On My Monkey

Lately, I have been trying to meditate. I try and sit quietly, thinking of nothing and focusing on my breath as it goes in and out. This is supposed to be a way to relax, to be calm, and to be more focused on the tasks ahead.

My mind is not good at thinking about nothing. In fact when not engaged in a task, I immediately search out a task, an activity, anything to engage my mind. In Buddhist terms, I believe this would be the monkey brain. In Western culture this is call multi-tasking. I read an article about a man who spent a whole week, not multi-tasking. When he ate, he only ate, he did not read and eat, or speak and eat or watch TV and eat. He just ate. And he said it was very difficult. I thought something like that would be nearly impossible for me and I was right. Meditation is doing a single task i.e. breathing without doing anything else, without making a mental to do list, without worrying about what to have for dinner, nothing but breathing. And I can barely do it for more than a few minutes. Not because I have anything important I need to be doing or thinking about but because my brain is a monkey. It does not want to sit still. It does not want to do one thing. It wants a banana, it wants to walk around, it wants to sweep the dust it notices on the floor, it wants to make a to do list, it wants to consider stories not yet written.

I tried another experiment with my monkey. I tried to sit and drink a cup of tea and savor the tea, experience the tea and do nothing else. And though I sat down with that intention within a minute, I had started to fiddle with a container filled with pens and considering better ways it could be decorated. By the time I finished my tea I had decorated the container and started to create a specialized font. Not because either of those things needed to be done but because the monkey would not sit still.

Some people might think my monkey is useful, I can do many things at once but the problem is monkeys are not patient. When one task is nearly done instead of focusing on the accomplishment the monkey is already moving to the next task. The monkey is always thinking two steps ahead and therefore I feel like I am dragged behind it even if I really just want to enjoy the feeling of what I have just finished.


And forget about just peacefully sitting and enjoying the cool breeze, the monkey is chirping away about to do lists, worries and fears. The only way to silence it is to engage it by reading a book, watching a television show or writing. So though the monkey makes me seem driven and productive, the monkey also stresses me out.

That is probably why Buddhist monks seem so calm; they have begun to perfect the methods for chasing the monkey away for good. And they probably get to enjoy their tea.

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