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David vs. Monkey Mind — Meditation Experiment: Day 15

Monkey mind

David began a 30-day daily meditation experiment on April 6, 2009.  The original post is here. David’s progress log is here.

Well it’s been a real trip so far.  Here we are at the halfway point.

After a rocky first week, I’ve settled into a comfortable groove.  But it took a bit of trailblazing.  About a week ago I decided not to follow a prescribed traditional method.  I didn’t want to compromise it with my own assumptions.  I wasn’t comfortable with written or prerecorded instruction.  I felt an intense need for a flesh-and-blood teacher to show me.

And I will find a teacher, either in a meditation class, or on some sort of retreat, but not during this experiment.  I decided to take a more free-form approach to my daily sessions, and it’s beginning to pay great dividends. 

My homegrown method

Firstly, instead of one twenty-minute session, I’ve decided to do two ten-minute sessions.  I found the initial 20-minute denomination to be too intimidating.  I just really didn’t want to sit when I knew it would be for a full twenty minutes.  Initially I would sit in spite of this aversion, so I’d be beginning each session with negativity towards the practice, and often it ended that way too.

A ten-minute commitment made it far more attractive to sit down and let the murk settle in my mind.  As well, doing it twice really helped to prevent mental noise from accumulating between the sessions, which improved the quality of my day that much more.

I sit in a chair, and begin by placing my attention in my hands.  This was derived from a technique from one of Eckhart Tolle’s books for returning yourself to the moment.  I close my eyes and become aware of the sensation of life in my hands.  There’s almost a tingling, or a ‘buzz’ that seems to permeate the whole body.  It’s a very distinct feeling, but it’s easy to miss when your attention isn’t on it.

So I locate it first in my hands, then once I feel it clearly, I look for it in the rest of my body.  It doesn’t take long before I’m able to feel it throughout the full volume of my tissues.  With my eyes closed, I continue to focus on the feeling, and release any images or concepts I have of where my body is in space, I’m just looking at that feeling of aliveness.

As per Tolle’s suggestion, I then look for the boundaries of that tingling, and find that there is none.  It is not contained within the confines of my skin or tissues, it’s everywhere.  In a very real sense I can feel that I am indeed boundless.  It isn’t just new age mumbo jumbo; this is a direct observation.

Once I’m resting comfortably on that feeling, I open my eyes.  And I sit.

I look around the room if I feel like it, though I don’t often feel any inclination to.  I’m just sitting there, feeling my body’s weight and the running of my fridge and the hum of traffic outside.

A strange paradox arises (I love strange paradoxes!) when I’m looking around in that state.  Everything I look at is neutral and plain.  I guess it’s missing its usual ‘costume’ supplied by my judgments and commentary.  Everything is naked, but at the same time it’s imposing and significant.  Sometimes it’s like I’m in a gallery of the truest, most unpretentious art I’ve ever seen.  Even window smudges and painted-over lightswitches look beautiful.

The intensity of this feeling varies.  One day it was really spectacular, other times I just get a hint of it.  I’m very excited to explore it more.

Once I end the session, I am calmer and slower.  I actually feel the dishes as I wash them.  I hear the tiny creaks of the keys of my keyboard as I rest my fingers on them.  These sensations seem so obvious, it’s scary to think of what else I’m unaware of when I’m in my usual, preoccupied state.

Most importantly, my mind becomes still enough to serve as a clean slate for thought.  Whenever a train of thought arises, I can see it clearly because it’s not camouflaged by other thoughts.  I know what triggered it, and I’m able to see what it’s doing — what it wants me to do, what it suggests is important.  This is very revealing, because I find most thoughts are conditioned reflexes that don’t necessarily send me on any useful course of action.

For example, sometimes my brain says “check the stats for your blog.”  In more muddled moments, my hand would already be on the way to the mouse, but when I’m fresh off my meditation, I stop first, and look at the impulse.  If I do end up following the mind’s instruction, it is with awareness.  Just as often I’ll decide it’s not important and ask The Big Question, which is always a smart thing to do.

When thoughts occur against a background of relative stillness, they have a harder time sneaking up on you.  I’d like to carry a fairly clean slate all the time, if I could.  Maybe I’ll add in a couple 5-minute sessions at work.

Side effects

I am sitting in a clean apartment right now.  That’s new.  Even my faucets are shiny.  I seem to be placing greater importance on staying away from physical clutter as I pay more attention to removing mental clutter.  Each one reinforces the other.

I’m fairly organized productivity-wise now.  I’m not being pulled away from important tasks as easily, because I don’t have as many chaotic thoughts going on most of the time. I’m not getting everything done I’d like to, but I’m not missing as much, and I don’t feel like I’m spinning my wheels, like I did last week.  Look at Day 8 in my experiment log.  I was really floundering.

I was working on both of those things before the experiment, but my ten-minute sitting sessions have definitely been a catalyst.

Pitfalls and other lessons

Well, I certainly understand a bit more about what doesn’t work so well for me, at least not at this time.

  • Do it early.  Not to get it out of the way, like it’s a chore, but just so that my mind is fresher and more receptive.  When I do it earlier, I’m less likely to think about everything else I need to spend time on as the remains of the day shrinks.
  • Unlike exercise, I can’t begin meditation when I’m tired and still hope to be effective.  The ability to concentrate is the first thing to leave me when I get tired.
  • Physical interference (as I mentioned in my Bad Moods post) can really derail an attempt to concentrate on something, although it can also be a good lesson in acceptance, if it isn’t too bad.  A mild stomach ache can be a good teacher.

Well, I’m pleased things are getting along better; for a while I thought this was going to be gruelling.  Quitting wasn’t really an option because I had committed to it publicly, but I thought I might have been counting the days until I could go back to normal.  Week One sucked, not that I have anyone else to blame for it.  I learned I have a long ways to go to be as patient as I’d like to be.  I guess that’s good news though, because I feel pretty good already.  The sky’s the limit.

Practice can be good, bad, or ugly.
Practice can be good, bad, or ugly

Photos by scragz and 00hCaffiene

Roger - A Content Life April 22, 2009 at 6:22 am


You seem to be making excellent progress!

I usually meditate for 30 minutes per day. The important thing is not how long you meditate, but the quality of the meditation. The fact that you’re beginning to “see” your thoughts as opposed to automatically reacting is very encouraging.

One way to handle physical pain while your meditating is to observe it our use it as a point of focus. Try to really observe the pain and then let your mind relax around the pain. Treat pain like your thoughts – you don’t have to react.

David April 22, 2009 at 6:36 am

That’s what I’ve been doing with physical pain. I just kind of “look at it,” examine its texture. Often I’ll get comfortable with it, and it’s not bad at all. It’s amazing to watch it fade.

Jay Schryer April 22, 2009 at 6:56 am

You’ve inspired, me David. I’ve been thinking about a new 30 day trial for some time now, but hadn’t quite decided what to try next. Since I am new to meditation, I’m going to follow in your footsteps. I’ve tried meditating sporadically over the past couple of years, but never got into it seriously. However, after reading about the results you’re having, I’m very interested in knowing if I can achieve those same benefits.

Lisis | Quest For Balance April 22, 2009 at 7:52 am

I love this part:

“Everything I look at is neutral and plain. I guess it’s missing its usual ‘costume’ supplied by my judgments and commentary. Everything is naked, but at the same time it’s imposing and significant. Sometimes it’s like I’m in a gallery of the truest, most unpretentious art I’ve ever seen. Even window smudges and painted-over lightswitches look beautiful.”

The good news is, it is possible to see the world this way all the time. At first we have to practice doing so. Eventually, we have no other choice; the world just IS. When our judgments fade away, all that is left is beauty.

David April 22, 2009 at 7:59 am

@ Lisis — Yes, there is definitely a beauty behind everything, and I’m starting to see that only my interpretations and judgments can obscure that. I want to get a lot better at this. I guess that’s why they call it meditation practice :)

@ Jay — Sounds great Jay. Finding a practice that I didn’t dread was totally necessary for me. I was trying to be too strict and too formal, and it sort of backfired.

Positively Present April 22, 2009 at 8:19 am

Congrats on the progress you’re making. I think you’ve done a good thing by breaking up the sessions into smaller, more manageable pieces. That’s always a good thing to do when something is challenging you. I’m really enjoying reading about your experience!

Sherri (Serene Journey) April 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Well done David you’re really figuring this out! I try to meditate every now and again, but it’s certainly not routine. I can only do it for about 5 minutes or so and then I get antsy my mind really starts to wander and quite frankly I get bored. It’s relaxing and calming when I first start out but by the end of 5 minutes I’ve about had enough.

I really enjoy reading your progress you’re so open and honest about the whole thing (good and bad) and that’s great!

David April 22, 2009 at 4:24 pm

@ Sherri — It’s all still quite new to me, but I am proud of the fact that I did not quit during the first week. If I hadn’t set up some public accountability by posting this online I probably would have.

I’ve seen this pattern before; when something is slow-going enough to be frustrating, usually it only takes a little bit of pushing before something gives. I have a habit of abandoning things prematurely, so I can get back to square one and start again. I’m almost addicted to ‘square one’ in that sense. I needed some public scrutiny to inspire that little bit of push.

Now I’m not scared of my sessions any more. I do have to come to terms with the urge to “get on with my day” though. That feeling of anxiousness could easily overrun the whole ten minutes if I didn’t make a point of dealing with it.

Thank you for your tweet, by the way.

David April 22, 2009 at 4:25 pm

@ Positively Present — Glad you’re enjoying it. I was wondering if anybody at all would be interested in reading about me sitting in a room doing nothing. :)

Nadia - Happy Lotus April 22, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Hi David,

Sounds like you are making progress. Good for you! :) When I first started, I could not do 20 minutes in one stretch either. So I broke it down like you are doing and it really helped. Eventually, when I was being trained by that Buddhist master, I was able to sit for about an hour without any problem. Who knows…maybe one day you will be leading meditation classes???? :)

David April 23, 2009 at 4:20 pm

I guess it’s a skill like anything else. I’m trying to add in short periods of mindful sitting throughout the day, to exercise my mindfulness muscles more frequently.

Josh Hanagarne April 23, 2009 at 4:57 pm

I can’t believe you are writing about this. It was just yesterday that I was studying what actually happens when your body and mind relax. I came across the term “monkey mind” in an essay, and here you are, one step ahead.

I’ve tinkered with meditation before. If you know anything about Tourette’s Syndrome, you probably laugh at the thought of someone meditating through their tics. It’s never happened for me, but I’m convinced the theory is sound.

You might get a kick out of this post, David: http://www.straighttothebar.com/2009/02/small_victories.html

It gives some background about my symptoms and bouncing back. Sadly, meditation is still not in my toolbox. Keep it up! You shall be the most serene of all, I feel it.

David April 23, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Hey great post, Josh, thanks. Tourette’s would certainly complicate the meditation experience. I would like to get into the habit of conquering something by 7am. I actually would like your input on my next experiment; I’ll shoot you an email.

Albert | UrbanMonk.Net April 23, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Wow David, amazing experiences. I remember trying Tolle’s meditation but not getting anywhere near the kind of results you are getting, so this is real inspiration for me to get back to it. Thanks :D

Tim April 24, 2009 at 12:16 am


Thanks for keeping us updated…I’m really interested in learning from your experience. In the past I have done some meditation. My greatest meditation experience was after a yoga class about ten yrs ago. I was as relaxed as you could be without actually being asleep. But that meditation involved lying flat on my back as opposed to sitting. Any thoughts about lying down vs. sitting?

I used to blame my lack of time for not being able to meditate, but now that I’m “in transition” I have no excuses. It is amazing about the load of crap we tell ourselves. I need this more than ever.

David April 24, 2009 at 6:22 am

@ Tim — I like the idea of lying down, but I tend to fall asleep. You’re right, lack of time really isn’t a good excuse, when it only takes a few minutes. But I’ve definitely used that one too.

@ Albert — Welcome to Raptitude, Albert. Tolle’s meditation really does work for me; I had tried a lot of other techniques that I wasn’t able to get into, at least at the time.

Applying the Law of Attraction August 1, 2009 at 6:55 am

The experience you relate within your ten minute meditations is really inspiring. So many believe there is a right and wrong way to meditate and avoid it because they don’t believe they can sit still for 20 minutes. There is a right and wrong way for each of us, not for all of us. I applaud your finding what is working for you today.
.-= Applying the Law of Attraction´s last blog ..The Art of Deliberate Creation =-.

Ruby August 28, 2012 at 8:53 am

I have PTSD have be diagnose for fear of anxiety from men

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