The human mind in its “normal” state can often be manic, or at least unsettled. Together, the awesome speed of technological development and the rushed pace of modern life create the perfect storm. The result is that most people are functioning with greater productivity—and higher stress levels—than ever.
We have around fifty thousand thoughts per day. Of course, many of these circle back to the same ideas or themes. In the Buddhist teachings, the concept of the “monkey mind” relates to the unsettled, restless, fanciful, confused, uncontrollable aspects of the mind. In other words, the thoughts passing through the untrained mind will jump all over the place and swing from branch to branch like a rowdy monkey.
The monkey mind loves to multitask. The trouble is, when we try to do too many things at once, nothing really gets done well. Our inner monkey certainly does not want us relaxing or meditating; it will always choose instead to worry and fret, plan and predict, wonder and question, approve or deny, project and analyze.
Traditional, seated meditation can be difficult for folks who can’t sit still. Luckily, there are many other methods of mindfulness that are a more dynamic. Here are five great hobbies you can take up to calm down a restless mind:
Learning to knit, crochet or make macramé is a wonderful way to train your mind. It does involve sitting, but you get to learn a new skill, which is good for the brain and has been proven to help prevent dementia in old age. Plus, you get to create something!
Get yourself a needle or hook and some yarn. Find a friend who can teach you, or look at an instructional video on YouTube. Learn to crochet and make a winter cap. Take up knitting and design your own colorful scarf. Practice the technique of tying little knots over and over again to create a special macrame bracelet or anklet for yourself and your friends.
The repetitive motion involved in all of these handicrafts requires the brain to focus on the movement and yet, with time, it becomes natural and so the mind can drift off into thought or meditation during the act of knitting, crocheting or making macramé.
Shake it up! Whether dancing in a structured format such as salsa, ballet or tango, or engaging in freestyle, “ecstatic” dancing to the beat of DJ music, moving the body and dancing is both liberating for the heart and mind and great exercise for the soul and physical body.
Dance like no one’s watching. Dance in your bedroom. Dance in your car. Dance in private. Dance in public. Dance in a group. Dance by yourself. Dance to the beat of your own drum. Dancing is liberating. Mindful dance is the new meditation.
Playing drums, shaking maracas, ringing bells or chimes and vocal toning can all be repetitive, soothing, energizing activities for those days when we are feeling particularly restless. Tribal drumming is connects us to our roots and ancestry. Shaking maracas or a tambourine is easy and fun.
Chimes create a sense of inner peace and stillness and are a great tool for sound meditation, since they often sounds like the universal syllable, Aum. The ringing of bells has been used ritually for centuries in churches, temples and monasteries in order to help focus the mind, encourage present-moment awareness, introspection and mental flexibility.
Hiking & Biking
For active people with lots of energy, going on a long hike or bike ride in nature can be a wonderful form of moving meditation. Forest bathing is a thing. Simply spending time in a forest around a bunch of trees, fresh air and birds does wonders for our health.
Go on a walk or run, take a picnic and leave your phone at home—or at least in silent mode. Go with a friend or a small group of friends. Go by yourself. Make it a priority to spend at least one afternoon per week out in nature, away from screens and city stresses.
Meditation in Motion
Stretch, flow and move your body in a rhythmic way, coordinated with the breath. The arts of qigong, yoga and tai chi, among others, are fantastic ways to increase flexibility, coordination, strength, balance and grace—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Take a class at a gym or studio in your community. Try out different techniques and teachers until you find what really resonates with you. Once you have a foundation in a specific technique, you can gradually develop a home practice and begin to incorporate it into your daily life more and more.
Embrace and befriend your monkey mind by knowing its nature doesn’t have to define or control you. By integrating any of the above activities into your life, you can calm and relax your wild mind.