Do you remember the first time you left your baby with a sitter? You couldn’t wait for alone time with your spouse. Adult conversation. Maybe a movie…
You gave all your instructions to an impossibly young teenager and then wonder. “What am I thinking? Will this gum-chewing child remember everything? I’d better write it all down.” So of course, you do.
Finally out of the house, you realize you forgot your phone. Running inside to get it, you apologize to the sitter for scaring her, and remind her of the potato chips in the pantry.
At the movies, you settle into a cushy chair with a huge bucket of popcorn. Your husband begins to chatter about work and all you can think of is the baby. Oh, and did you lock the car? Your mind is just all over the place. You want to cry, it’s so frustrating. All you wanted was one lousy night out with your spouse. Why is it so hard to calm down?
Welcome to Monkey Mind.
Buddhists describe the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping from tree to tree, branch to branch, chattering endlessly. We all have a share in that confusing, loud and distracting flight of ideas. We can usually tame it, but in times of stress, worry or just feeling tired, it’s harder to do.
I’ve also found it hard to tame those monkeys when I settle in to meditate.
When I sit in the quiet, I should duck down behind a strong wall, because as they used to say on the TV show M*A*S*H; “INCOMING!!!” Laundry lists of all I have to do today. All my fears (real and imagined) come swinging by for a visit, creating ‘what if’ catastrophes for my future. To avoid the made-up messes of my future, I start judging my present.
Oy. What a chaotic jumble of thoughts.
But all is not lost. After all, we’re talking about monkeys, not Pulitzer Prize winners. Why am I handing over my own God-given power in grace to rely on thoughts that only end up making me angry, unhappy, restless and anxious? Being tired or worried makes it harder of course, but still, it’s not an impossible situation.
Monkey Mind isn’t fatal. It’s more like a fact of life, like my allergies. I don’t enjoy them either, but they don’t keep me from living fully in the right here and now.
The key to restoring calm is recognizing that these run-away thoughts aren’t rational, or based on any real emergency. The monkeys get their power from my attention. If I keep entering into their conversation and agreeing with them, I continue to give them control.
I wish I could go back in time and tell my young-mom self that everything is okay. My son will be fine. And of course, he was. But maybe it’s enough to start right now, by telling my young-Nana self that it’s Eviction Day for the monkeys.
I can always visit them at the zoo.
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