In her bestselling novel, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the ‘monkey mind’ – the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl.” This is a great description of what it feels like when it feels like we cannot control the thoughts that enter our minds, also known as intrusive thoughts. The concept of the “monkey mind” is not new either. It dates back over 2,000 years ago to the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha also believed that meditation for intrusive thoughts was an ideal way to manage them. This remains true still.
What Exactly Is the Monkey Mind?
Elizabeth Gilbert continues her train of thought on managing her “monkey mind.” She writes, “From the distant past to the unknowable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined. This in itself is not necessarily a problem; the problem is the emotional attachment that goes along with the thinking.” Here, Gilbert does a superb job of encapsulating what it feels like to struggle with the monkey mind; unmanageable and distracting. Also, the same is true across the broad spectrum of intrusive thoughts.
Now, the concept of the monkey mind dates back over two millennia to a story the Buddha often told his followers. The story described a man who was gifted a monkey. At first, it was great because the monkey was full of energy and helped the man do many tasks that he wanted to do but didn’t have the energy on his own. However, eventually, the monkey wouldn’t stop working and tired the man out so much that he couldn’t manage any longer and gave the monkey back.
This story represents the nature of intrusive thought quite well. At first, it may seem as though these thoughts are helpful. They may feel as if they are helping us map out our lives and break down future tasks. However, when they become unmanageable and create distress is when they become intrusive and detrimental. Now, for some, these intrusive thoughts are far and few between, but for others struggling with issues of mental health they can be debilitating. For these individuals, utilizing meditation for intrusive thoughts can be crucial.
Understanding the Benefits of Meditation
Meditation has been used to quiet the mind and create a better sense of mindfulness for thousands of years. This is much longer than the clinical concept of intrusive thoughts, or even the philosophical/spiritual concept of the monkey mind has been around. The reason that mediation remains to be such a popular tool in creating mindfulness is, quite frankly, that it works.
While meditation has been known to help calm what we now know as intrusive thoughts for thousands of years, it is still relatively recent that the clinical and recovery communities really started to see its benefits for mental health and started to utilize it. The following are just a few of meditation’s benefits:
- Helps lower stress and gives new perspectives on troubling situations
- Improves one’s self-awareness
- Allows for a greater focus on the present moment
- Boosts creativity
- Increases patience
- Calms intrusive thoughts
Utilizing Meditation for Intrusive Thoughts
While intrusive thoughts can manifest in many forms, they are perhaps best understood as thoughts that cause distress and become uncontrollable. For individuals with certain mental health disorders, this distress is often more pronounced and also heightens other symptoms.
Utilizing meditation for intrusive thoughts can be ideal for learning to cope with them. Mediation can also bring about the benefits of what is known as “trait mindfulness,” which helps with feeling present and not distracted.
According to the article Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies, “Trait mindfulness has been associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, agreeableness, conscientiousness, vitality, self-esteem, empathy, sense of autonomy, competence, optimism, and pleasant affect. Studies have also demonstrated significant negative correlations between mindfulness and depression, neuroticism, absent-mindedness, dissociation, rumination, cognitive reactivity, social anxiety,” and the list goes on extensively from there. With such a dearth of potential benefits and virtually no risk in utilizing meditation for intrusive thoughts, it is no wonder that it is so widely regarded in the recovery community.
Utilizing Meditation for Intrusive Thoughts and Other Symptoms of Mental Illness at the Phoenix Recovery Center
Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, we believe that there is more than one way to recover from issues of addiction and mental illness. We also believe that there are many tools for managing the symptoms of addiction and mental illness, including intrusive thoughts.
The prolific Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said, “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” That suffering is the state that intrusive thoughts put us in. Meditation is just one of the tools that can help take us out of this state.
For more information about managing intrusive thoughts using many tools including meditation, please reach out to The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.