Over 2,500 years ago Siddhārtha Gautama, The Buddha, ascetic and sage, came up with the term ‘Kapicitta’, or ‘Monkey Mind’.
The Buddha vividly described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. We all have monkey minds, he said, with dozens of monkeys all clamouring for attention.
With all the monkeys creating chaos in our minds, jumping from branch to branch, he urged his disciples to develop “a mind like a forest deer”, noting that deer, being especially gentle creatures, are able to remain aware and alert no matter the circumstances. Quiet, undistracted, focusing on the here and now.
NAMING OUR MONKEY MIND
I’m sure we can all identify with this, the exhausting and tiresome monkey mind, spinning with thoughts, emotions, images, stories, likes, memories, resentments, attachments, on and on… endless reruns of the same old shows… but how to stop?
The good news is, that for many of us, becoming aware of this constant stream of dialogue is the first insight in practice. Often described as ‘seeing the waterfall’, we begin to learn about the nature of our mind. In recognition, it is easier to be mindful. Ah yes, we say, those pesky critters at it again…
‘SEEING THE WATERFALL’
Our mind. Constantly changing like the weather; today pelting rain, tonight it may snow, earlier the sun was out. Sometimes it’s cold and wet in the spring, and then Summer comes and the blossoms tremble. In the Autumn the leaves fall, and in Winter the ice glistens.
Being part of nature, we come to see we are the same. Changeable, shifting, ending, beginning, constantly in transition.
The Buddha talked about it thus, describing our states of being through life, blown by ‘The Eight Worldly Winds’ ;
- Pleasure & Pain
- Praise & Blame
- Gain & Loss
- Fame & Disrepute
All of these are part of our ‘Samsara’ or Wheel Of Life, whipping up emotions, actions & reactions accordingly.
TAMING THE DRUNKEN MONKEYS
In order to tame the drunken monkeys in their minds, the Buddha showed his disciples how to meditate, explaining how useless it is to fight the monkeys or to try to banish them because, as we usually find, that which we resist persists. Instead, he said, by spending some time each day in quiet meditation, focusing on the breath or a simple mantra, you can over time, tame the monkeys, bringing them more peacefully into submission with a consistent practice of meditation.
CULTIVATING A STEADY MIND
For the mind to become settled in the present moment, in the midst of so much change, it is necessary to develop a degree of steadiness and stability. Like a candle flame in a windless place, we learn to become wholehearted, sensing in our most concentrated moments a unity of body, spirit, and mind. Achieving this within our practice feels wonderful.
As most of us have found however this practice takes practice!
One of my favourite teachers describes the beginning of settling our minds in meditation as being rather like training a puppy. We put the puppy down and say, ‘‘Stay.’’ What does it do? It gets up and runs around. ‘‘Stay.’’ It turns around again. Twenty times, ‘‘Stay.’’ After a while, slow though it is, it gets the point.
TRUSTING THE PROCESS.
At first, we may be discouraged. After many sittings, we are mindful maybe ten percent of the time, the other ninety percent lost in thought, becoming disheartened and judging ourselves. But if we look less harshly, we may realise that when we first began to meditate, we were here maybe just two percent of the time, and now we are here five times as much! Five times more do we sense our hearts, feel the gentle breeze, feel the peace that fills our spirit and begin to feel some freedom and ease.
In practice, as our skill grows, we learn that the mind becomes concentrated, not through strain and struggle, but from letting go of anxiety about the past and future, and relaxing into the present.
This is a natural process. Through our paying attention, again and again, a quality of calm interest begins to grow, we become our own loving witness and the mind settles lightly into the moment.
‘ONE MONKEY DON’T STOP THE SHOW.’
The clamouring monkeys will undoubtedly return, particularly when we’re tired or in stress or conflict, but with a little awareness & gentle observance, maybe their chatter will be less abrasive, their messages kinder, and they may even timidly accept a peanut or two from our open hands by way of a hopeful reconciliation.
Love & Light,