By Linda Oshins
Monkey mind: A Buddhist term meaning , “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable.” Wikipedia
I recently returned from the 10-day silent retreat I do annually with Richard Miller, and this one was particularly rough. Every year, I go through upheavals on retreat, as expected. I grieve as the ego dies, or in my case it’s more like the ego loses its job as the reputed boss of everything. I rehire it a couple months later, but with a better understanding of its true nature and function. This retreat was so hard because the ego held onto its job. It was as though I hadn’t meditated for 35 years. I watched over and over again as the mind wandered into the past or future, into stories about myself—Linda the wise and benevolent, the (I hate to admit it) spiritually evolved, or Linda the flawed, the petty, the unfeeling, the unloving. But always Linda, Linda, Linda!
I did everything I counsel new meditators not to do. I drifted into fantasy, even though I could clearly see myself doing it; I engaged in it, enjoyed or was dismayed by the story itself, then hated myself for doing it. I had all the regular knee-jerk reactions—blame, shame, jealousy. I didn’t, for example, just watch whatever arose. I fought. My years of meditating just let me see the process more clearly and stay present for every excruciating moment. The mundane nature of the repetition was appalling.
Of course, this was a wonderful lesson. Pema Chodron says, “When we start out on a spiritual path we often have ideals we think we’re supposed to live up to. We feel we’re supposed to be better than we are in some way. But with this practice you take yourself completely as you are. Then ironically, taking in pain—breathing it in for yourself and all others in the same boat as you are—heightens your awareness of exactly where you’re stuck.” My gripe was that I wasn’t “starting out,” but apparently I am.
During retreat my good friend Julie told a story. Actually she sang a song and told the story behind it. It goes like this. During the Raj, the British built a golf course in India. But the monkeys took the balls and moved the balls. So the British rounded up the monkeys and took them elsewhere but of course there are lots of monkeys in India and they took the balls and moved the balls. So the British built a high wall around the whole golf course, but the monkeys climbed the wall and took the balls and moved the balls. Running out of options, the British changed the rules. You have the play the ball from where the monkey puts the ball.
I’m practicing yoga nidra and/or sitting meditation every day. My monkey mind puts the ball here and there. The nature of the lesson is unfolding and sometimes there’s no lesson. Just awareness.
Linda Oshins teaches pranayama and meditation Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings from 8:15 5o 9:15.