Monday, March 28, 2011

Thinking About The Monkey Mind

Let me take something I jotted down on my Blackberry as my jumping off point for today's entry.

"I wonder sometimes at the wars I fight inside my head. I wonder - why? Am I so undisciplined I cannot control my own thoughts? Or do I move toward conflict like a moth moves toward a flame, beguiled and doomed."

I jotted that down over the weekend - now, I don't actually remember exactly when or where, but it was at some point when I was out running errands. What I was referencing was the ability of the imagination to take something (an event, a conversation, an encounter) that is unreal - and spin it toward the negative. I may be walking down the hall at work and I start thinking about a teleconference or a meeting that is coming up and in my brain I start running through all of the possible negative encounters that might arise.

Now, according to my stress therapist, some degree of rehearsal is good - for example, if I am going to call a customer and I know that the customer is going to be challenging, or going to act or react in a certain way, then some rehearsal is a good thing because it allows me to enter the scenario prepared.

However, sometimes I have a tendency to spin entirely imaginary encounters to the negative, to rehearse for contingencies that are never going to happen. Now that I am more aware of this, when it does happen, I am able to intervene, to take a closer look at the imaginary circumstances and conclude that the probability of them happening is very small and so successfully set them aside. There are a variety of techniques that work for this - my favorite is to visualize the particular thought stream as a monkey, sitting on your shoulder, picking at you. Then, consciously, pick the monkey up, set him down and send him scampering on his way. That is probably just because I happen to enjoy visualizing everyone I work with as a Flying Monkey, from the Wizard of Oz.

But, what still continually amazes me is that all to often I have to pull my thought stream back in, I have to send the monkey scampering on his way, because while I wasn't watching the thought stream took the imagination into a negative place. I suspect that is probably the next level of discipline, preventing the mind from going there. Beginning in a good place and staying in that good place - being realistic, being pragmatic, but also being benevolent and compassionate. Imagine positive and affirming encounters and incidents, when that is appropriate. (The reality of the work world is simple - not ever encounter is going to be positive or affirming, given the very ordinary distribution of people's attitudes and behaviors. But, why imagine it as such?

It is something that periodically has me scratching my head, and probably will for a while as I work my way through it. So, feel free to set your monkey down over hear next to mine and they can amuse themselves while we enjoy the day.

(It turned out to be a truly beautiful, if a bit cold, California evening - with blue skies and sunshine, trees opening up and blooming, pollen count rising, and a cool wind blowing. Spring is here, but Winter is just not quite ready to let us go.)

No comments: