Sunday, January 24, 2010

monkey mind

In Buddhism, or even among those who never heard the word "Buddhism," there is often an acknowledgment of what Zen Buddhists can refer to as "monkey mind."

It doesn't take a Buddhist to reflect from time to time on the unsatisfying results of a mind that flits from one thing to another, never settling down, never finding a peaceful repose, always after the next big excitement or acquisition.

And in such times of reflection, there may be a wishful voice that longs for a more settled way of being, something less superficial, something with more meat on the bone. A diet of more and more and more potato chips just doesn't seem very nourishing, no matter how sincere the munching may be.

And sometimes we grow disgusted with our own antics. "Bad monkey mind! Bad, bad mind!" and we try to hit it on the nose with a rolled up newspaper for peeing on the living room carpet yet again. We may long to be more steady and stable, but this monkey mind just seems to get the best of us ... dancing and dodging our every effort, running out to the kitchen and peeing on the linoleum instead.

It's pretty frustrating.

Monkey mind.

I think maybe our criticisms are a bit too intense. Think about it: What has your mind done since day one if not bounce from one thing to another like a monkey in the forest? It is wondrously agile, climbing tall trees in an instant, leaping from branch to branch, wary of predators, careful with its grooming, nourishing its young ... what a perfectly fine beast it is. Monkeys do what monkeys do, don't you think? And it's the same with this mind ... agile, swift, tenacious, caring, wily, strong, loving, venemous, sorrowful ... and hell, that's just in the first two minutes of the day; there's a whole 23 hours and 58 minutes to go ... and the monkey mind is up to the task, day in and day out.

But when our own superficialities and lack of nourishment presses in and a notion arises that this is not a satisfactory situation, then I think we might all take a hint from the Christians who are sometimes misquoted as saying, "Money is the root of all evil." The correct biblical quote is, "The love of money is the root of all evil."

Nothing wrong with money.

Nothing wrong with monkey mind.

But the affection and attachment we may have to either poses difficulties and nourishes unfortunate results.

And as we might take a hint from the Christians, so we might take a hint from the Buddhists. Acknowledging a problem is the first step to any solution, but there is then the matter of actually stirring our stumps and doing something about that problem.

Zen Buddhists practice seated meditation as a means of addressing the wonderful and hellacious monkey that is our mind. Since a superficial mind betokens a superficial life, it is good to find an exercise that will encompass our whole lives -- thought, word and deed ... body, mouth and thought. And a little quiet time, a little time to slow down and pay attention brings this monkey mind not 'under control,' but rather into perspective.

Monkeys leap around. That's what monkeys do. They are miraculously good at it -- a wonder and a joy. But to imagine that this monkey mind rules the roost is a step too far, just as loving money is a step too far. Money is what we use when we need it. Monkey mind is what we use when we need it. Both are very good tools, but imagining they are the only tools or even the ruling tools is an overstatement that the circumstances of life challenges every day. And those challenges make for uncertainty and unhappiness.

It is good to take some time to reflect -- to make friends with the monkey mind that has ruled things for so long. S/he's not a bad monkey or an evil monkey but no one wants to spend their lives cleaning up after an a beloved pet.

So a little training is probably in order. That way, you can get on with the love and stop coping with the mess.

No comments:

Post a Comment