Get the monkeys off your back! by Robin L Silverman

When you were little, you probably made a lot of wishes. So did I. Unfortunately, it always seemed to be a hit-or-miss proposition: sometimes they came true, but often, they didn’t. So when I became an adult, I decided to see if there wasn’t a way to smooth out the process and make it more reliable. By reading and experimenting with a combination of spiritual and scientific practices, I found that there are a few “secrets” that may be of use to you now.

Are you walking around with a monkey on your back? Most of us are. “Monkeys” are worries, regrets, anger and guilt that never keep quiet and refuse to sit still. They are born from the more than 50,000 thoughts each of us think each day, largely about things we cannot control, do not wish to see happen, won’t have time to experience or can’t let go. When it comes to mind and spirit self-improvement, monkeys are what hold us back from thinking clearly, reaching our goals and feeling more peaceful.

I know a lot about mental monkeys because I often feel like I am carrying around an entire zoo. “Go here!” one screeches. “No, go there!” another insists. They chatter on about my weight, my undone laundry and the garden I haven’t started. Depending on the day, the setting or whoever’s present in the room with me, they may remind me incessantly that I’m about to miss a deadline, a train or an important piece of the conversation because I’m still stewing about something someone said a dozen years ago.

Mental monkeys, unfortunately, sabotage all other self-improvement methods. If I set the alarm clock to work out, I hear, “I don’t want to get out of bed.” If I try to meditate, they start talking about breakfast and the staff meeting at 10:00. Even trying something as simple as watching my breath is a challenge, since they’ll laugh and say, “You’re not doing it right!”

I’ve done my best to get rid of my monkeys, but it’s not so easy to do. No one else wants them. Have you ever seen the eyes of your friends or your co-workers glaze over when you try to give them some of what’s bothering you? I’ve tried ignoring my monkeys, but they just pop up in the middle of the night and, like infant children, scream until I’m awake enough to feed and comfort them. Soothing them with positive thoughts is only a temporary salve for their restlessness. Counseling silenced a few, but in time, their places were filled with new monkeys. I’ve thought about choking them more than once, but somehow that feels as if I’m suffocating a part of myself. I know lots of people who are carrying around dead monkeys on their backs, and they’re not happy about it.

Ultimately, I’ve come to realize that when it comes to mental monkeys, there’s only one thing to do: play with them. When I do, something very interesting happens. They stop annoying me and start adding tremendous fun and energy to my life. When they call out one of their usual negatives, I simply answer, “Well, what do you want to do instead?” The answer almost always turns out to be something that increases my personal freedom, helps me to grow, or brings me a moment of joy.

When I get my monkeys off my back and hold them close to my heart, I find that they are actually very loving little creatures loyal to my happiness and well-being. Here’s an example. One night after dinner, I headed for my computer for a few more hours of work. A monkey piped up right away: “You shouldn’t be doing that!” I knew within half an hour, he would make me feel heavy and tired, killing both my concentration and my enthusiasm for the project. Instead, I let him lead me to an hour of snuggling in front of the television with my daughter. We all had a few laughs, and I when went back upstairs to do the work, he whispered all kinds of funny, inspiring things in my ear that I knew my readers would love.

The older I get, the more I realize how important monkeys are and why it’s actually a good thing that we all have them. Life is uncertain, which tends to make people very serious about it. Hugging a monkey won’t get rid of your illness, your financial problems or your relationship woes, but it will make your heart and arms stronger and your spirit a little lighter. Once in a while, it will free up a solution that’s been caged behind a wall of misery. When that happens, monkeys feel like miracles.

Hugging your monkeys is like playing with an adorable toddler who loves you unconditionally. It allows you to forget what you think you have to do or be. Hugging a monkey makes anything possible. Ironically, monkeys are sometimes the only way to get to the relief your mind and spirit have been craving.

Want to try it? The first thing to do is recognize when you have a monkey on your back. There are many ways to know for sure. One is to look at the scale. Are you carrying the weight of the world—or a monkey—on your shoulders? I often find that when I’m feeling stressed, it’s because a worried or fearful monkey has jumped on board. If I’ve gained two or three pounds overnight, I can almost guarantee that I’m carrying a monkey.

Another way to know if you’re carrying a monkey is to see if you can hear your own thoughts. When my mind is racing, it’s usually because a monkey is chattering away. Another way to tell is to listen to what is coming out of your mouth. If suddenly my comments turn negative or nasty, I probably have a misbehaving monkey somewhere.

A third way to tell if you’re shouldering a monkey is to check how tired you are. Some monkeys are very heavy, and will wear you out after a few hours. If you’re normally perky and suddenly find that you’re yawning all day, you can bet that a monkey has something to do with it. Nightmares, upset stomachs, chills and other symptoms of upset can also mean that you’re carrying a monkey. Learn to listen to your body, and you’ll know when one is hanging around.

You can also tell if you have a monkey by looking around at the conditions of your environment. Monkeys are messy little things. If you have clutter everywhere or experience embarrassing moments that are akin to slipping on banana peels and falling flat on your butt, chance are good that some monkey is banging on your head.

Once you’re sure you’re carrying a monkey, the trick is to get it off your back and go face-to-face with it. Don’t try to scare it off or ignore it. Monkeys may retreat temporarily, but they almost always come back noisier and hungrier than before. Instead, ask it what it wants. You will usually find that its requests are something your soul has been craving, like love, freedom, joy, growth or peace.

Once you know, ask yourself, “What can I do right now in this moment to experience that?” This instantly engages and improves both your mind and spirit. Look around, and you will undoubtedly see an opportunity. Grab it.

Come fully awake as you’re doing it. Experience it not only with all five of your senses (note: if you’re not eating anything, see if the moment has a “flavor”), but with your sixth sense, intuition. In other words, don’t just live the moment; feel it. Let its pleasure make every cell of your body come alive. Praise it with words like, “This is fun!” or “I’m happy to be with you.” Listen as the new, brighter belief escapes from your mouth. When it does, see if you have more energy, more hope or more genius insights about your life. Realize, too, that the vibration of sound is extremely powerful. Our creator spoke the world into being: “Let there be light.” When it appeared, it was blessed, “This is good.” The source did not curse it with, “Oops! Forgot the land and the water!” So remember: take notice of the good you’re experiencing. Energize it with spoken words of praise or gratitude.

Then watch what happens when the moment is over and you “return” to the problem that caused the monkey to squawk in the first place. Chances are good that it has either diminished, disappeared or been delegated to someone else. Trouble has a hard time sticking to happy people. This leaves you room to approach whatever is yours to do with a more relaxed attitude, opening the flow of energy so you can receive not only your own insights and wisdom, but attract that of others.

Here’s an example. Let’s say your monkey tells you you’ll never get a raise or a promotion at work. Instead, it wants to make more money and have more fun.

You look around. It’s almost 12:30, time for lunch. You could work at your desk through the lunch hour, but you’d done that dozens of times before, and hadn’t received a dime extra for it. So you head for the door. On the way, you see your favorite co-worker, and ask her to go with you. The two of you spend an hour laughing and telling stories.

When you get back, you receive an Email from the boss talking about how people have been coming in late. Ordinarily, you’d be annoyed by this. But now, fresh from play, you find yourself offering the suggestion that instead of complaining or threatening, that he try giving each person a feather to glue on a huge sombrero each day they make it in on time. If the hat is covered within 30 days, he promises to wear it to work for another 30, providing that everyone still comes in on time. In fact, you say, you’ll lend him the one you wore at your child’s birthday party. Within 60 days, the department has a new habit, you have some great pictures for the company holiday party, and you suddenly find that people start talking about you as a possible manager.

So if you want to improve your mind, your spirit and your life, take the monkeys off your back and give them a hug. Let them bring you into the present so you can spend a few minutes or hours enjoying the life that is already yours. When you do, you’ll likely find, as I did, that some of the things you worried about or regretted simply slipped away when you took your attention off them. That leaves you room to welcome the wonderful thoughts, hopes and desires that you’ve held back for too long. Listen to those, and your monkeys will be happy to hug and play with you for a long, long time.

© Copyright Robin L. Silverman. 


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