Do you have “monkey mind”? I don’t know, should I be worried? How do you get it? Is there a cure? Is it like mad cow or bird flu? Will I die? Now I’m curious, no, I mean I’m scared. Somebody help me, I sound and feel like I have monkey mind!!! Relax, slow down, I didn’t mean to alarm you, only alert you. Here is what you need to know…
Let’s start with the definition. Here is a widely accepted definition as passed to me by my tai chi teacher while teaching us how to meditate/breath and focus on our inner selves. Monkey mind is a state of scattered confusion with multiple, often conflicting thoughts pulling us in different directions at the same time. (Just like it sounds if you have ever observed a monkey for more than five minutes). Oh, is that all, you just described me and all my friends and virtually everyone in American society today. That is exactly the point. It has become so widespread that most people don’t recognize it and everyone else just thinks it’s normal. Many people even brag about their stellar multitasking abilities. So what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that it is gradually eroding our health in many ways while we ignore it or even brag about it. We have become a society of devices invented to save us time and energy supposedly making our lives better. This maybe true for many of them if used properly and thoughtfully, but most people don’t. For example: Have you ever had someone at your dinner table talking on the phone while checking his email, then he gets a text message… and it answers it back!? We hear of the dangers of distracted driving while talking and texting but we do it anyway because “we can handle it,” “I’ll be fine.” I’ve even gone to people’s houses where music was playing, the TV was on, they were on the computer and phone at the same time. Talk about brain overload! (Not to mention waste electricity, but I digress.)
You cannot fully attend to anything in that situation. Thus you rob yourself of the serotonin release during any pleasurable activity because you don’t get deeply involved enough in the activity for the hormone released to occur. Here is a perfect example: I recently saw a woman walking her beautiful golden retriever at the park while talking on the phone for a long time. She was completely missing the moment. A beautiful warm sunny day with blue skies and high clouds, green grass and tall trees blowing in the breeze was the scene. And her energetic playful pup was unsuccessfully trying to get her attention to play and have fun. I got much more enjoyment then she did while I was taking in the beautiful scenery and admiring the retriever as I rode my bike back to work from lunch. (As long as I was able to suppress my annoyance at her missing the moment and ignoring her retriever because she chose to be somewhere else). Mindfulness is the term used for being in the present moment, fully taking in and giving back to what is immediately there. (Not pulling out your phone to see who texted you since you checked five minutes ago). When you practice mindfulness, your brain is actually resting while conscious, not being overloaded by monkey mind. Also, this type of rest is much different and just as necessary as sleep.
When you live your life in the monkey mind way, you add unnecessary stress that will lead to long-term health issues. Your sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight response) gets slowly turned up and never turned back down as it should when a stressful situation is over. As you continue to develop this “sympathetic dominance,” your health will suffer. Blood pressure goes up, muscle tension goes up, blood was moved from your core to the extremities. This will lead to chronic headaches, muscle pain, hypertension and a host of digestive issues to name a few. Maybe the worst of all is the over-secretion of cortisol into your system. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, has been linked to insulin imbalance, excessive weight gain, diabetes, osteoporosis, digestive disorders, cancer growth and immune system suppression. It not only inhibits production of white blood cells and their proper functioning, but most remarkably, Cortisol actively acts as a signal to many different immune cells to shut off or stop working – and the cells die. Monkey mind can promote this chronic stress response that will eventually send these finely regulated systems into complete chaos. This chaos could then confuse your body so much that it turns on itself, which can promote the development of autoimmune disorders like MS, Lupus, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
This is just a partial list of the negative impact that this domino effect of cortisol can have on your health: Monkey mind… sympathetic dominance… chronic low-grade stress… lowering the immune system…poor health… missing life’s precious moments… and even early demise. So don’t live your life staring at a tiny screen (or a big screen for that matter) bringing out the monkey mind response. Instead, choose the present moment living life fully right now, not waiting for the next piece of the irrelevant electronic data to show up on your screen or screens.
Contrary to popular belief, the world ran just fine prior to the invention of all this instantaneous data. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t want to completely eliminate this data, just make sure we control and use it judiciously. The grass is not greener on the other side of the screen (or the street for that matter). Don’t let monkey mind take you down the road to ill health. It’s so slow and insidious you won’t know it until you get there. And for many of these health problems there is no turning back. Attempt to create an unplugged half hour to hour everyday with no electronics at all. Try reading a book,writing a poem, taking a yoga or tai chi class. Even sitting down to a family dinner is a great way to free yourself from over-stimulation. Make it a completely unplugged device-free zone with no electronics at all. Don’t let society and popular culture cultivate a monkey mind that pushes you where you don’t want to go. Mindfully choose your own path and it will surely lead to the corner of healthy and happy where you can reside for a long, long time.