As I sat down to write today’s post, I realized my coffee had become cold. While warming it in the microwave, I decided to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I couldn’t find the apricot jam, so I had to search through the fridge. I located some blackberry preserves to substitute for the apricot spread. At last, everything came together, so I could sit back down and tap out something regarding “monkey mind”. How apropos!
Shakyamuni Buddha observed that our minds are full to the brim with screeching, chattering, drunken monkeys distracting our attentive minds. Every single person has experienced this state of mind that the Lord Buddha named “Monkey Mind”. Even he had to put up with his own monkey mind at one time.
Just as I became distracted from my original goal of writing today’s bluejayblog post by my food monkey, we’ve all become sidetracked physically and mentally each day. Regardless of what you want to call it, monkey mind has been active throughout the ages. These days, it seems that monkey mind rules the planet.
A certain number of mental monkeys will always be around to distract us. Even highly disciplined gurus and yogis experience monkey mind, so don’t feel disillusioned whenever you happen to notice the monkeys chattering away inside your own head. It won’t do you any good to become angry at yourself for allowing the monkey mind to take over your thoughts for awhile. Anger and fear only feed the monkeys.
There are many analogies that various people use to describe the process of distracting thoughts. The image of puffy clouds drifting across the sky is the way to visualize the various topics in your mind. Perhaps you simply sit and name each thought while you meditate. The most effective analogy, for me, is to observe my many monkeys.
In formal meditation, I adjust my posture, take some deep breaths, chant my mantra, then focus upon an image on my shrine. Just as I’ve become comfy and satisfied, the monkey mind is revealed. It could be any of the monkeys that comes along and plays with my attention. Perhaps it’s the fear monkey. He’s a common one to all of us. The fear monkey is nourished by the fear mongers in the media and folks we converse with each day. So, he pops up frequently.
When I deal with the various monkeys in my mind, I observe the monkey, give him a name, then watch him swing away into the forest. The food monkey often saunters by during meditation, I objectively acknowledge him, then send him away on a vine. The replay monkey happens by sometimes after I’ve become involved in an embarrassing situation. Replay monkey plays a video in my head about the incident, then plays more videos about how I “should” have behaved or spoken. I do the same with replay monkey as with the others.
You don’t need to formally meditate nor identify as a Buddhist to notice the monkey mind and get past it. A certain measure of that scary sounding practice, discipline, is called for. Discipline is not really harsh, nor all that difficult. Don’t let the laziness monkey distract you from discipline.
In much the same way that insomniacs worry about not being able to drop off to sleep, fear and anger over the monkeys of our mind make them even more distracting. It doesn’t matter if it’s the perfectionist monkey, the seduction monkey, the conflict monkey, or, my favorite, the chaos monkey. Just be kind and friendly towards them as they parade by, mentally smile at each and then send him (or her) away on a vine. So, if you’re deep in meditation, or if you’re concentrating on a task, name the monkeys and let them go. Allowing any of the monkeys to distract you during your day, might mean that the fear monkey is pulling some mental levers.
In order to postpone dealing with some fear or anxiety, the fear monkey takes the levers and fools us into thinking we have everything under control. Yes, again acknowledge and name the monkey, send him to his vine and mentally wave goodbye. Then we’re free to honestly deal with the situation at hand. Monkey mind is only a problem when it keeps me from living my life and distracting me from the business at hand. I like to smile at my monkeys and send them happily on their merry ways.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes being a participant, not just an observer in life, so allowing the monkeys to swing away allows him to be more satisfied.