Managing the Monkey

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Inhale… Exhale… Repeat… focus only on the air flowing in and out of your lungs. Train your eyes on a single spot.  Stay completely still.  Do not address that itch on your nose or the tingle in your arm.  If you have thoughts of daily life, release them from your mind.  Inhale… Exhale… Repeat…  If I told you to think of nothing for ten minutes could you do it? How about five, to difficult? Try sixty seconds or maybe start with thirty.  Meditation is common practice in Nepal so I decided to give it a try.  I find a quiet spot on my balcony and take a seat.  While straitening my back I relax my shoulders placing hands, palms up, lightly on knees.  Upon taking my first breath my mind is immediately flooded. How do you concentrate on nothing? Isn’t that in itself concentrating on something?  I start again, what kind of bird is that chirping…Crap.  Ok third time’s the charm, slap, mosquito!  Is that a baby crying or a goat?  What smells so good… hmmm, I could eat.  Damn it!  How do people do this for hours on end?  AAAHHHHHH!  This is way more difficult than I thought it would be.  It’s time for some research.  I Google meditation for beginners. Luckily this happens to be a very popular topic.  I read about the history of meditation, its positive effect on the body and the various ways it is performed. A phrase that continually pops up is, “taming your monkey mind”. Basically the part of your mind that is constantly generating wants, needs and what if’s.  I learn that the easiest way to distract this monkey mind is to repeat a mantra or even simpler still, telling your body to breath.  Just saying in your mind breath in… breath out… takes enough brain power that it is much harder for your thoughts to “monkey around”. So every time I get distracted I’m supposed to focus back on my breathing and everything else should fall into place.  This is much harder than it sounds!

I have noticed that the “monkey mind” has significance outside of meditation. The local language in Nepal is obviously not English. When traveling around, attending field visits and government assemblies I am involved in many discussions that are conducted entirely in Nepali.  I usually have a translator but much gets lost in translation. I am forced to focus on body language and other non-verbal cues to assemble a complete picture.  It’s times like these that I am very grateful for GSK’s sales training.  I remember our instructor explaining that most people listen to respond, they aren’t really hearing the conversation.  They are more worried about their reply, rather than fully understanding what is being relayed.  Years ago, when we discussed “active listening” I never imagined that I would be applying it on the side of a mountain, in a remote community, inside a dilapidated health post, with people who don’t speak English.  This extreme situation has shown me what relevance a preoccupied mind can have in the real world.  I have often caught myself wondering about what my follow-up question will be, where we are headed next or what I’ll be eating for dinner and before long I’ve lost key parts of a conversation.  Quieting that monkey mind will help me totally engage in the dialogue thus having a more productive meeting.  My last blog talked about living in the moment; well it’s hard to do that when constantly distracted.  Now that I know its happening I can make a change. Hopefully it will help me succeed during this journey and in the future as well.