Monkey Mind


I’ve been spending time at the local Shambhala Meditation Center recently.  Shambhala is loosely defined as a path of peaceful warriorship, something that most Westerners have an extremely difficult time wrapping their heads around.  I know I do.  The whole point is to be strong on the path towards peaceful calm, which is what enables us to help others, and that’s what Buddhism is really all about.  Easing the suffering of others as well as ourselves.

At the heart of pretty much any Buddhist practice is sitting meditation.  You would think such a thing would be relatively easy, but oh my God it’s not.  It is so much more than just sitting quietly on a pillow and emptying your mind.  It’s the last part that I’m finding extremely difficult.  It’s almost like my brain is working against me, and it makes my goal of a calm mind so hard.  Apparently some schools of Buddhism call this “monkey mind“.  One’s brain doesn’t want to be calm for whatever stupid reason(s) and begins to leap about like a monkey.

I hate this.  I hate it so much.  It is SO difficult for me to sit there and not leap up and leave the room in frustration.  To give up.  So many things run through my brain.  Disagreements with family, even very old ones.  Old hurts with people who are long dead, or who choose not to talk to me anymore and won’t say why.  Confusion about current relationships, which seem to be in a constant state of flux for me right now because I am changing so much.  Humans don’t like change, and I feel I am the passive target of others’ anger occasionally because I have committed the transgression of changing.  It makes me feel lonely because I cannot enjoy those relationships as I once did.  It makes me confused because I don’t understand why this seems to be necessary.  Perhaps most importantly, all of these things make me feel afraid because I do not know what the future holds.

I know this fear would dissipate if I could stop caring about the future, which is part of the point of meditation.  To “be here now” and not have one foot in the past and one in the future.  But I have spent almost my entire adult life living in precisely that way, and part of me fears I am incapable of not living that way.  On the flip side of that coin, I fear the state of mind that I know comes with not being present.  I have missed so much of my life because I was not really present in the moment.  Sometimes that mindset was all but forced upon me, which means that I also have to add a healthy dash of forgiveness to the cauldron of feelings that I am stirring these days.  Not just for others, but also for myself.

That is also something that is extraordinarily difficult for me.  I can tell myself intellectually all day long that something was or is not my fault, but I never believe myself.  I don’t know why, either.  I don’t understand why there seems to be this part of me that insists upon constantly and misplacedly flogging myself.  Who taught me this lesson?  Was it me?  Someone else?  Who showed me that I was not worthy of the care and love that I am now ridiculously trying to give to everyone else other than the one person who needs it most?

Meditation is indeed showing me things.  Just not in the way that I thought it would.  I will just have to continue being patient with my monkey mind which currently seems like a field filled with spring-loaded demons that have been unleashed by the simple act of sitting down and being quiet.  The happiest and calmest people I know have strong sitting practices and also endured monkey mind, and I will simply have to trust that continuing my practice will eventually yield the same happiness and calm for me.  I suppose that’s why they call it practice.

2 thoughts on “Monkey Mind”

  1. Re: monkey mind

    One of the ways I came to understand this is through recognizing how memory is stored in the body. As events, especially traumatic ones, implant themselves within muscles, we sometimes feel this as muscle tension. During sitting, we naturally relax, and encourage further relaxation. As muscles relax, they sometimes cause their related memories to come unbidden.

    Part of sitting, then, is consciously addressing those things that trouble us. After some extended period of conscious sitting, there are fewer such memories, and we develop standard ways of moving around them.

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  2. So I can only speak from my own experience with my monkey mind. A place to start with the hating piece of not being able to sit with it and empty your mind is gently reminding yourself (or at least that part of yourself that gets frustrated) that what you’re trying to cultivate does not come naturally but is an acquired skill. As with anything one tries to learn it takes time. Not to mention that the majority of us weren’t schooled in these methods from the time we were little kids. Coming into as an adult I think can added an extra layer of, “Well, why can’t I get this on the first go around?”

    Being gentle and kind with yourself while you go through this process is essential because it’s tied into cultivating loving kindness for oneself which is a huge part of the peaceful warrior path. 🙂

    Most people never get to the point where you’re at as far as actively trying to develop and getting to know their inner landscape. It’s not easy and most find it easier to stay “asleep”. I think you’re very brave and I have no doubts that if you keep walking this path you’ll find the inner peace you’re seeking.

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