Remember when we were young and monsters hid under our bed, made ugly noises and frightened us from our sleep? And do you remember when we screamed some adult always rushed into our room, scooped us into their lap, and shooed away the bad monster? Hugging our little stuffed bunny, we snuggled deeper into the warm lap and drifted back into our dreams.
Well, guess what, Ladies? There are no *adults* left to hold and rock us, but inside each of us huddles a little girl frightened by monsters. We must be the grown-up for that girl and save her. The only difference now is the things that go bump in the night live in our heads, not under our beds.
Buddhists call our adult-sized monster Monkey Mind, a room full of drunken monkeys that ring the fear alarm and incessantly jabber about the negative pages in our lives. The more we try to ignore them, the faster they fly around in our heads clamoring for attention.
Can we tame those drunken monkeys? I’ll tell you what works for me – sometimes. First, you must prepare yourself for battle. The adversaries are jealous, seasoned and entrenched and won’t give up without a fight.
Ready? You just fought three rounds with a bad dream and lost. The elated monsters go straight to work with their barbs of negative predictions and memories. You wake drenched in sweat, heart pounding, gasping for air.
Step One: Take several deep, calming breaths then crawl out of bed. Be careful, you may be wobbly. Straighten the snarled sheets then go to the kitchen, holding on to the hall wall if needed. Grab a piece of fruit or a slice of leftover pizza or a large spoonful of Rocky Road ice cream from the refrigerator. Eat slowly, savoring each bite. Feeling calmer? Good. Return to the bedroom.
Step Two: Climb back into bed, wrap your body in the sheet and curl into a fetal position, arms wrapped around your shoulders. Squeeze yourself like you were your beloved stuffed bunny and rock gently, focusing on your breath. Breathe IN, breathe OUT, breathe IN, breathe OUT. Think joyful thoughts between breaths – monsters hate joyful thoughts. If the fear bubbles up, rock some more and go back to your breath.
You may feel strange and awkward at first. After all, you’re a tough ole broad who’s been kicking ass and taking care of business for decades now being asked to cower and act like a ninny. But remember, it’s your frightened little girl who needs the comforting.
If you sense a lull in the monster’s attack, let your mind stray away from your breath for a few seconds and do a systems check. Shoulders tight? Relax them. Teeth clenched? Loosen your jaw. Face scowling? Paint on a smile. But stay alert. The monster knows when you wander and ramps up the barrage of arrows. The minute you feel the first sting, quick, go back to watching your breath going in and out, in and out. Slowly your body relaxes, your mind stills, your breath steadies, and you slip into a peaceful no-monkey sleep.
I have been duking it out with these drunken monkey devils for several decades now, and I promise you it gets easier with each round. They still jerk me awake but they no longer fool me. I know they’re not real monsters, they’re just thoughts — untested, unproven thoughts and often not even my own thoughts but ones leaked in or planted by others. They are the thoughts of drunken monkeys and drunken monkeys cannot know the future or the truth. So stand strong. With the monkeys tamed and the dialog in our minds re-written, we will have a friendly space to spend long happy hours playing in our thoughts and memories.
Are you wondering what has become of our frightened little girl? She sleeps peacefully most nights now and spends her days outside in the sunshine, building sandcastles at the beach or flying high in a swing or wrestling with a puppy in the tall grass. Listen. Can you hear her laughing?