Dealing with the Monkey Brain

[Note: I saw my friend’s post online recently asking about meditation. As much as possible I’m staying off the “Book of the Face” thus this post.]

I started meditating nearly 50 years ago in my early college years. I started with Transcendental Meditation (T.M.) back in the day. Did residence courses, learned how to help others with their meditation. I even spent a month in Northern California with the Maharishi and a few hundred other “bliss ninnies” as we sometimes called ourselves. T.M. is still my go-to technique and my life is so much better when I do it at least once a day. Even better when I do the recommended 2nd meditation.

If I were starting over I would probably reach for the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. My introduction to Thich was by way of A Course in Miracles, which I found by way of Gerald G. Jampolsky’s Love Is Letting Go of Fear. (Uncovering wisdom is such a warren full of rabbit trails, isn’t it?) Jampolsky introduced me to the idea that Love and Fear cannot exist in a person at the same time. It’s a polarity, like hot or cold. You either experience one or the other. It’s important to train yourself to ask: “Am I loving or am I fearful?” Examining that question and recognizing that Love or Fear is a choice we can make in every moment changes how we live and deal with everyone and everything around us.

Back to Thich. The first of his books that I picked up was The Miracle of Mindfulness. It is small, simple, and easy to read. But, like a magnifying glass focusing the light of the sun its power is immense. Through story and metaphor Thich provides an accessible and straightforward approach to meditation without getting into a lot of intellectual or theological gobbledegook. It simply teaches how to follow the breath and be aware of your thoughts.

Frankly, that’s pretty much what meditation is about: being aware of being aware. As we do so, we find the body stills, the heart rests. the mind finds peace. Studies have found that people who meditate tend to be more compassionate, but interestingly, less empathic. Being less empathic allows one to be in the presence of the suffering of others without participating in that suffering. This allows one to exercise compassion. As a side note, I heard from the same source that nurses who feel a lot of empathy actually spend less time caring for their patients, i.e., being in their presence. This makes sense because we can only take so much pain before we have to retreat. Professional caregivers are just as human as the rest of us.

The mind is a monkey. Like a monkey it just runs all over the place, chattering, busy, noisy, undisciplined. I believe that is actually a good thing because it allowed humans to hunt, gather, play with the kids, and be on the watch for bad guys and big hungry critters all at the same time. The magic of meditation is that it teaches the mind to watch its crazy monkey self run off and after every shiny object and, without judgment or effort, to guide it back to the object of focus, whether that is a mantra (sound), the flow of the breath you are following, or some verse. With practice, the mind learns to be still and take in what is. (In T.M. we used to call that Be-ing.)

The monkey mind will run around. It just does that.

We simply become aware quickly of what it is doing and gently guide it back to stillness.

Or, maybe love?

1 thought on “Dealing with the Monkey Brain

  1. Thanks for this post, Michael. I’m with you. Meditating in the morning sets the tone and pace for the day, and continuing the awareness practice as much as possible throughout keeps the equanimity present, no matter what circumstances are occurring.

    Your last line–“or, maybe love?”–reminds me of a phrase Ram Dass used in a talk I heard earlier this week: “loving awareness”. What a miracle it is that that’s what authentic awareness seems to be. Pure love.

    Thanks again.

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