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Speed meditation vs monkey brain

In Meditation and Mindfulness, Mind and Movement by Merelyn Carter3 Comments

To put the words ‘speed’ and ‘meditation’ together may seem counterintuitive. But if you are like me and have an active monkey brain, then this could be a life, or rather, mind saver.

If you haven’t heard the term ‘monkey brain’, it describes those times when your thoughts are jumping all over the place, tumbling on top of each other, going forwards, going backwards, filling your head with images like an old-school slide show. ‘Monkey brain’ can deprive us from much needed sleep and make us feel like we are losing the plot. It can obstruct our waking (or sleeping) mind, making it difficult to concentrate, relax, or function as we need to, especially when we are living busy lives.

Meditation on the other hand is the art of slowing our mind down. It’s learning how to let the inevitable thoughts ‘pass through’ without engaging with them. This allows our minds some much needed rest. Most advocates of meditation recommend at least 30 to 40 minutes quality meditation practice each day. But finding the time and energy (and yes, at the beginning it certainly does take energy to prioritise and succeed at this practice) can be very difficult. It can be very to opt out with “I’ve tried it but I can’t do it.”

I used that excuse for a long time before I got the hang of truly deep and regenerating meditation practices. These have been a game changer for my sanity. But speed meditation has also become a part of my overall meditation picture.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one in the world to come up with this, but I certainly haven’t read about it in any self-help, or any other books for that matter. I can’t provide any meaningful scientific studies on its success, but it works for me and I know it’s worth sharing.

What is speed meditation?

It’s essentially about learning how to let those monkey thoughts pass through without getting hooked up on them in the ‘minute here, minute there’ world that busy people live. Maybe it’s making use of the time when you are sitting in the car or on the bench waiting for the kids after school, or standing in the shopping or banking queue. It’s while you are getting your hair cut or on hold with your phone provider. It can even be those few minutes of private time you snatch when going to the loo. 

These precious minutes can be put to great advantage by learning the practice of meditation on an extreme time limit. Sound good?

Remember it’s going to take practice but I assure you it will be well worth it. It may just be the difference between calm and frazzled.

So, here’s how you do it:

Firstly let’s acknowledge that thoughts will always come and go. It’s not about stopping those thoughts, but rather choosing not to engage with them. This means not picking them up and adding more thoughts on the topic. For example, you sit down and the thought that you need to get some butter from the supermarket on your way home comes into your mind.

Then you remember that you also need carrots, milk, and some toilet paper. Wow, the car needs petrol too which is going to take a few extra minutes. You have to take the young one to Target for some new sneakers. Oh and while you’re there you must look at that new kettle you’ve been wanting. But dinner needs to be cooked and oops you forgot to get the meat out of the freezer. Speaking of the freezer, the laptop’s on the blink again. Why can’t you get someone to help you fix that?


The thoughts keep coming until all those precious moments are used up and you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the long list of ‘to dos’. Once you understand that this is pretty much how most brains work, it is easier to be more compassionate to yourself and accept that any quieting of the mind is good. If all you can achieve is a few minutes here and there then you are still on the right track.

The next step is to actually start meditating, rather than just wishing you could meditate.

In those ‘spare’ minutes get comfy and take a few slow breaths. As a thought starts coming, mindfully acknowledge it but instead of engaging, just let them pass through. Trust that you will remember to deal with whatever emerges later in the day. Don’t get caught up in it, just let each thought come in and then consciously let it go on its way. When the next thought comes in, do the same, let it go on through. It can help to have a mental image to focus on. I use an image of a honey-eater bird fluttering in the air.

Every time a thought comes in, I take my mind back to my honey-eater image and let the thought go through. It can help to have a word to focus on. I use the word ‘oh’ because I can also quietly speak the word and breathe it out and let the thought go out with it.

It’s important to try a few images and words to see what sits well with you. Once you have discovered yours, stick with it as this will help anchor you into the process quickly each time.

A single point of focus

Speed meditation is about bringing the focus back to a single point of thought, rather than allowing our minds to run in all different directions. It’s not about trying to achieve a blank mind; even the best meditators take years to achieve that level of mind quiet. Most of us will never get there. But that doesn’t have to mean we fail at meditation. It just means we learn to accept what we can do, and if that is a few minutes here and there in your day, that is great.

I also find counting can help me still my mind. Sounds weird doesn’t it? But again it’s about bringing the mind’s focus to a single point, rather than wandering here and there. Counting keeps the mind going in one direction. There seems to be merit in the old adage of ‘counting sheep’ to help us sleep!

You will find that quietening the monkey thoughts, even for just a few minutes at a time will allow your creativity to poke through. It will give more clarity and help you face those busy hours ahead.

Convert those elusive minutes into cherished moments of opportunity to speed meditate and interrupt the busyness with a bit of calm. Once you start to practice this regularly you might just be surprised what a difference it makes to your day.

So here’s to successful speed meditation and the gentle taming of our monkey brains!

About the author

Merelyn Carter


Merelyn is a student of life, mother, grandmother, storyteller, singer, songwriter, author, poet, surviving cancer. Merelyn lives on 23 acres in Kinglake, Victoria, with her husband David and 60 animals.

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  1. Great concept Merelyn. As you know i have been into Meditation since my 20’s {71 now}. You are so right about how we must not think we have failed if we do not reach THAT place of quietness some experts talk about. When I taught Yoga I told my classes that any kind of Stilling the Mind, is a benefit to the mind and body. Having a real purpose helps to reach a deeper level as well. When I had Cancer and my life depended on it, I became extremely proficient at it. These days I do not go so deep but still love it to bits.Congratulations on these articles being Published. You are amazing. Go Girl.

  2. Brilliant article and so well written. Thanks Merelyn. I’m going to use this and share with my mental health clients too

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