5… 4… 3… 2… 1
Last week, my best friend called me in the middle of the night. She complained she had been tossing and turning almost for four hours. Her continuous wheezing got me concerned. As she began telling me her worries, I realised how easy it is for our mind to wander off, even when our body very much stays in place.
Mind-wandering is not entirely a distraction. Jumping between memories, imagining, planning, and setting distant goals is a default “spontaneous mode” that can happen in two ways — either a person deliberately turns their attention to a task, or is a matter of mental health issue. Although these spontaneous thoughts, as science says, spark creativity, it is essential to understand that too much wandering of the mind can get you sucked into a goblet of negative thoughts.
Buddha described that the human mind is filled with drunken monkeys, each clamouring for the attention of its own. Fear, worry, anxiety, and other negative thoughts are loud monkeys, screeching and chattering about all the things that could go wrong instead of right. When our mind is refusing to shut up, exerting more control often emboldens it to further run amok. Suppressing could just make these thoughts stronger.
One simple remedy is practising grounding techniques, which serves as a gentle reminder to stay anchored to the present moment. The logic behind this technique is simple — attempt to focus more on the body and less on the mind. Here are the things you can do to tame your monkey mind:
Stretch: Some light stretches while focusing on breathing can amount to paying close attention to physical sensations arising in the body.
Boxed Breathing: Follow the rule of 4 seconds. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and again hold for 4 seconds. This keeps your focus on the number four and helps the mind to stay distracted.
Mindfulness: Engage yourself in the 5–4–3–2–1 exercise:
- Look around for 5 things you can see: Note simple things around the room. Curtains, books, window, table, chair, it could be anything!
- Identify 4 things you can hear: Focus on the hearing. Listen closely to the sound of the fan, pay attention to dogs barking on the street, doors squeaking, or even to the sound of your breath.
- Acknowledge 3 things you can touch: Identify things you can physically feel.
- Select 2 things that you can smell: Focus on finding an odour — either go to a place with more sources of scent or identify simple, yet pleasant smells around you.
- Notice 1 thing you can taste: It does not have to be food, it can be your toothpaste, minty floss, even a glass of water.
You don’t have to avoid these monkeys completely, just choose to ignore them. Distracting yourself mindfully is like bookmarking things for later. And when you think you are ready, engage in a gentle conversation, and lovingly bring the monkeys into submission.