Monkey Mind


How can we create a separation from our thoughts? I sometimes have a hard time as some thoughts just keeps coming back and doesn’t matter if I ignore them or address them more they keep coming back. Do yogis face this problem as well? If yes, how do they proceed?

—Pravesh, India


Dear Pravesh,

Our brains and bodies are wired for what seems like non-stop thinking. Maybe it’s those brains we inherited from monkeys: hence we meditators call it the restless monkey mind!!!!

But we can re-train the brain for in recent decades the brain’s innate plasticity has been proven. Paramhansa Yogananda claimed the brain could be re-trained long before scientists could accept that as true. Here are some thoughts (ha, ha) you might consider:

  1. You have already experienced that mere “watching” of thoughts is not very successful. For this reason the field of mindfulness meditation switched long ago to a technique that is ancient: watching the breath and using a mantra or word formula. It is very difficult to simply stop the procession of thoughts. But it is less difficult to re-direct our thoughts on some “object” that occupies our interest and attention long enough to settle the mind (away from our inner narrative and sub-conscious activity). Yogananda taught the Hong Sau technique of watching the breath. Studies have shown that having two or three “objects” of focus during meditation helps keep the lower brain (subconscious) relatively quiet, especially if practiced daily with calm and interested attention. Any Ananda website or center can provide you with the technique of Hong Sau.
  2. Other time-tested techniques of settling the mind include chanting, affirmation, and visualization. These incorporate both the approach of re-directing our attention but also add the invaluable aspect of engaging the heart’s feelings. Merely watching the breath can be cold and clinical, even boring for many people. But where devotion and self-offering are involved a deeper experience can be had. (Hong Sau CAN be practiced with devotion, or, with feeling, however.) The secret to calming the mind isn’t the mind: it’s the heart. Beautiful, calming, inspiring imagery, melody, or words are ideal.
  3. Whenever you can, practice just “looking.” Not “staring” as if to go into a trance state, but simply “looking.” You can “look” out a window at a view or panorama. You can even be listening to someone talk and just observing without an inner, verbal narration. At a stoplight, waiting……..just in a thousand situations: stop; look; listen. Then in meditation especially after using your technique(s), sit quietly and “look” at who is “looking”. No mental chatter or words are needed: just look. You might read one of my more recent articles called “Looking for a Friend.” It can be found at and goes into much more detail.

Perhaps in your life, you would benefit from more being rather than constant doing.

Nayaswami Hriman