Anyone who has ever attempted to meditate has dealt with the concept of “monkey mind.” The monkey mind, by Buddhist reckoning, is the conscious mind that is always chattering and jumping around, scratching itself and throwing coconuts while we are trying to get our spiritual groove on.
There are a number of ways to deal with the monkey mind; my favorite has always been distraction. Give the monkey something to do so he’ll sit still – this is one of the benefits of movement-based meditation as well as mantra and chant. The conscious mind gets involved repeating words, and the deeper levels of the self can step to the foreground for a while.
In the last few months I’ve come to understand myself a little better. I’ve learned that while the idea of being the enlightened, peace-oozing spiritual guru-nymph is very appealing, I’m just not the type. It’s one thing to try and improve yourself, overcoming issues and laying down baggage; it’s another to try and rewire your inborn inclinations entirely, to cheat the world out of the self that God helped you fashion for this lifetime. There are aspects of my personality that I have simply decided to accept and, in fact, to capitalize on, instead of thinking of myself as somehow less-than because I don’t fit into a particular mold. Molds are useful for cheeses, not so much for people.
I have discovered one very important thing: while I have an enormous capacity for strength and power, I’m also a bit of a toddling spaz, and I’ve decided that the monkey mind metaphor doesn’t work for me. Yes, my mind can be a howling, poo-flinging beastie, but most of the time it’s much more vulnerable than that. I don’t have monkey mind: I have puppy mind.
My mind is a flop-eared puppy with big, sad eyes. She’s earnest, eager to do the right thing, always wants to be involved – but she trips over her own feet, and she’s easily frightened by loud noises and big crowds. She howls when she’s left alone, and is often desperate for attention. Stern looks and harsh words make her cower and, when dragged toward discipline by the collar she’s a lot more likely to pee herself and hide than to snap into shape. She takes a lot of positive reinforcement and gentle persuasion. She gets bored easily, and when bored, causes mischief and tends to chew on everything in sight. She has to be gently corrected when she wanders off course; force and anger will do no good, only make her too afraid to try again.
She was a pound puppy, so she’s afraid of being abandoned, and that makes it hard for her to let go and just enjoy life. Her puppy exuberance is tempered with a fear of being kicked.
She responds well to treats and cuddling – and to activity. If I want her to stay out of trouble while I’m trying to meditate, it’s best to give her a mantra to play with, some beads to nibble on, or music to sway to. She doesn’t understand simply sitting still; that’s not her job. Her job is to do things, to run and play and chase squirrels, to figure out puzzles. But because she’s young, she doesn’t grasp the fact that she’s not the center of the universe, and that other parts of me have jobs of their own and need her to be still sometimes so they don’t trip over her.
She’s a creature of habit, nervous in strange circumstances. If she gets used to a negative way of thinking or behaving, it does no good to rub her nose in it. She has to be given an alternative, a nudge in the right direction, so that she can sniff her way over on her own time. That way she thinks it was her idea, so she doesn’t fight the change. Otherwise, well, she can dig her little feet in and refuse to budge.
She also whines a lot.
I find this analogy a lot more fitting for my own personality than a monkey, but also, it’s an image that I can work with. It’s easier to treat myself with more kindness if I visualize the restless, jumpy part of myself as a young creature that needs care and love rather than an annoying, screeching primate up on a branch. Yes, puppies can be very aggravating, but you keep working with them because you love them and want them to grow up into good companions, not because you want them to shut up and go away.
I am already too much at odds with myself to set up a battleground in my head. I’d rather think of my conscious mind as something to befriend than something to overcome. Every aspect of the self has its place and its mission; sometimes the first step toward balance is just finding a cute fuzzy metaphor.Become my patron for exclusive online content and read new stories before anyone else!