When I first heard the term “Monkey Mind”, it was like something clicked in the Understanding Myself department. I had been going about things all wrong! I thought of my mind as a brilliant, finely tuned machine that ought to be doing my bidding. And when it didn’t, I was bummed. I felt less-than. And that was before I started trying to meditate in yoga school. I was surrounded by a bunch of chill, cool people, getting their Zen. My Zen, however, was not forthcoming.
Monkeying Around with my Meditation
I would try. Oh, how I’d try. But I couldn’t focus. It’d be an endless stream of non-meditative thought, peppered with negative self-talk. “OK. Breathing from the diaphragm… Sitting up straight… What is that?! A car alarm? Someone’s phone? Oh, crap! Breathe, Trish! Where was I? Breathe in, breathe out… in… out… oh, we’re outta toilet paper. I have to remember to stop at the store. And milk. We need milk. Dammit! I did it again! Just BREATHE, Trish! I mean how hard can it be?! All these other people are doing it. In… Out… In… Out… My knee hurts… In… Out… My nose itches… In… Out… That tree outside looks like it’d be super fun to climb… I like trees… I wish I had a treehouse… “Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo HAAAAHHH!” (Monkey Mind swings from the tree gleefully.) Damn. Did it again. *Sigh*…” Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
And that was my early meditative experience. I hated it. I hated me. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t do this?! I had to learn how to deal with the Monkey Mind!
You see, we want our brain to do what we want it to do, when we want it to do. But our brain wants to climb up on the roof, hoot at passersby, sling !@#$%, and eat bananas. Bummer of a conundrum, eh?
A Thought Experiment (with a Monkey at the Wheel)
And so I decided to let the Monkey Mind make its own decisions. Heck, I’d been doing more damage than good with myself at the helm. (I have self-esteem issues, the last thing I need is something to fail spectacularly at daily, and then talk @%&! to myself over.)
So I changed one little thing, and that was what I call it. I’m no longer “…trying to meditate.” Instead, I sit. And I breathe. That’s it. No fancy expectations, no opportunity for failure. And, dude, I am nailing it! I can sit like a champ! And if my knee starts hurting, or my nose itches, or my butt goes to sleep, I just sit again. And I breathe. Sometimes just how I’m breathing right then. Cake.
Be the Monkey.
(I think Chevy Chase said that…)
Sometimes I get fancy and observe my breath. Is it shallow? Deep? Ragged? Smooth? Short? Long? No judgement, just observation. Maybe I count. Perhaps I elongate my exhalation. Maybe I get distracted and think about something else entirely. But then I can just come back to my breath. And my sitting. And although there are many ways to add value to sitting, there’s no way to do it wrong. (Unless you’re slouching. But < that’s another post entirely.)