My Mind is a Terrible Thing to Watch

April 2, 2013

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Last fall, after years of saying, “I really need to start a meditation practice,” I finally did it.

At first it was all sweetness and soothing music, as I joined a 21-day online challenge led by none other than Mr. Mind/Body himself, Deepak Chopra. His calming voice, pearls of wisdom and suggested mantras made it easy to sit on the meditation cushion for 15 minutes each morning and feel pretty good about myself.

On day 22 I returned to the cushion, timer in hand, sans Deepak and his nature-scape soundtracks. And that’s when I faced the real challenge: my own mind.

“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet,” Chopra has said. “It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there, buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.”

And so it has become my earnest quest to access that quiet, which waits patiently beneath the eager thoughts that flood my mind from the moment I sit still.

“Excuse me, I’m trying to meditate!” I yell at my mind, rather missing the point. There follows a moment of shocked silence in which I focus on my breath, remember a mantra or visit the oft-cited “space between thoughts” where champion meditators hang out. For me, that space lasts as long as it takes to click a remote. In an instant, my mind is checking out a new channel.

I now see why they call this phenomenon “monkey mind.” It’s driving me bananas.

So what kinds of thoughts are crowding out my serenity? Well, there’s usually lots in there about the day ahead, yesterday’s remnants and the endless to-do list that haunts a self-employed person. It’s as if my mind decides, “Well, now that I’ve got your full attention, let’s rehearse every step of every thing we have to do this day/week/month/year/lifetime. Oh, and let’s not forget the list of stuff we need at Whole Foods, that weird shudder in the car and…did I return that email from Leslie?”

It’s exhausting.

The more I practice, the more I see what’s going on. It’s a control thing, led by my ego as it fights for its right to dominate my life, arrange every detail and have its say. Perpetually. Author and spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer has a clever acronym for EGO: Edging God Out. Mine is less profound: Endless Gratuitous Opinions.

Of course, this running commentary isn’t limited to my internal state or those minutes on the cushion. Once I had enough yoga and mindfulness training under my belt to start witnessing my mind, I was rather horrified to see that it has something to say about everyone else, too. And it’s often not very nice.

Walking into Starbucks, my mind starts to chatter about that guy’s bad haircut and that woman’s unflattering top and that kid with too many piercings and the barista’s annoying voice and…“Oh, just hush!” I tell my in-everybody’s-business monkey mind. Another second of shocked silence follows before it finds something new to inventory.

The thing is, the deepest part of me deeply craves that elusive quiet beneath the endless stream of thoughts. I think most of us do, despite (and because of?) all the distractions that tug at us 24/7. I just need to get my mind on board with this desire, give it another job to do while I’m meditating, and be patient with the process.

Ultimately, the point is not to try and walk around with an empty mind. It’s to get more comfortable with stillness, spend more time there, and take it with me when I rise from the cushion. I actually had a preview of this the other day.

Lying on a bed in my parents’ Cape Cod home, I found myself staring out the window, just watching the trees and the birds do their thing on a sunny afternoon. All of a sudden, I realized that I was thinking…about…nothing! It was a triumphant moment.

Of course, my mind had lots to say right away about how great that was, and how I must write about it, and, “What should we eat for dinner? It’s must be past 5 now. Where did I put my phone? Let’s Google that Italian place near the beach…”

Yes, I will keep practicing.

Kim Childs, CPPC, is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, Creativity, and Midlife Transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule an initial consultation.




  • Debbie

    Yes! I completely relate, Kim, and I’ve been meditating regularly (20 minutes twice a day) for 40 years. Sometimes I’m able to experience a blissful, thought-free-but-not-sleeping stillness, but usually it’s the very active mantra-monkey mind conversation. The difference now from years ago is that I don’t attach too much energy to the thoughts–it’s not mantra VS. monkey mind, it’s just all whatever is happening. Adding self-compassion has been key. Accepting it all. Welcoming it all. Keep going!

    • kimchildsyoga

      Thanks, Deb – self-compassion, absolutely, and patience…

  • Judith

    Great piece, Kim! I too relate! I’ve been meditating each morning since October, and after reading that Deb still has these issues after 40 years of meditating, I don’t feel so bad! I do find if I pray for others and make my to do list before I meditate, I can settle down a bit more easily. I know that the thoughts are mostly fear based in some way, so I just keep affirming that all is well. It works–some of the time!

  • Sarah

    The monkey is a little easier to tame without caffeine….. But then you have to figure out how to stay awake. Sleepiness sometimes makes “monkey mind” seem benign!

    My mantra helps also as it occupies at least part of my mind. According to the book, MEDITATION AND MANTRAS by Swami Vishnu-Devananda, even the great Masters experience challenging thought patterns from time to time. We are all in this great adventure together! Let’s just keep sitting and trying to meditate. Also let’s attempt to practice mindfulness when we are not on our cushions or in our chairs with great compassion!

    An hour of relaxed meditation is worth four hours of sleep, I’ve read. It’s almost magic! Like gratitude!

    Thanks so much for your blog, Kim. It’s great to share the path with you.

  • ilona

    “Endless Gratuitous Opinions” – ha! You nailed it. For me, meditation has never led me to a transcendent state, nor do I find it blissful. But, if I don’t meditate, life is more stressful. It does add to the quality of life, even if doesn’t feel like it in the moment.

  • Lisa in California

    I love your blog, Kim. It always makes me laugh while evoking compassion for our shared human experience 🙂 Thanks for putting it out there with so much honesty and humor!

  • kimchildsyoga

    Thanks for weighing in with great feedback and meditation tips, everyone! Will apply, rinse, repeat…!

  • Renee

    I’ve had a lot of trouble getting into meditation too, so I can relate. I almost never try to do it without a guided script from somewhere (I have quite a collection now!) for the very reasons you state. And I also have pain in my hips when I sit cross-legged for more than a few minutes — is there a yoga pose for that?! My short-term solution has been to sit upright or lie in corpse pose. And try for more patience!

    • Kim

      Yes – corpse is fine unless it leads to sleepiness and sleep – relaxed awareness is what you are going for in meditation. Sitting with hips higher than knees is best, so sitting atop a few cushions or pillows, and sitting on their forward edge helps keep the spine straight w/less effort. Finally, sitting upright is a perfectly good alternative – again, just make sure you’re keeping the spine long…and yes, practice with patience…

  • Maria Elena Viglucci

    Wow! I’m impressed with all the meditators. I have trouble with “no talking” during yoga! You are such a good writer, amiga!

  • Laighne Fanney

    As always, you say it so eloquently! Onward HO!!! We will get in balance with the mind and the quiet between. It is slowly occurring! Isn’t it?!? Love, Joy and Peace!!!

  • Jill

    Yes. It seems fairly universal, with our freeloading, non-rent-paying egos and all, that we horrify ourselves by the sheer volume and (lack of) quality of our thought chaos that we feel so guilty over it.
    Come to find, we’re all the same, in the same boat of crazy thought & judgment streams, and somehow… that brings comfort. None of us are alone. We’re all nuts! 🙂

    But we keep meditating through it, if only to feel a little less nuts than yesterday.

  • Eric

    Thank you so much for your insight and wisdom! I always enjoy your blogs too! Saw the last 2 on Kripalu. Tres cool!

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