Monkey Mind

by Eve Livingston


Life feels jumpy.  In that moment.

Sadly, long strings of such moments link, one to another, and time goes by with little notice.  The flighty mental machinations of high-octane rumination take center stage, and little else successfully competes for attention.

Monkey-mind is an unsettled mind.  It is a furtive mind.  Ever-vigilant for that which can be worrisome, this darty little thinking machine is a contortionist.  An athlete so strong and limber it could secure its position lickety-split as a tenured performer in Cirque du Soleil.

It rushes to conclusions.  It refuses to agree.   It hates what provokes its ire.

It loves what promotes its desire.

When I first learned of this Buddhist notion of monkey-mind, it was one of those concepts I found I had to think about at length.  Not in a strained way, but in a slow and natural and curious way.  I had to think a lot about nature to understand the predictable way our human minds tend to lean.  I had to approach it the way kids disappear into the present moment when they are attempting to solve a puzzle that feels within reach, but is currently just beyond.

The more I went in, and faced my own energetic mind playing hopscotch while constantly changing the rules, the more I understood this natural human proclivity.  I had to dwell long enough looking, and when I really wanted to, eventually I could spot the springy little acrobat the minute it showed its energetically preoccupied face.

Meditation is really rather simple.  People think of it as complicated, or onerous, because it is commonly misunderstood as a task requiring the meditator to “do” something.  Perhaps to do it for a long time, even, and with great concentration.  But in fact there is not a “task” in meditation as much as there is a letting go of tasks.

A letting go of those compulsive, compulsory, darty little opinions and worries.  A failing to pay as much attention to them as you typically do…as you had before you began your meditation.  You aim to attend to them less and less, and, when you are successful, they get far too bored to stick around.

They are narcissists, you see, these skittery, monkey-mind thoughts.  They need attention and lots of it.   They need to run the show of mental attenuation in order to distract you from the truth.  What’s more, when it comes to decision making, or grappling with the confounding question of whether you are better off worrying about something–or craving and chasing something, or pushing something away in discontent–these greedy little characters will grasp at every straw to keep you entertained.  They will do just about anything to keep you loyal.

They are in direct competition with your relaxedness.  They try to convince you there’s no need to settle down, and at this there is no doubt they often masterfully succeed.

In my experience, the place to begin to wrestle these buggers to the ground is to pay attention to anything else but them.  To everything else, in fact, aside from them.  This is a fine place to begin, as you work your way toward paying attention to fewer and fewer things, one meditation at a time.  It’s fine to practice this, even if you can do it only in brief, breath-long intermissions.

What’s underneath the monkey-mind?  You, in a more natural state.

You, relaxed.  You, at peace.  You allowing yourself immersion in the natural state which most promotes life:  a state of balance.  In this case balance between thought and action, tension and relaxation.

Try to experience as perfect a balance as you can achieve.  Try.  Yoda was wrong on this matter.  It’s really very simple.

I would surmise a rather large number of people can be tremendously relieved–can damp down the flame of conflicting and upsetting emotions–much more, in fact, than they currently imagine possible.

If you are one of those people (and who knows…you might just be), you’ve got the battle half won when you realize that monkey-mind is inside you, and not a smidge anywhere else.




©Content copyright 2018. Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved, for more information, see content page.