Quieting the Monkey

Can I be a writer and not practice actual, legitimate, sit on the floor and focus on the breathe in your nostrils, meditation?

It seems that so many in this field, which I am beginning to include myself in despite my as yet unpublished status, include meditation in their regular daily rhythm. I have tried unsuccessfully at different times over the years to incorporate this pastime. I will be the first to admit that I haven’t tried all that hard. I will also be the first to admit that I am not a very patient person. If something doesn’t come readily to me, I give up.

When I was very small, I tried peewee basketball and gave up after failing to ever get the ball in the basket. I tend to overlook the experience of having fun trying something new by beating myself up over not being the best or even remotely close.

But today’s story is one of another sort—quieting the monkey mind.

In Thunder and lightning: Cracking open the writer’s craft, Goldberg (2000) describes the early years of meditation for her, discovering her monkey mind. “Who was that wild animal inside me? It was my own human mind. I needed to understand it. Why? It’s the writer’s landscape” (p. 12).

I am afraid of my monkey mind. It owns me. I have little, if any, control. I may be exhausted when I crawl under the covers and rest my head on the pillow, but the moment I close my eyes the Bermuda triangle whirlwind begins, waves crash, swells of foam and froth form, grand ships reduced to splinters. All that resolve that this will be the night I finally follow that breathe in and out and fall into a peaceful sleep where the monkey cannot follow—lost and gone. Not forgotten, just replaced. Temporarily, I hope. I tell myself night after night that I have just gotten into another behavior pattern that exhaustion will eventually cause to shift. Isn’t the natural tendency toward entropy? I must be at the end of a chaos cycle, and my body is preparing for a period of peace.

Perhaps, this is the end of my Saturn returns. Soon, all will be revealed and my life will make sense again. I will wake up to birds singing in the morning instead of sirens and someone I love will brush the air from my shoulder, kiss my neck, wrap his arms around me, drawn me into the warmth of his body, and snuggle close with me.

Why is it called monkey mind anyway? What is the origin of the word “monk”? Aren’t monks meant to be peaceful and close, if not already, at a state of Nirvana? Or is this my perception of them from watching too many movies?

Am I missing something? I miss a lot and my common sense leaves something to be desired, so I am going to make that a rhetorical question so you don’t feel obligated to offer up a response.

In all seriousness, though, I wonder why would this word comprise the essence of a title we have bestowed upon earlier, wilder versions of ourselves?

Perhaps, we call the wildness within after our ancestors as a reminder that though we may tell ourselves we are civilized when we look in mirror in the morning, the stuff that we are made of has changed very little with time. Fundamentally, in the deepest corners of our psyche, we are wild, uncontained, and not in control.

It’s a starting point.

Regardless of its origins, it would appear that my own inner monkey is alive and well inside me. And I refuse to spend my entire life bowing to its whims. I am certain I have much to learn from the chaotic tendencies of the monkey, as well as from the practice of learning how to soothe it.

This is a practice I have avoided most of my life, choosing alternative behaviors to temporarily escape or alleviate the surface symptoms of deeper hurts.

I firmly believe that it is a worthwhile practice to breathe through what happens in our mind and body, to embrace the times of chaos and disquiet with love and patience and revel in times of joy and peace when they arrive. Both are beautiful and precious in their own way for the wisdom and experience they provide in this strange muddle called life.

I would like to end by noting that after writing this piece last night, I experienced my first night of peaceful, relatively uninterrupted sleep since arriving in Lowell nearly six months ago.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

All will be revealed with time. At least, all that we are willing to uncover if we spend the time digging deep.

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