Both Buddhist and Hindu teachings address controlling the monkey mind, but this didn’t make much sense until I travelled to India. In Andhra Pradesh monkeys scampered along the roadsides and populated villages. They sat at temples and ate the offerings to Ganesha or Gayatri. When curious visitors offered them cucumbers or bananas, they would grab them, nibble an instant and then move onto a mango that someone else offered. Their ability to focus on anything for more than a brief instant seemed virtually impossible. They were also inclined to mischief. A gang of them climbed up the drain pipes and into windows of rooms at the ashram and dragged out tape players, razors and anything they could find. When they became bored with their finds they would toss them three or four stories to the ground as dismayed onlookers yelled at them to stop.
Monkeys and their ways of living have been metaphors in Asian religions for millennia. They are outer images of how our minds work when we leave them to wander untrained and untamed. Most meditation practices focus on how to tame and train the mind. The mind is viewed as an instrument and we can teach it the way a trainer would teach a monkey to perform. But like teaching a wild monkey, it takes a great deal of effort, patience and perseverance to begin to see results. Often we are so caught up in the mind and its machinations that we think we are the mind. It’s only when we begin to step into the deeper place of meditation that we see it as a tool that we, as the deeper Self, can control. There’s no quick, easy way to achieve a quiet, calm mind. Most wisdom traditions offer ideas and different ways will work for different people. I started with one-minute meditations. I sat in a comfortable chair with my back straight and focused the mind for one minute on a sacred image or a candle flame. Each time my mind would wander. At first I would become angry with it. But that served no purpose. I slowly began to observe it and when I noticed it had wandered off I gently brought it back to the image or the flame. It’s best to treat the mind like a little boy. Don’t expect it to bow to your whims and don’t be harsh. Cajole and urge it back. Encourage it to be present and when it wanders off again, gently bring it back again.
Today observe your mind. Realize that you are not your mind. The mind is a sacred instrument when it is used for sacred purposes. Begin to tame and train your mind by focusing for one minute on some object or flower that you love. Try it and see what happens. How did you do?
Bio: Debra Moffitt is author of Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2011). She is devoted to nurturing the spiritual in everyday life. Debra leads workshops on spiritual practices at the Sophia Institute and other venues in the U.S. and Europe. Her mind/body/spirit articles, essays and stories appear in publications around the world and were broadcast by BBC World Services Radio. Find out more at: http://awakeintheworld.com and http://www.debramoffitt.com.