Your monkey mind wants to live in either the painful past or the anxious future. It doesn’t like to stay in or savor the present moment.
This mental habit of ruminating over what has happened or what will happen can make life a miserable journey. Many people are unable to control their mental chatter and continue to suffer. But there’s hope if you can learn to tame your mind to stay in the present moment.
Life happens here and now
Life exists in this present moment. Not in the past or future as most of us are accustomed to. As a mental health counseling student, living in the present moment has been my anchor in a life filled with unexpected ups and downs. Undoubtedly, living in the “now” has served as a saving grace for me as we all continue to battle the darkest days of our current realities.
When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why “the past” would be a crucial part of someone’s life. I constantly pondered why adults ruminated about things that happened decades ago. This quest to understand people’s mindsets led me to quit my corporate job as a training and development manager with Accenture, a multinational company in India. Thereafter, I pursued my passion for counseling psychology, which brought me to the United States in 2018. Currently, I am a graduate student at Penn West University (Edinboro University of Pennsylvania) and will graduate with a mental health counseling degree in 2023.
Early on, I wanted to build a platform that would help those struggling with issues such as depression, anger, fear, past trauma, bullying and an inability to find a solid direction in life. Soulful Conversations, an in-person platform, allowed people to have heart-to-heart discussions and helped thousands of individuals cope with past traumas and future anxieties. This journey taught me that living in or thinking too much about the past is nothing but a disease — one that afflicts millions of people today.
Ruminating over what happened, why it happened and “how could it happen to me?” has become an irresistible habit for many individuals. Through the Soulful Conversations community, I started to understand better the workings of the human mind. For the first time, I questioned my audience: “Ask your mind, what is its next thought?” Interestingly, the moment you ask your mind this question, it goes blank, as if it has been put under a spotlight and its auto-running mode has been caught.
After trying this technique, my audience found a sense of relief to experience a much-needed pause in their uninterrupted mental activities. As people created even a 10-second gap between their reckless past and future thoughts, they found immense respite in their inner stillness. They discovered deep peace within that emanated from shutting the endless chatter of their untamed monkey minds.
Are you in the present moment?
As a counselor, it is vital to be aware that living in the present moment can help us reduce stress, stay more focused and better understand the repetitive patterns in our lives caused by our compulsive habits. When you are in the present moment, you are not waiting for the next moment to be fulfilling or happy. This is because you are not unhappy in the “now,” subject to unpleasant clingy thoughts from the past, empathy fatigue or any other distraction.
You are now more present with your family and friends. You are livelier, content and stress-free because you refuse to entertain past experiences or future anxieties related to health, money, family, work, etc. It may be helpful to have a phone wallpaper featuring the NOW clock or a gemstone that reminds you that everything you are experiencing exists only in the present. Don’t forget: Memories are just thoughts in your mind, quite similar to your thoughts about the future.
Gratitude changes everything
Many times, we carry stressful work situations or unsatisfactory client encounters with us in our minds. We repeatedly replay them in our minds to analyze and dissect how that meeting could have been better. Often, this stress spills into our personal space as well. We carry these feelings of resentment while we are spending time with family members and friends.
We forget that we have the right to “choose and appreciate” whatever the present moment brings to us. So instead of ruminating about past and future worries, we can choose to drop all fears and swim in the magic of the present moment. With practice, the ability to stay in the present moment can be mastered.
The present moment brings an opportunity to offer gratitude, which makes life more livable and joyful. Gratia, the Latin word for gratitude, means grace or gratefulness, and even a small act of thanking the present moment — appreciating what you see, feel, hear and sense around you — deepens that awareness. This helps you leave the perennial stream of unconscious mental chatter, which is eventually the root cause of myriad problems.
Tame the monkey mind
The monkey mind can hop in and hop off from one branch to another within seconds. It can scuba dive into the ocean of sorrow and bring you back into the sky of happiness in a matter of
seconds. As counselors, we must try to bring ourselves to the present moment and erode the old conditioning by doing simple things consciously.
These activities can retrain our monkey minds to see the beauty in the present moment. The racing mind is like a galloping horse without any direction. It feels as if the mind is unstoppable, and you are helpless because you simply have no idea how to tame the unruly mind. In such situations, the easiest way to bring your mind to the present moment is to bring your attention back to your breath. Ask yourself, “Am I breathing consciously?” This question helps you to step outside the compulsiveness of identifying yourself with your thoughts.
So how do we build awareness? How do we become aware of our mindless mental chatter? Some of the simple ways such as chewing food slowly, washing hands consciously, taking occasional deep breaths, and setting alarms for present-moment reminders can be very helpful. Furthermore, the regular practice of meditation can help counselors in de-weeding the garden of their minds.
Even 20 minutes of meditation can help us observe everything the mind holds on to and help us see the workings of the mind more clearly. We can then navigate through the mind’s workings and ensure that we do not attach to any of the weeds that slowly creep into the subconscious mind. Hence, a regular practice of de-weeding through meditation is important.
Suffering and counselors
No one is immune to suffering in this world, not even counselors. Like all humans, they have their own professional and personal challenges to deal with. Also, navigating from one client to another, counselors often help others deal with afflictions such as addictions, trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder and so much more. Counselors try their best to help their clients, but this leaves them with very little time for their own recovery and self-care.
However, the good aspect is that counselors are well equipped to understand the unnecessary problems and conflicts created by the mind. So if we can leave the client stories behind, meditate for five minutes before each session, and then step into the next one, a lot of our projections will disappear. It is important to note that the moment you realize that you are not living in the present moment, you are immediately transported back to the present moment. Isn’t that wonderful?
We must understand that the countless voices in our heads will never be silent. At times, it even annoys us, and this inner dialogue makes us miss most of life’s present moments because we are never in the NOW. So, realize that you are not the voice in your head — you are the conscious being who has the power to observe this voice and still not believe in it.
Mind full or mindfulness?
One mindful step at a time can help us embrace inner peace. I personally have trained my mind over the last two years to consciously bring it back to the present moment. As counselors, our work involves welcoming clients from diverse cultural backgrounds and helping them hold their inner peace. This doesn’t leave us with a lot of buffer time to recover, rejuvenate and refocus on the next client.
Hence, it is extremely important for counselors to focus on their mental movements and understand if there is an underlying stillness. A simple practice of five-minute meditation can help counselors embrace the present moment between sessions. The art of practicing self-observation to identify your intrinsic motivations, projections and deflections can help counselors go into tiny mindful retreats and hold their inner peace.
If counselors can continue to observe their own minds in a nonjudgmental way, then they will be more effective in their profession. The present-moment awareness practice can help in increasing focus and alertness, having a relaxed state of mind, being more mindful with clients and not getting distracted easily.
Being fully aware of the counselor-client relationship can lead to building deeper connections, being more efficient as a counselor, embracing self-compassion and living a fulfilling professional life. What’s more? It will be easier for counselors to bounce back from intense sessions as they continue to deepen their present-moment practice. Random mind wandering is common, and being aware of how often your mind wanders and leaves the present moment is a great indicator of your happiness and mental well-being.
How often have you found yourself unhappy while having sex, exercising, watching your favorite show on Netflix or taking a warm shower? It is the presence of thoughts, drifting mind and past woes or future anxieties that jeopardize your present-moment happiness. A moment of pause, deep breathing in that pause, and being aware of the pause can soothe your nervous system immensely.
With consistent practice, there will be a significant reduction in your thoughts and a more focused approach at work, and an absence of worry and rumination can help you become happier. Another interesting creative approach is using mandalas, which are visual diagrams that can help one become more mindful of the present moment. These intricate patterns allow one to dive deeper into the drawing and deepen one’s relationship with the present moment.
I hope counselors will feel more conscious of their mental chatter and be more confident in helping themselves with some of the present-moment techniques that I have shared. It is fulfilling to know that we deserve to take mental breaks, focus on self-care and refuse to succumb to the cessation of endless mental activities.
In one of my Soulful Conversation sessions, I had mentioned, “Don’t take the time, effort, patience and mental health of counselors for granted. We sacrifice a lot to maintain a peaceful and positive demeanor while underplaying some of our inner challenges. We believe in our own ability to impact the lives of others in a positive way and create a culture of wellness by touching the lives of others mindfully, one day at a time.”
Madhuri Govindu is a counseling psychology graduate student at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Her work was featured in The New Indian Express in 2018 when she began to invite individuals from all walks of life to embrace the present moment through her open social change platform titled Soulful Conversations. Contact her at email@example.com.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.