing and racing and going nowhere. Ugh.

    I’ll have to check out Dan Harris’ book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Good luck on the remodeling. We have some bathrooms to remodel and seem to be stuck in the process of finding a good contractor we can trust. It’s pitiful when you can’t overcome your fear of contractors. If you have pictures to share of your remodel, I’d love to see the final results.

    I agree on your take on Houzz – that’s one seductive website.


    • Mary Stella says:

      I always pictured a hamster on the wheel with my thoughts going around and around. I believe psychiatry refers to it as “inefficient worrying”.

      In his book, one of Dan Harris’s friends/mentors suggests asking “Is that useful?” I’ve tried that a couple of times this past week. It helped stop the repetition and I looked at the underlying situation with a different perspective.

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