In ancient poems and teaching stories, you may have noticed that the mind is often referred to as a monkey, “the monkey mind.” The mind is also sometimes described as an unruly horse on which we are riding, more or less skillfully.
Whichever of these metaphors we pick, we can easily see for ourselves that trying to overpower and forcefully control the mind simply doesn’t work.
For Westerners, it may be more helpful to think of two horses: the horse of the mind and the horse of the body. In the real world of horse training, a young spunky unruly horse will be paired with a mature older horse who teaches it manners.
Using this metaphor, we can think of our body as the older horse. Instead of trying to jump on the spunky, unruly horse (our mind) to tame it, we can let the older horse do the work.
When the spunky horse of our mind suddenly speeds up, we won’t get it to slow down by whipping it or digging sharp spurs into its shanks. Obviously those actions are going to make matters worse.
Adding speedy judgmental thoughts to an already speedy mind, doesn’t help it to calm down. I’m sure you’ve noticed that!
To become a good rider who can tame the mind, we have to learn how to establish trust and rapport with it.
The older horse (our body) has many ways of helping us to establish rapport with the younger, flighty one (our mind).
How To Calm Your Mind
1. To call on the support of the “older horse,” begin with your breath and your body. Take a few easy deep breaths and then scan the body and release tension as best you can. Breathe into any areas of tension with kind regard.
2. Yawn and stretch with attention.
3. Feel the earth under you and look at the expanse of sky above you. If you are in a room, simply bring to mind the expanse of sky.
4. Breathe into your lower belly and into your fingers and toes, remaining aware of the expanse of the body and your presence with it.
You will notice a change in the speed of the mind.
5. Once you have slowed the mind in this way, you can more clearly examine the trigger that began the racing thoughts –– the trigger that spooked the young, flighty horse. You can ask, “What do I have to believe to let speedy thoughts race out of control?”
6. Keep breathing mindfully and with ease as you ask and wait for the answers. Don’t try to force anything. You are peacefully riding the mature steady horse of the body as you observe the condition of the younger horse.
7. Ask other questions like, “What would be the best way to think about the challenge of this trigger, to get the most beneficial outcome?”
8. Repeat Step #4 above as you do this, breathing into your lower belly, then all the way out to your fingers and toes.
A miraculous thing happens as you get good at this. It’s called synchronizing mind and body. It’s as if the two horses merge and you find yourself riding an integrated new horse –– one that has all the spunkiness and freshness of the young horse as well as all the wisdom and maturity of the older horse.
Try this: when you first wake up in the morning, before the speedy thinking mind grabs your attention,
enjoy a moment of quiet awareness.
––Jack Elias & Ceci Miller
The Outrageous Guide to Being Fully Alive