Monkey Mind

January 25, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Freedom, Tips

Illustrative labels can help, as opposed to evaluative, judgmental ones like yesterday’s post.

I love the term “Monkey Mind.” I heard it from a friend who teaches yoga. Without hearing any explanation I immediately understood its meaning and saw how the term helped understand a concept.

When you increase your self-awareness you start to notice how your mind works. The less you know how to manage it, the more it jumps capriciously from topic to topic. When you don’t know much about your mind, you don’t notice this mental pattern. You confuse it from your world changing. You might go from happily enjoying your meal to miserably or angrily thinking about some time someone you cared about annoyed you at a dinner table just like the one you’re at.

Did anything in the outside world cause you to go from happy to miserable? No. The things in your mind that provoked the anger happened in the past. You just remembered them. If you don’t know your mind just does that, you think your world changed, or that suddenly that memory become much more important.

Like a monkey whose attention goes from one thing to the next without regard for long-term direction, the undisciplined human mind jumps from topic to topic. Like a monkey that doesn’t know the value of things beyond how it immediately affects him or her, the undisciplined mind thinks whatever it’s focusing on is the most important thing in the world. It gets angry and indignant if pulled away from its focus. Like a monkey that doesn’t feel much empathy for others, the undisciplined mind puts its interests first.

When you have monkey mind, you think and behave reactively, selfishly, arbitrarily, unaccountably, and so on. You can’t lead yourself and others when your mind only works in monkey mind mode. Or rather, you can only lead others with monkey minds. You lose freedom because things outside your control control you.

What can you do about monkey mind?

My post on meditation a few days ago reminded me of the concept and meditation is the best way I know to understand and discipline your mind to free it from the out-of-control behavior of monkey mind. Since awareness is generally the best starting point, I’d like to think this post will help too, especially if I’m introducing you to the concept.

When you discipline your mind, you can lead. You can think of the meaning of things. You can do more than just react.

On a side note, Wikipedia turns out to have a long page on Monkey Mind — apparently a well-developed Buddhist concept. Who knew?

Here’s Wikipedia’s first few sentences on it:

Mind monkey or monkey mind, from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin’en 心猿 [lit. “heart-/mind-monkey”], is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. In addition to Buddhist writings, including Chan or Zen, Consciousness-only, Pure Land, and Shingon, this “mind-monkey” psychological metaphor was adopted in Daoism, Neo-Confucianism, poetry, drama, and literature.

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3 responses on “Monkey Mind

  1. Pingback: Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness, meditation, and ordering and simplifying your life » Joshua Spodek

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