How I Learned to Stop Freaking Out & Love My Monkey Mind.

Via on Sep 3, 2012
http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124427152@N01/19426192
Photo: Salim Virji

“Unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable.”

That’s Wikipedia’s meaning for monkey mind (translated from its original Chinese and Sino-Japanese linguistic origins).

Surely that’s not all bad?

And yet, as I sit in front of my computer on this cloudy Monday morning, I feel like I would drill it out if I could. In the name of all that is good and holy, says me, cast this monkey from my mind!

This isn’t the voice that won’t hush up when I’m making my admittedly novice attempts at presence during hatha or meditation. But it’s related. And my respective personal relationships with what Eckhart Tolle calls “The Thinker” and what I shall call “Mr. Monkey” are decidedly complicated and perhaps even unhealthy.

The problem is that my approaches to The Thinker and Mr. Monkey often qualify me as a certifiable coward. Since I don’t know how best to defeat them, or how to lovingly live with them, I become putty in their sadistic, self-sabotaging hands.

When The Thinker clouds my yoga practice, I find my mind having a distinctly two-way conversation with itself:

Thinker: Why did she say that, anyway? Is it just me or was that, like, seriously passive aggressive?

Also-Thinker-Masquerading-as-Me: Hush! Hush up! Down ego! Be present! Be here now!

Thinker: But she was being passive aggressive, though, wasn’t she?

Mr. Monkey, on the other hand, seems to serve in much the same way drugs and alcohol might (monkey on your back, anyone?)—a short-term remedy to the incessant jabbering of The Thinker.

This happens strikingly often when I’m sitting in front of my computer with all sorts of productive things I could be doing. The more things I could and should be doing, the more overwhelmed I begin to feel. Enter: The Thinker.

Thinker:  Oh my gosh. This is a lot of stuff to do. Where should we start? We should make a list. What should go on the list? Everything. Can’t miss anything out. What was supposed to go on the list again? Where’s my pen? Should I put it on paper? No—let’s make a Word document. No—better yet, let’s put it on our Google calendar. Right. List about to be made…just gotta pop on over to Gmail…

Mr. Monkey:  Ooooohhhh…I completely forgot to read this week’s Brain Pickings!  Thank goodness for the reminder in my inbox! I’ll just sneak on over there for an eensy-weensy minute…

(Two. Hours. Later.)

The Thinker: Oh no! Oh crap! My time! Life is definitely disappearing before my eyes! What have I learned? What have I gained from all that time spent staring into the interweb superhighway??? I’m going to die a failure!

Mr. Monkey: Oh, chillax and stop stressing! You learned lots of things! This is all contributing the bigger picture of your writing career! You were doing research, that’s all! Now, watch these American Idol auditions from 2010 on Youtube.

And ’round and ’round I go.

I spent a lot of years working with homeless people, and consequently, I learned an awful lot about a whole gamut of things, particularly about addiction. One thing I learned is that everybody can learn stuff from AA—not just alcoholics. Also, they have a veritable plethora of excellent slogans to get through the tough moments life throws at us. One of my all time favorites:

Fake it ’til you make it.

These six little words have gotten me into such great, and out of such bad places, I can’t even begin…well, yes—of course I could begin, but then that would be my adult life story, and that’s not what this post is about, after all, is it?

This post is about The Thinker, Mr. Monkey, and figuring out how to overcome all of it using the aforementioned six little words above.

Tolle tells us to “watch the thinker.” Wise words—and I think I may have nailed the technique like three times in as many years.  It’s an extraordinary experience, and while I have no intention of giving up trying, I don’t think it’s going to get me through my day-to-day struggle with Mr. Monkey just yet.

Ostensibly, far-more-enlightened me would start to feel overwhelmed by The Thinker, and then would take a metaphorical step back, and laugh a cosmic laugh at the folly of these thoughts that are not me—just an illusion I create as a coping mechanism for my fears for the future and the pains from my past.

I would proceed to forgive me for getting distracted, and then I would begin to type, symphonically, tapping into the deepest core of my creative genius and quite possibly developing a theory for the meaning of life that transcended culture, space and time, thereby leading to world peace.

Instead, Mr. Monkey comes along and f*cks all that up.

Fake it ’til you make it works like this: I pretend I’m already far-more-enlightened me. I’m not, and The Thinker is still loud and distracting and disorienting, but right now I’m sitting at my computer, writing all about the monkey mind that has seriously interrupted my morning, aren’t I? I’m writing, and since I’m a writer, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing, right?

Faking-It-Me:  Hey, Mr. Monkey: Bam! How ya’  like me now?

There was a little tiny lie in that title—I do not love my monkey mind. I find him neither “whimsical” nor “fanciful,” and, furthermore, I have no idea why my monkey mind is a boy. I know only that for now, he’s not going anywhere…but thoughts become actions and actions become habits and habits become who we are. And if I can keep on faking it, Mr. Monkey will be left in the dust of my memories of who I was before I started making it.

Alas, I’m as yet nowhere nearer that theory for bringing world peace to its fruition. But I have, at least, finished this article. I can, at least, tick one thing off of my to-do list.

Wait. Where did I write that list in the end? Right. Gmail…

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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About Ann Halsig

Ann Halsig is a freelance writer with a background in Social Science and Ethnic Studies. She has lived and worked in the U.S., England, the Philippines and currently resides in France. You can check out her musings, meanderings and misadventures on her blog or hire her for some word whittling here.

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7 Responses to “How I Learned to Stop Freaking Out & Love My Monkey Mind.”

  1. suncitymom says:

    My "monkey" is a scarecrow constantly telling me of things that need to be done outside………and my "thinker" is reminding me that the inside of the house is where my attention and time need to be centered. Most of the time, the scarecrow wins and makes me a most happy gal……….the "thinker" will always be there whining and trying to take over the scarecrow, but thankfully retirement allows me to let the scarecrow direct my life……bad analogy I know but that's as heavy as I get on a Monday……Tuesday…….Wednesday……..yep, you guessed it!

  2. [...] Behind all of this can lurk cold fear. However, in my case, my mind does an amazing job of convincing me otherwise. [...]

  3. maxzografos says:

    great post about creating and sticking to habits. Left me wanting to do the same. Thanks

  4. memoriesofeverydaywarrior says:

    I've got a monkey in my head, too. Sometimes I think he's repeatedly thumping my version of Mr. Thinker in the noggin over and over again. We know that monkeys do what monkeys want to do, and my monkey wants me to write. He's not horribly fond of my job in health care, and thinks that microscope work is no fun (except when he thinks he sees bananas in the cellular configurations– he likes that, i think!), so he pulls out these great ideas: "Add this to that story you were working on yesterday!" "I know what happens next in that other story you're stuck on." and "Oh! Oh! Oh! Blog idea!" I find myself getting nothing done at work… well, nothing that the hospital is paying me to do, anyway. *sigh*

    I make lists, too. I put dozens of reminders in my phone, which also sends me gmail reminders. I make lists of what I've eaten so I don't overindulge, lists of what I need to do, what I want to get done in the next week or two, projects I'd like to start and/or finish, people I miss and want to try to make plans with… once I write it down, my brain feels free to roam to the next topic. If I forget to write it down, it may pester me all day, or it might leave me wondering all day what in the world I needed to remember. When my phone isn't handy for lists, I use post-it notes, thinking I'll transfer the information over to my phone later… but that doesn't happen (the monkey usually distracts me from that), and the post-its pile up. I get to most of it eventually, or change my mind and decide it's not that important after all.

  5. [...] The Monkey Mind is just one of the voices residing in my head. — How I Learned to Stop Freaking Out & Love My Monkey Mind. [...]

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