You’ve resolved to take a little time for yourself every day to go to your quiet place. Get away from the TV, stereo and kids and clear the cobwebs from your mind. Escape the outside world to find the peace that lives inside you. You’re going to start meditating, even if it kills you!
If you’re cursed with an acute case of “monkey mind,” it just might.
“Monkey mind” is a Buddhist term that describes the ongoing chatter in your head that jumps from idea to idea, thought to thought, worry to worry (think monkeys swinging through the trees) as you go through your day, to stop and rest only when you’re sleeping.
Some monkeys are wilder than others, and the wildest ones can be hard beasts to break.
Many people turn to meditation to tame the monkey or, at least calm him down once in a while. But, ironically, many beginning meditators find that the quieter their minds become, the more the monkey wants to swing.
“Thoughts happen, on average, every two seconds,” says Dmitriy Denisenko, a primordial sound meditation instructor. “And for the average person, there’s no gap between thoughts. They just come all the time, one after the other. Especially now, when everyone is so moving so fast and in communication with each other all the time through technology and what not. It’s difficult to slow down thoughts, and it’s impossible to stop them.”
Practitioners of primordial sound meditation, an ancient technique from India brought to the west by Deepak Chopra, use a mantra containing a word or sound based on one of vibrations emitted by the universe at the moment of their birth.
“The Vedic seers, 5,000 to 7,000 years ago, were able to hear what sounds the universe was making,” Denisenko notes. “There are 108 sounds, and they change every eight hours a day. We don’t hear them and we can’t define them, but we can use them.”
Denisenko explains, “When this mantra is repeated in your head, it eventually takes you to the field of what I call pure awareness. It comes with practice. I’m not saying it’s the best technique — because there are other great techniques — but thinking and sitting and just trying not to think will not take you beyond thinking. You’ll be too busy thinking, ‘I can’t be thinking.’ You need to have something to distract your mind from the thoughts.”
Some people use CDs of new age music, chanting or white noise to achieve the same result, but Judy Roitman, guiding teacher at the Kansas Zen Center, says silence is golden.
“Every one of the serious practices that I know uses sound,” Roitman says. “Every practice has some kind of chanting or saying, mantras or something because we’re human beings and it’s helpful. But as far as meditation goes, there’s just tremendous value in silence.”
Thoughts will inevitably come, Roitman says. The key is for successful meditation is to acknowledge and observe the thought, then let it go.
“Zen meditation is about being open to whatever is there. So, the silence is important. If there’s a dog barking, you hear a dog barking. No problem. If a car goes by, you hear a car goes by, no problem.”
Roitman adds that chanting is used in practice at the Zen Center as a group participation activity, not for background noise.
“What chanting does is bring people together, and it takes you out of your particular, individual thing. You’re not doing something based on your own desire of the moment, you’re all doing this thing together.”
Denisenko says that the mantras people repeat silently in his type of practice can become chant-like, although there is no right or wrong way to go about it.
“We advise people to let it happen however it happens,” he says. “(The mantra) can be repeated faster or slower, stronger or quieter. If we just allow it to happen and don’t have our ego in the way — enforcing how to do it in a certain way — then it takes us there naturally.”
“The important thing is, you do have thoughts and you will have thoughts. You know you won’t be in your mantra 100 percent of the time. If you go away, just come back to your mantra and start over.”