The End of Monkey Mind

September 14, 2011

Remember that scene from Fantasia where Micky Mouse was the sorcerer’s apprentice? He was feeling overwhelmed with work, so he used the power of the sorcerer’s hat to turn a broom into a helper (so he could get out of working and relax). He was so delighted that he soon fell asleep, only to awake to a castle that was quickly filling up with water. When he tried to destroy his little wooden helper, it only multiplied and created a real nightmare. Micky desperately tried to find a solution in a book, but it was too late–the broom helpers were a force he just couldn’t control and all hope seemed to be lost. Finally, the sorcerer appeared and restored order. Mickey took back to work with a renewed sense of humility (and hopefully a little wisdom).

Micky Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Micky’s troubles began when he tried to use a power that was beyond his ability and they escalated when he unconsciously allowed his imagination to run wild. Even after he woke up, his problems continued to escalate until it seemed that all hope was lost.

When viewed through the lens of mindfulness, it’s easy to draw a parallel between the use of a ‘magic hat’ and a common tendency in people to think that the answer to their troubles resides outside of themselves.

It’s also easy to see that Micky let his imagination run wild, which eventually caused him a great deal of anxiety and stress. His life was out of control and going down the drain–literally.

The inability to calm one’s mind has often been described using the term “monkey mind,” likely due to the idea that monkeys are ‘bouncing off the walls’ with energy and never sit still. This concept might be in need of redefining, since every time I’ve ever seen a monkey, they appear to be quite calm and peaceful (with the rare exception of when they are fighting or playing, but even them they seem to calm down quickly).  Perhaps we should want our minds to be like a monkey after all, but let’s take the common definition as true – that our minds can seem out of control and beyond our ability to calm.

Thoughtfulness tells us that our minds are more like puppies, eager to please us by helping to solve all the problems, both real and fictional, that we might entertain. The mind is a problem-solving computer that uses trillions of neuro-connections and pathways to inout, store, and retrieve data. It also cross-references (associates) information very quickly and presents us (the user) with myriad possible ‘solutions’ to our ‘problems.’

So rather than think of your mind like a crazy monkey (or out-of-control broom) that you need to run away from (or chop into tiny bits, as in the case of Mickey’s helper), treat your mind as you would a puppy – an eager one.

What’s the difference?

Compassion. Mickey had an adversarial relationship with his magic helper. There was no authentic, loving, compassionate relationship. Even his hat belonged to someone else. Rather than think of your thoughts as “making you crazy” – as if they don’t belong to you. Take responsibility for them, and understand that all that activity is your mind’s way of trying to help you.

A Thoughtfulness Practice:

When your mind races and fills your internal ‘movie screen’ with a seemingly endless array of anxiety-producing images, realize what is happening. Namely, your mind is working to help offer you possible solutions to situations – both real and imagined. First, have compassion and astonishment for this eager puppy-mind. I sometimes imagine that I can talk “to” my mind. I might say “Wow – look at all those thoughts you’re making! That’s amazing. You are really quite special.” I know this might seem odd, but changing your relationship with your mind changes the dynamics inside your head – and that’s a good thing.

Second, find a way to “let your mind know who’s in charge.” This could simply be to internally acknowledge the offerings of your mind, allowing the running movie to exist without following it too closely. In other words, don’t believe everything you think. Just sit back and know that it’s a movie. Enjoy the creative energy that goes into it. Be amazed – not crazed.

The difference between Monkey-Mind and Puppy-Mind is that we have compassion for the later. We understand that the busy work is our mind’s way of trying to help – AND we take responsibility for that activity, like we would for our own puppy or our child. We don’t make our mind wrong or punish it (ourselves) for having lots of thoughts. Instead, we show gratitude and interest, like we would with a child, and we continue, knowing the difference between what we think and what we are.

When we are centered in our beingness, we can allow any number of thoughts to flow through our imagination without loosing our balance or feeling overwhelmed. The key is compassion – Compassion ends Monkey-Mind and creates a loving (and often fantastical) relationship with our own thoughts.

What are your thoughts?

Share, Like and be at Peace.

 

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Matter Over Mind

September 14, 2011

How much mind do you need to use?

When you’re involved in an activity, whether it’s intense, such as working to meet a work deadline, or low-pressure, such as walking through a park, do you ever thinking about how much you need to think at that time? In other words: Have you considered to what degree to use your mind to help you?

Most of us simply let our minds do what they do, which is to continuously work at solving problems, figuring out puzzles, providing alternatives, and basically showing us all sorts of possibilities. This is normal, but is it in our best interest? If you’ve never considered using ‘less mind,” consider it now.

When do we really NEED to use the power of our mind? Of course it should be easy to think of some examples. Doing a math or geometry problem, writing a story or technical paper, reading a map, debating a topic, etc.  Most people would say that we need our minds most of the time and perhaps that is true. But could it be that there are many times when we not only do not need to use the power of our minds as much?

Consider times when you don’t need to use your mind. This could be when you’re sitting by a river, taking in the beautify with all your senses; walking in a forested area, swinging on a swing, floating in the ocean, resting, etc. These are times where there is little need for the mind. Why? Because there is no puzzle to figure out–no mystery to solve–no problem to resolve.

The problem in these situations often comes about as a result of the activity of the mind! When we are not able to allow our ‘beingness’ to be the focus, feeling the sensations of life, allowing our senses to guide us into the perfect and present moment, we begin to suffer. We suffer as our minds continue to work away at fictional problems, provide us with more and more scenarios to situations that have long past, and fill our attention with a seemingly endless stream of what-ifs.

The solution?

Thoughtfulness teaches us that our mind is a tool that we can use to help us solve complex problems. It teaches us that it is an organ inside our body, whose job it is to provide us with possibilities, solutions, and alternatives. Knowing this, we can manage the mind’s outflow of imagery and, rather than having an aversion to it’s offerings, have gratitude for this amazing resource.

So rather than saying to ourselves: “Oh my, I have ‘monkey-mind’ and I feel overwhelmed. I don’t know what to do.”, we can say (to our mind) thank you for these offerings, but I am not in need of any help right now. I have everything I need already. In this way, you can let  your mind know that you’re OK.

When we form a loving relationship with our mind, like we would with a child who is trying his best to help, we can ease the frenetic energy of the mind, and as a result, the body. We can bring our mind-body into harmony by not resisting the mind, but at the same time, not allowing the mind to run the show, so to speak.

So when we’re sitting by a river or walking in the forest, we can send a message of understanding to our mind that there’s no need to solve problems. We can say “Thank you, but not now. Perhaps later.” We can use less mind and more body. When we focus on our senses, we become more mindful of ourselves and our surroundings. We deepen our relationship with the present perfect moment and the world as it is in its true beauty. When we do that, we focus on what truly matters and find beauty reflected in ourselves and everything around us.

This is mindfulness.

This is the Thoughtfulness practice of Matter over Mind.

 

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