Chillin' with the Monkeys in your Mind

Published February 21st, 2016

The "monkey mind". It is a concept we teach about during meditation mentoring. Monkey mind actually comes from the Chinese, from Buddhist teachings, and basically refers to the unsettled mind, the cacophony of thoughts jumping around rather drunkenly in your mind.

Now I've spent a fair amount of time hanging and watching monkeys in their habitat in Africa. Colobus monkeys, baboons, blue-balled vervet monkeys, and it is true, there are moments of complete chaos - screeching, jumping around from tree limb to tree limb, stealing the peace of an otherwise quiet moment in nature. Sometimes you can hear the ruckus from metres away. And then…something happens, and it all stops. Calm returns. It is really cool to be inside the jungle during these times. You can feel your own mind-body chill out. Even if you have no idea what restored order in animal kingdom.

I'm not sure if it is because it is the Chinese year of the Monkey that began on the New Year last week or what, but I've been noticing cacophonous monkey minds all over the place these days. The people I speak with or watch on TV, and even words I overhear out on the streets, peoples' energy and words are jumping around all over the place. People are screeching, many are not properly finishing thoughts, stories and tasks, and in general, there are fewer and fewer places to go to find calm and peace. I can feel it myself, it is not easy to remain calm in the swirl all around.

The monkeys I spend hours watching in Tanzania seem to start going a bit nutty when they get scared of something: a noise, a predator, or a threat to their offspring. While animal behaviorists surely have some good explanations about how peace gets restored, it seems to me it happens when the leader of the troop sends a signal that all is ok, combined with a collective sort of aaaaahhhh, we can relax.

This all makes me realize, yet again, how important it is to maintain your still point. While it may be fun to join the crazy chaos for a bit, even energizing, it is important to swing back to calm and stillness.

Being practiced in meditation and breathing techniques is actually the best way to talk to the monkeys in your mind. You learn to see them, watch them, and notice when the chaotic screeching may be coming on. You can then have a little chat with them: "Hey buddies, take it easy". Just like being on safari surrounded by a troop of baboons, you can train your mind to play with swirling, high-energy thoughts, and then, like magic, calm it all down and allow fear to dissipate and settled clarity to return to you and, because we are all linked, to your troop.

Thank you Vine Pergola at Fairchild Gardens, and your trellis above, for inspiring this piece.

Colobus monkeys. Photo: The African Embassy Safaris

The trellis above, Vine Pergola.

The stillness of trees