Me and My Monkey Mind


monkey mind“Do you have Monkey Mind?” my friend asks me.

“Monkey Mind?”

My joke instinct instantly makes Monkey Mind a pet-name for syphilis.

Since I have never heard of Monkey Mind, my mental picture is thousands of monkeys drinking whiskey and swinging around in my head chattering and shrieking at top volumes. I mean, they are drinking whiskey after all.

I relate the above vision in a slightly sarcastic manner to my friend.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Do you have it?”

At first, I am stunned to be correct. Then I sit back and listen to my mind. “Yep, I have that.”

I have been telling my friend about troubles concentrating. My mind can’t focus on one thing, but rather gets pulled in twenty different directions at all times of the day and night. It’s infuriating at times.

Monkey Mind is the idea that your brain is filled with thousands of drunken chattering monkeys constantly drawing your attention away from the moment you are in. So in my case Monkey Mind is a spot on diagnosis.

Like many of you, I am overwhelmed by distraction and duty. I am busy. I have a million things to do and they are never satisfied. In my case, there are story deadlines, books to finish, tests to create, entrance exams to prepare, lectures to PowerPoint, doctor’s appointments to make. The list goes on, just like yours.

I wish that I could blame my Monkey Mind on a busy life or even on technology’s slutty lure, but the fact is that even my quiet “relaxing” moments are invaded by monkeys. One minute of sitting in an armchair can see forty random thoughts come in and out. An example from this morning:

Go through Hlavni or Lazarska today? Dinner. I’ll be at work at 12:14. Gotta get vodka for Marky. I think I’ll write about Monkey Mind. Wash mossy shower curtain. I should start that first chapter again. 1st person. The girl. Gotta get inoculations for the trip. Are people better at this than me? Dammit, I need to print out that thing for that class. Did I wash my hair yesterday? I hear a click. If my neighbors start renovating I’m going to shove cat poop in their mailbox. Print those things. Cat poop’s hard, find something softer. Isn’t there a thing on the Internet about not washing your hair? Right arm during a heart attack. Soft language for class. Should I do that? Rabbit Angstrom’s a prick. 

This is just what I remember and I am mercifully stopping before I start singing The Fall Guy theme. Though many of these things might be, fortunately, esoteric to you, the randomness might seem familiar.

So what to do?

As I saw it, I could either up my Irish Whiskey intake or I could go to the experts. Zen Buddhism has lots of ideas on how to attack Monkey Mind. One idea is to focus on positive affirmation rather than obsessive worry. Another idea is to control your reaction to a problem, for example, if you can’t solve a problem, then let it go.

I am a Galeone. If you know one of us, you understand the difficulty letting go of things and avoiding obsessive worry might present us. Obsessive worry is our family label. Our coat-of-arms is two hands wringing each other in front of a pair of worried eyes staring at a clock. I’ll tackle letting go later.

I decide to start with practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the idea that you live more in the moment. That is, eat and really enjoy eating, notice your food. Walk and don’t do anything else but walk and take in your walk and the things around you. Write and only write. Mindfully do your dishes.

Mindfulness is a very simple concept that I find very difficult to practice. This is especially since I’ve realized that I do almost nothing mindfully. I am constantly pulled by that Monkey Mind. It’s one of the reasons I can’t enjoy Sundays; I don’t live in the moment, but rather obsess over what will be tomorrow.

Moreover, if I am not being pulled by Monkeys, I create a distraction to occupy my mind. For example, I allow myself to watch two sitcoms a day which totals about forty-five minutes. I always watch them while eating dinner in order to occupy my mind during what I consider to be a mundane activity. With walking I often listen to music, daydream, mentally rework stories, plan classes, have arguments.

I start with mindfully walking and eating.

In the morning, I pour a bowl of cereal and instinctively sit in front of the computer to scan the news. Red light. Aha, nice try Monkey Mind. I move to the armchair in my living room and slowly eat. I try to enjoy each spoonful of cereal, honey, raisins. Still, the mind wanders and I spit out a mantra between spoonfuls:

I am eating.

I am eating.

My mind strains in ten different directions, but I manage to pay most of my attention to eating. I enjoy each bite. I eat slowly rather than shovel it into my throat. When I finish and drop the bowl in the sink I realize that I have mindfully eaten. Kind of. A minor victory. I allow my Monkey Mind to swing free by reading the news, Facebook, Twitter, and Salon in one big swoop. Tonight, I’ll eat dinner sans sitcoms.

Walking proves more difficult. One of my favorite aspects of walking is allowing my brain to float off in several directions like a bunch of helium-filled balloons on very long strings. So the fact that I am trying to be more aware of the moment is a struggle.

But I try to pay more attention to my walk: the trees, the people I pass, the buildings. Pretty soon my brain is full of monkeys shrieking about my afternoon lesson, then about a Thursday meeting, then tickets for a trip. I force myself back the same way I did with eating.

I am walking.

I am walking.

Despite a moment’s respite, it doesn’t work and I am presently back in the land of the monkeys, swinging from branch to branch. Focus is gone. In response, I do exactly what one is not supposed to do when suffering an acute case of Monkey Mind: I get annoyed at the monkeys.

I am walking.

I am walking.

I am walking, you motherfuckers.

By the time I reach the metro I am aggravated and distracted. Since the C line metros have no ventilation and therefore no, um, air, I am soon sweating and stewing.

After a minor victory in the morning, the monkeys have beat me at walking. I settle myself down by remembering that this is all a work in progress. Nothing happens overnight. I get off the metro at the main train station and go to battle with the monkeys again.

I am walking.

I am walking.

I am walking, you motherfuckers.

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