Perspective: Monkey Mind No More

by Dianne P.

monkey mindI’ve heard that the only wrong way to do meditation is to not do it at all. My first experience with meditation was through a community recreation course (pre-recovery) and I tried so strenuously to be good at it that I think I could have qualified it to be a new sport in the Olympics. So maybe there are two wrong ways to do meditation, but I eventually learned to “let go” (post-recovery) and to not take things so seriously.

So how does one meditate?

Basically, if you can breathe, you can meditate. There are several styles of meditation, but I’m just going to talk about the one that I feel is the simplest: paying attention to the breathing.

Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not about having no thoughts. That would be near impossible; that’s what our brain is meant to do. It would be like asking our veins to stop moving blood through our body. Rather, meditation is about having some control over the thoughts so that the focus isn’t on to-do lists, past and future worries, and the stories our brain and ego like to entertain us with. This state of the mind being all over the place is called “monkey brain,” being alike to the monkey that is jumping from perch to perch, grabbing at something briefly before another object catches its attention.

Generally speaking, meditation should be done sitting comfortably, with a straight back (not slouched in the couch), feet flat on the floor, with hands resting on your thighs or in your lap. Breathe. Breathe naturally from the diaphragm so that it is the belly rising and falling, not the chest. Think, “Buddha belly!” Bring your attention (thoughts) to your breathing. Just notice the rise and fall. What differences are there when you compare inhales to exhales? When your mind wanders, and it will, just bring it back to the breathing without being judgmental. It’s not right or wrong for the mind to have wandered, it just is.

I have attention deficit disorder (ADD) so staying focused on the breathing seems particularly difficult for me. I have found that adding one of these two methods helps:

  • I count the breaths up to ten. If my mind goes off the counting then, when it eventually returns, I start at one again. Sometimes I never get past two in a ten-minute meditation session. You don’t want to count higher than ten because your mind can go on autopilot, counting to ten in the background, while your mind is planning what to make for supper.
  • My favourite method is “square breathing.” It makes me feel like I get to keep my brain busy without losing the calming effect. All you do is inhale for four counts (or whatever feels comfortable and you can increase the count with more experience), hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts. Repeat.

A common question is whether it is okay to lie down for meditation. One Western Buddhist friend of mine says, “No. That’s called napping.” Another says “Yes, it’s important to be comfortable and if that’s what it takes for you to meditate, then by all means.”

That’s it. I see meditating regularly the same as working out regularly. For example, if you’re holding on to a branch that’s hanging over the edge of a cliff, you’re going to be thankful that you had been strengthening your muscles so that you can hold on that much longer. Similarly with meditation; in times of stress, chaos, or triggers, your brain will be trained to be more relaxed, allowing you to handle the crisis more calmly.



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Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email