Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I really like the term "monkeymind," but I don't like the experience of it much.

We get the practice of mindfulness meditation from certain Buddhist traditions which originated in subtropical Asia. As anyone who has ever been to that part of the world knows, there are monkeys everywhere. Monkeys on the streets, in the trees, on the rooftops. They are often loud, mischievous, playful, obnoxious, and are in constant motion. Even when they sit still, their eyes are looking here, over there, up, down, always scanning. They can be aggressive at going after something that takes their fancy (keep a tight hold on your shopping bags), and high-tail it the moment there is a threat. So it makes perfect sense that meditators would apply the term 'monkeymind' to those same characteristics of the mind.

I've been sitting with monkeymind a lot lately. Thoughts that breed like rabbits, chasing mindful awareness off at every opportunity. Back to the breath, the anchor in the storm. And then off again, back again, off again. It goes like that. There's no experience of calm repose in this, no blissful sensation of unity or peace. Just one storm after another of thoughts and feelings about those thoughts.

It doesn't matter how long you've been meditating, whether you're a beginner or been doing it for a lifetime, there are going to be times like this. Right now for me, it has to do with spending more of my energy on external things, especially engagement with other people and this thing called social networking, which is new to me. I suspect menopause isn't helping, either. Whatever the reason, I sit on the cushion, and here is monkeymind.

I have to keep reminding myself that it is just the mind doing what it does. Monkeys do what monkeys do, and the mind does what it does. I keep remembering that the important thing is awareness. I am the one being aware of monkeymind. The time I spend meditating is the time I spend being aware of the storm of thoughts passing through my mind. Monkeymind feels uncomfortable for me, so I also practice compassion for myself, who is having this experience.

Many times, we get discouraged when we try to meditate and we experience monkeymind. We think we aren't doing it right, or that we just can't meditate. But all that is really happening is we are making up a story about what monkeymind means, making judgments about it and about ourselves. That's what the mind does too, so the practice is to be aware of that. That's why we are asked to keep returning our attention to the breath when we find the mind is off and running somewhere besides right here, right now. Coming back to the breath allows us the space to recognize that the mind was off doing its thing, to bring our awareness to whatever is happening. Bringing an attitude of acceptance, curiosity, and openness to our practice helps minimize judgments, but if we find ourselves making judgments, then we practice being aware of that.

Bringing awareness of whatever is happening, even if we don't like it much, bringing kindness to our awareness. This is it.

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