Mindfulness Meditation and the Monkey Mind — Meditation for everyday life

There is a difference between mindfulness meditation and relaxation meditation

Some people think meditation is just seating in a relaxed position and thinking pleasant thoughts to calm the mind. Even though most meditations do use some kind of relaxation technique, they might differ at some point.

Several techniques can be used to achieve relaxation. Mantras; visualizations; a quiet place; calming music, and focusing the mind on pleasant thoughts to name a few. No matter what you call meditation, most share similar goal — a way to connect with a higher mind and to one’s self. For a list of different meditation practices check out this link.

Relaxation and awareness are closely related. We become more aware when we are fully relaxed. So, there are many great benefits associated with just seating for a few minutes a day and relaxing.

Even thought there is nothing wrong with relaxation meditation, there are great reasons to explore what Mingyur Rinpoche says. There is something radically different in awareness meditation. The monkey mind and the breath are a great tool. Even though the technique is simple, it produces profound changes in our well being. Overtime it can rewire your brain.

The video clip bellow by Mingyur Rinpoche is about meditation and how it can improve your daily life. The video is quite simple but is just an intro to a huge world — mindfulness meditation.

But before we delve into it, there is a distinction to be made — to clarify the difference between mindfulness meditation, and relaxation meditation; something seldom done.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation or Awareness meditation does exactly what it says: promote awareness. Relaxation come as a byproduct and is not the main focus at all. Mindfulness meditation involve some work, not always pleasant or calming. More on that later.

The idea of awareness meditation is that we can clear our mind’s confusion. To achieve that we need first to be aware of what’s cluttering the mind in the first place.

We are complex creatures. We have emotions, fears, thinking egos and the interfering emotions of others. Often we are driven by our impulses generated by thinking. That is what Mingyur Rinpoche means with the monkey mind. Our monkey mind is a 24/7 chatter bug, and we are not even aware of it. We are so used to interacting with the monkey, we don’t even notice it’s there.

Mindfulness meditation is simple — just seat and be aware. We pay attention to everything: where we are, our body, and what is going on with the monkey. The mind is constantly thinking and chatting. There is no point in trying to shut down the monkey mind. The central idea is that when you become aware of the thinking process, you are also able to recognize that there is thinking but there is also other things in there.

Over time, this practice creates a space between your thinking and your awareness of the present. You begin to make a distinction between the two. This perception creates a space between your emotions and world outside your mind.

When you seat and practice awareness meditation you focus on the breath. The idea is that you continually focus on something. The breath is a good thing because it is as real as it gets. You know you are breathing, and there are several ways in which you know it is real. You feel your chest rise and fall and you can hear the breathing. Ultimately your breath is your life. So it is a great idea to use the breath as a meditation focus because it link us to our present moment.

By focus your attention on one single aspect of your mind you create a contrast with all other phenomena — you begin, for the first time noticing that there are new things other than just thinking.

After a short while of paying attention to your breath the mind invariably goes back to thinking. The monkey mind begins its usual chatter. All you have to do is to knowledge and label it: thinking, monkey mind, and gently go back to monitoring the breath. This is a simple, and pragmatic exercise anyone can do.

Over time, your mind becomes quite good at noticing the thinking. Over time results will begin to appear as you become less inclined to be impulsive. Not because you have a better control in curbing yourself. Instead you’ll just don’t give your monkey mind so much attention. (one or two bananas is OK)

The technique

The posture: This is a very important point. Without a good posture it is difficult to be aware of anything. Seat on a meditation cushion you feel comfortable. Cross you legs comfortably. It doesn’t have to be a perfect yoga pose, it just need to support a erect column. Be aware of your head and how it sits atop of your column.

Your gaze: Your eye are open, the gaze is soft, four feet in front of you. The open eyes are an important aspect. You are just seating there and gazing in front of you. This is one of the most distinct elements in mindfulness meditation.

When our eyes are open we are more aware: When our eyes are open we are invited to be alert. Nothing is blocked. We are less stimulated to create thinking landscapes; we are just there and reality is what it is. The open eyes is also a good tool because when you are not meditating, it becomes easier to bring meditative mind to our daily life.

The technique: Take a few deep breaths and then return to your normal pattern. Pay attention to your breath. Notice how the air goes in and out. Focus you attention on the breath and breathing. Be also aware to your seating, be aware of your body and the surroundings, where you are with a relaxed gaze. In other words — you are simply aware but not focusing your attention in anything particularly, nor trying to analyze or judge.

The monkey mind: As you focus on your breath, you’’ll notice that your mind inevitably will start wondering and in a few minutes you’ll notice you are no longer paying attention to your breath but instead you are engaging in a animated mind chatter with the monkey mind.

That is good. Now all you have to do is to gently go back to paying attention to your breath. This will happen over and over during your meditation. So you meditation basically consists in noticing how your mind begins to think and how you get it back to your breath. So what’s happening? Why can this simple exercise make you more aware?

What meditation does to the mind

First of, you are asking your mind to perform a unique task. We are neither sleeping or in awake mode. It is a different place. A state of mind where there is a deliberate intent to just be aware and do nothing else. We hardly ever do that normally.

You are basically regulating the mechanism of how your awareness works. You are discovering and exploring your mind’s control panel. When you perform this simple exercise everyday in the cushion you begin to notice one every important thing:

That there are two distinct worlds in your mind. One is your thinking (the monkey mind), the other is what is actually what you will be discovering.

The better you get at mindfulness meditation, the more accurate you’ll become at identifying and sorting what is happening in your world.

Your mind becomes able to discern between what is real and what is just thinking. You are able to create for the first time, a little space between your thinking and emotions, and the world around you. How is that helpful? Tremendously helpful.

The art of noting: We are so busy with life we hardly have anytime to notice details. We rush from one thing to the next and we barely pay any attention to the what’s written between the lines. When we meditate we train doing exactly that: to notice the richness of details in anything. After we become good at noticing details while we seating, we can transfer that same skill to our daily lives.

Results: There are huge list of meditation benefits at the end of this post. I welcome you to explore it. Here’s is what I’ve learned: I developed a better skill not be bullied or at the mercy of my own emotions.

I’ve notice it takes me less time to forgive someone. I notice that I still get mad but the time it takes me to get back to normal is reduced. The degree of how mad I get about things have also diminished.

The works: The hardest part about mindfulness meditation is to bring yourself to the cushion and do it. At times you’ll sit there wondering “what the hell am I doing, this is not doing anything for me”. At first the monkey mind will protest and chat even louder.

Sometimes your mind will feel like a roaring waterfall: at first it will be very loud but as you meditate it becomes quieter. With time the river will shrink and you’ll hear a smaller stream and eventually just a small brook.

Sometimes seating in meditation can create more irritation. You just have to sit through it. The more you sit, the more your mind will becomes clear. Sometimes meditation will feel like work, other times it will be joyous.

Meditation in action

There is a direct effect of meditation, but there is also an indirect benefit that can be witnessed by your insights while you meditate. While you meditate you’ll notice how distracted your mind is in a particular day. You’ll notice your difficulty in bringing the mind to a contemplative state. This in turn can point out to the very things you need to work on outside the cushion. Meditation in action is when you bring meditation to your daily life. Meditation becomes more real and meaningful this way. You can turn regular daily events into meditation by simply becoming aware of them.

“We can also think of the mind as a pond. At first the pond is murky and we can’t see through. The longer you sit and contemplate, water becomes clearer as sediments settle to the bottom”

But you have to practice everyday for at least 10 min. 20 is better. None of this makes any sense unless you do it. Only the constant and evenly frequent mindfulness meditation practice will sustain the changes in awareness. You might achieve some results, but if you stop you’ll notice how quickly you go back to where you started.

The constant experience of noticing your thinking, hopefully will transfer to your daily life and the end result is that you’ll become more present and able to notice what’s actually around you rather than reacting to it and listening to the monkey mind.


  1. Meditation: Tonglen or Giving and Receiving: A Practice of Great Mercy
  2. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness
  3. Perils and promise in defining and measuring mindfulness: Observations from experience
  4. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density
  5. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation
  6. Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference
  7. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training
  8. The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Cognitive Processes and Affect in Patients With Past Depressio
  9. Does Mindfulness Meditation Improve Anxiety and Mood Symptoms? A Review of the Controlled Research

Image credit: Pixabay



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