When you picture a monkey what do you see? I see a cute, cheeky, chattering little ball of fur. I also know that monkeys can be quite enterprising, even sly and they can certainly hurt you if you’re not careful.
In martial arts and some eastern meditation traditions unwanted thoughts, feelings and distractions are referred to as mental monkeys. They each come with their own range of characteristics that unsettle our minds and induce unwanted feelings.
Dr. Tamara Russell has expanded on the work of Martine Batchelor in this area and has produced a list of the types of mental monkeys and how they go about undermining our emotional well being. Mindfulness brings to our attention the existence of annoying distractions. Continued awareness will then make us aware of the existence of mental monkeys and their agenda. You’ll often spot them by their favourite questions; “If only”, “Why” and “What if”.
Let’s look at how Dr. Russell has summed them up and categorised them. See if you resonate with any of these traits.
DAYDREAMING MONKEY gets lost in fantasyland and lives too little of life in reality. He stops us from grounding, being present and living life to the fullest.
REHEARSAL MONKEY goes over and over a conversation or situation and often will appear after an upset with someone. He wastes our time by huffing and puffing and working out and going over clever word exchanges and retorts aimed at making us feel better but he actually makes us feel worse. He stops us from dealing with and processing the very feelings that are making us snipe.
FABRICATION MONKEY makes up stories that we end up believing. He’s the “what if” monkey. He stops us from being authentic and fearless.
JUDGING MONKEY is out of control, scattered and super-critical. He negatively judges everyone and everything. He’s quick and hard to detect. He jumps to hasty and inaccurate conclusions making us feel tired and empty.
COMPARING MONKEY compares us to everyone else, how we were before and how we want to be in the future. He leaves us emotionally fragile and out of the present moment.
PLANNING MONKEY is an over organizer and multi tasker. He’s particularly active when we are anxious. He plans every little detail of any given scenario as a means of regaining control. This is exhausting and fruitless because the future still holds uncertainty.
MEASURING AND COUNTING MONKEY checks our progress against internal markers constantly assessing if we are there yet. Where is there exactly? Obviously some place in the future. He therefore keeps us firmly out of the present moment and wastes a huge amount of our mental energy.
SHOULD MONKEY tells us what we should and shouldn’t do, say and want. He is extremely critical and self righteous and can demean our sense of self.
ANALYTICAL MONKEY over analyses everything and loves to unravel puzzles. He gets too caught up in the “Why” instead of enjoying the now and flowing with life.
If any of these jumped out at you, look out for them. Be mindful of your body and let it talk to you. When alerted to the presence of any one the above monkeys the idea is to engage with him. Treat him as though he is an unruly child that requires firm but patient and gentle discipline. By using non-judgemental acknowledgement we can gently rein in these mental monkeys. Mental monkeys stop us from experiencing emotion. It’s resisted and unprocessed emotions that are the mental obstacles that hold us back.