Have you ever noticed that when you’re inundated with mental noise, it’s harder to stay calm and be productive—much less tune into your innate wisdom and live your life with purpose? Carla Goldstein, Omega Institute’s chief external affairs officer, observes, “We contemplate the past, we dream about the future, we worry, we anticipate, we fantasize about our lives. Our minds grow filled with an endless stream of chatter.”
It’s not hard to imagine that this chatter—and its draining, anxiety-producing effects—may be toxic on a mental/emotional level. So, what’s the antidote? Step into the present moment and quiet the monkey mind, which jumps from thought to thought instead of resting in its true nature, suggests Goldstein.
When we quiet the monkey mind, she says, “we make room to experience our lives through the rest of us—our heart, our body, and our mysterious spirit. Presence opens the way to directly experiencing our deep connection to the rest of the world.”
Here are six ways to cleanse and nourish your mind, so that you can shift from monkey mind to higher levels of consciousness. Chances are, these simple practices will help you create healthier, more peaceful thought patterns, boost your creativity, and tap into the infinite source of wisdom that lies within.
1. Savor Silence
When we consciously spend time in silence, we start to quiet the mind’s chatter and experience awareness of being. But here’s the caveat: Don’t think of silence as something that’s separate from you. "Silence is who you are," says Adyashanti, an American-born spiritual teacher and author of numerous books, including My Secret is Silence. So give yourself time to tune into that knowledge and just “be” with one or more of the following activities:
Sign up for a silent retreat or create your own (at home, in a rented cabin, or on a solo camping trip).
Spend one day in silence every month or at the beginning of each new season.
Spend an hour every day or every week in silence—perhaps while you’re eating a solitary meal, or when you’re meditating or doing a movement practice such as yoga, tai chi, or qigong.
2. Schedule Time to Daydream
Have you ever noticed that when you step away from your digital devices and other distractions and give your mind a little time to roam, great ideas and solutions to problems seem to arise naturally? By giving yourself permission to daydream on a regular basis—perhaps while you’re cooking or sitting quietly during your morning commute—you can cleanse your mind of the worries, useless repetitive thoughts, and unproductive problem-solving methods that keep you stuck in certain thought grooves.
Daydreaming also nourishes your mind by giving it some breathing room, so that its innate wisdom and creativity can come to the forefront. In fact, according to the New York Times, studies have found that “people prone to mind wandering score higher on tests of creativity.”
Whether you’re engaging in meditative movement or a heart-pounding workout, exercise gets you out of your head and into your body. It’s another way of giving your mind a break and stepping into the present moment, which can be rejuvenating both mentally and physically. According to US News & World Report, exercise can also boost brainpower in several ways. It improves learning, keeps the brain active and fit, increases “soothing” neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, and may even lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness, or moment-to-moment awareness, can cleanse the mind of its multitasking madness by directing it toward a real-time focus, such as breath awareness or the physical sensations in your body. Instead of regretting the past or worrying about the future (which can create toxic thought patterns), mindfulness encourages your monkey mind to rest in the present moment. Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn offers a simple mindfulness practice you can try here.
Meditation can cleanse and nourish the mind, too. Think of sitting practice as a way to rinse your mind of its negative thoughts and worries and nourish it with a relaxed inner focus. If you’re new to sitting practice, try this 8-minute meditation from spiritual teacher David Harshada Wagner, who has recorded numerous practice CDs, including Meditation for Everyone. The longer (and more regularly) you sit, the more benefits you reap.
6. Try Yoga Nidra
Modern forms of yoga nidra (traditionally defined as “yogic sleep") utilize techniques such as guided imagery, breath awareness, and body scanning to quiet an overactive mind and cultivate a deep, meditative state of consciousness that’s inherently nourishing. If you’d like to try a beginner level practice, download this nine-minute audio practice, published by Yoga Journal and recorded by Richard Miller, the author of Yoga Nidra and the developer of the iRest Yoga Nidra protocol.
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies