Don’t feed the Monkeys
The phrase “monkey mind” comes from a Buddhist description of the mind of a person who is not in the present moment. The mind of such a person is said to be likened to a monkey that goes from tree to tree tasting a piece of fruit from each and then dropping it and moving on to the next tree. As with many of us, our thought process runs in much the same way, we jump from thought to thought and project to project. (Have you ever driven, arrived at your destination and realized you do not remember the details of the drive? If so, you lost the presence of that drive; the joys of feeling the machine of your car carry you through space effortlessly to your destination, enjoying the perfect temperature and music you can select in your vehicle, enjoying time to yourself, time to relax. And you have a much higher incidence of running a stop sign or red light when you are not focused on your driving.)
When we feed the monkey mind we also have weak concentration, meaning the discipline to focus on the job at hand and complete it—efficiently and safely. Also with the monkey mind comes many thoughts that are just plain not true, not ever going to happen, just pure figments of a mind trapped in an egoic lie.
What can you do? INGORE IT We can not stop the mind from thinking—if you think you can do this you are setting yourself up for failure. How we stop starts with awareness. Step out of your mind for a moment and watch it, laugh at it, and don’t believe everything it thinks! When you catch yourself getting caught up in some story the mind is fabricating, stop the fabrication, turn your mind onto what is happening in the present, to a song, to a mantra or chant, to a pleasant memory—whatever works for you, but get your mind off the thought that is not true and put your mind where your body is.
Ashtanga yoga gives us tools for this, the main tool in the ashtanga practice to deal with the mind is the dristi, or looking place. By training the eyes to softly focus on a gaze point you pull the mind away from looking around the room and judging or comparing. Also the focal point keeps your head and neck in proper alignment and it is good for the optic nerve as it improves blood flow to the nerve. The other tools in the ashtanga practice that we have to deal with the tendencies of the mind are the breathing and bandhas–really bandhas are more mental effort than physical effort–we have to pay attention to keep that inner lift. The breathing and moving/breathing synchronization also requires you to pay attention–and the loud breathing gives your ears something to listen to which again will avoid stimulation to the mind via the ears. By using these tools on your mat you will pull away the mind from thinking thoughts and in doing so you will pull energy back into your body 🙂
The mind is not the best at discerning Truth. The heart/body can FEEL Truth.
When we get caught in our stories (in our heads)—in the seduction of the monkey mind, we leave our bodies. Fortunately, our bodies talk to us—if we are willing to listen; our body speaks to us in a language we can not deny:
- A gut feeling
- Something you can feel it in your bones
- When you choke on your words
- Something that took your breath away
- Or made your heart skip a beat
- That nauseous feeling in the pit of your stomach
- Feeling as if your blood is boiling
These are just examples of how our body speaks to us, when we ignore the body talks louder in the language of disease and pain. THE BODY IS ALWAYS PRESENT.
The business of the egoic monkey mind is to discern, judge, elaborate, define, interpret, analyze, criticize and so forth—all can be useful at certain times! Just beware the ego of the monkey mind is after its own survival— it’s often not in service for the highest good—it’s on its own trip.
Our problems are just stories, our situations can be met with more clarity— solutions and guidance come to us effortlessly when we take time to get out of our monkey minds and into our bodies and listen to what our bodies are telling us.
The next time you are wondering which direction to go or are worrying about something, STOP, sit, place your awareness in your body, pull away from the thoughts in your head, what do you feel??????
YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS
The babblings in the mind are typically more negative (lack, wanting, anger, fear) than positive (connectedness, gratitude, love, joy).
We react to others based on what has been turning in our mind—if we are ‘dancing with the monkey’ and creating a situation in our mind that does not really exist this makes us react to the people in a harsh manner. And it becomes even worse when we speak the turnings of the mind before we know if they are true. Next time you are tempted to speak your “thoughts” ask yourself, “do I KNOW this to be true?” You could save yourself and others a lot of suffering by taking this little first step.
At the bone level, the work we are doing here is simple—to recognize the monkey at work and to get out of our head and into our heart, no matter how conniving, seductive, eloquent, or mean that monkey mind is– you are not your thoughts–remember your mind, it lies to you . . . and you don’t have to believe everything you think!
A Mediation Practice
Here is where a meditation practice is very useful, the point of meditating is not to become a good meditator but to realize how the mind spins off stories. When you work with a meditation practice you start to watch the mind, don’t try to stop the thoughts from coming–because you won’t!, but watch the stores the mind creates and you realize they are just that, fictional stores. And you can laugh at them 🙂 As you work with your meditation you start to catch yourself spinning these stores and stop them sooner . . . which will save you a lot of stress. As we listen to our mind and get wrapped up in the stories it creates we actually give them energy–and start to believe them–which creates much stress, not only for ourselves but those around us. As we learn to catch our thought process and pull away from them we regain our energy from these places we are sending it and become more present . . . and happier!
There are two ways I like to work with a meditation practice, the first is to give your mind something to focus on. This makes it easier to pull away from the thoughts as you have something to put your mind on; it could be a sound like om, a visualization, a flame, your breath, anything that pulls you to a higher place. Each time you catch yourself getting wrapped up in a mind story, but bring your attention back to your focal object. Another nice meditation practice is to turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts. This is especially helpful if you are going through a situation with someone or experiencing stress. When your mind starts to spin about the situation, make the situation how you want it to be; take the negative and turn it positive in your mind. So if you have a challenging relationship with someone, dream in your mind how you would like that relationship to be, you will see how it will make you soften a bit about the situation, perhaps remove your ego a bit from it, and you will respond much differently to the person which in turn will make them respond better to you 🙂
Remember to not mistake the method for the goal though with your meditation practice. Meditation is not about becoming a good meditator, it is about realizing the monkey mind and not letting it spin you off. You are good at meditation if you can catch this process off your mat while you are in the world and be a nicer person.
Some poems and quotes on the mind that I have found useful:
From a Namarupa article “Yantras are portals to the divine within” by Amarananda Bhairavan The ego knows its drawbacks only too well. Hence it distracts its attention away from itself by observing the flaws in objets, people, and events outside of itself. Purity and preciseness are externalized. The practitioners of this class are particular about preciseness, material purity, and physical perfection . . .
The ego is a monkey catapulting through the jungle:
Totally fascinated by the realm of the senses,
It swings from one desire to the next,
One conflict to the next,
One self-centered idea to the next.
If you threaten it, it actually fears for its life.
Let this monkey go.
Let the senses go.
Let desires go.
Let conflicts go.
Let ideas go.
Let the fiction of life and death go.
Just remain in the center, watching.
And then forget that you are there.
“The mind is a bundle of thoughts. The thoughts arise because there is the thinker. The thinker is the ego. The ego, if sought, will automatically vanish. Reality is simply the loss of the ego. Destroy the ego by seeking its identity. Because ego is no entity it will automatically vanish and reality will shine forth by itself.” Ramana Maharshi
The eye can see,
but cannot see itself ..
The fire can burn,
but cannot burn itself ..
How can the mind think it can
change its mind ..?