How taming a monkey can help your training.
e often forget that the most powerful tool for improvement we can use in training, and in our daily lives for that matter, is our mind. Yet there is very little taught in the dojo about how to look after it. We are expected to arrive at the dojo after a long, stressful day at work and immediately switch our brains over to zen mode ready for training. Now I don’t know about you but I’m not a zen Buddhist that’s been sitting on a cushion for eight hours a day since I was born so I have a little bit of trouble clearing my mind. We might do a short meditation at the start of the class but how effective is this at clearing the fog from the day? It’s not enough.
The typical human has around 70 000 thoughts per day, that’s 48 thoughts PER MINUTE. How are we supposed to concentrate on anything with all of that noise in our mind. Let alone be clear enough to really listen to our Senseis when they are explaining the intricacies of Karate.
What is the monkey mind?
Whether we like it or not we all have the mind of a monkey, no matter how enlightened we feel, there is always a monkey in there pulling pulling for our attention. Unfortunately modern society is great at feeding the money bananas to keep it strong. Bananas in this case refer to social media, advertising, and the total lack of regard given keeping our minds clear.
The “Monkey Mind’ is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled, restless and uncontrollable”. The Buddah explains it in his own words by saying; ‘Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.’
You can think of the human mind like a tree full of branches. Each branch is a thought, and your attention or consciousness is a monkey, swinging from branch to branch without stopping to pay close attention to any one.
These branches of thought that we are constantly swinging on all day are often negative and always distracting. ‘How will I pay my bills this month’ or ‘Why is my boss always picking on me?”
Origins of the monkey mind
Let’s start with the Ego; the constant chattery companion in our head telling us who we think we are based on the beliefs we have about ourselves.This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you don’t think you are going to win the next tournament you are at a serious disadvantage. Its when these thoughts get away from us that it becomes a problem. The Ego can become a perpetual internal monologue of self importance and self criticism, a deadly mix to self esteem and can make us depressed. With this internal unhealthy self talk filling our minds it’s almost impossible to really concentrate on anything. Thoughts like “that was a terrible Kata, why am I so bad?” and “I have the perfect Mawashi Geri already I don’t need to try hard in this drill”, get in the way of real learning and stop us from progressing. More on self talk in a future blog post!
Our ability to switch between tasks has evolved for a good reason, we need to be able to get things done in our busy lives. But when the monkey gets away from us and starts swinging from branch to branch without our control it becomes a problem. We need to think of the monkey as a bigger part of our Karate training and actively work on it. Let’s put a leash on that Monkey Mind!
What the monkey does to our bodies
Have you ever had one of those days where you can’t seem to get out of your head? People talk to you and you can’t remember what they said? Maybe you get home from work and you are exhausted but you can’t sleep. You lie in bed and your mind races with things you have to do but you don't have the focus to get anything done. The monkey has you wrapped around his little banana loving finger!
The effects the mind has over your physical body are huge. From fatigue to stomach ulcers, too much mental worry can have an ongoing effect on our wellbeing. Modern society seems to be wired for worry and distraction and this isn’t helping us be healthy.
So what are we going to do about it?
Im not going to lie to you and say that this is going to be easy but I want you to stay with me. This is going to be a journey and I'll be here with you every step of the way. In this post I'm going to focus on one technique only and then we will explore some more advanced monkey taming tactics in the future.
Ok, let's do this together...
Sit down on a chair or wherever you are comfortable and put your feet flat on the floor. Take a moment to think about your posture and how your body feels, then relax and try to release any tension in your muscles.
All you need to do now is breath... Thats it.
Now before you slam your laptop shut and think I've gone bananas, hear me out.
The monkey feeds off your attention right? So we need to give it the least amount of attention that we can. Starve it until we get our peace back, the easiest way to do this is to focus on something else, thats where the breathing comes in.
The aim is to consciously listen and focus on the breath so that everything else falls away, feel the air moving in and out of your nose and listen to the sound it makes as it flows.
You don't have to sit in the lotus position until your legs go numb while you do this. You can do this practice whenever you want, just find somewhere quiet and and breath.
Its going to take practice to focus your mind on your breath completely but just like Karate, if you practice, you will get better at ignoring that monkey.
Time for a banana...