Why You’ll Never Stop the Monkey Mind and What to Do About It

It doesn’t matter if you consult Buddhist, Hindu, Sufi, Christian gnostic, or some other tradition, meditation is always a good idea. However, many of us have gotten confused about what meditation truly is. Sitting down and shutting up isn’t a way to stop the “Monkey Mind,” but a way to observe what the mind was designed to do – which is think. You’re likely never going to stop the chatter going on in your head, but here’s what you can do about it – and what your meditative time should really aim for.

The Buddha described the “Monkey Mind” or the mental state of constant thinking with the word, “Kapicitta.” Citta, in Sanskrit means roughly, “mind.” Kapi means “ever-moving,” like the monkey swinging from branch to branch without cessation. This analogy perfectly captures what our minds do, incessantly, day and night. As soon as we think one thought, another arises. The previous thought disappears, and we’re on to the next one.

All we need to do when we sit and be quiet, as this is the first step in conquering what is causing all those crazy thoughts, is to observe them. Underneath all the mental chatter, is an egoic artifice holding up the narrative of who, and what we are. Observing our thoughts allows us see this for what it is.

The Monkey Mind, or our egoic mind, as you might more accurately call it, thrives on stimulation. “More, more, more!” says the Monkey Mind. More sights, more sounds, more people, more noise, more consumer goods, more arguments about politics – anything, and everything that would keep us from hearing the still, small voice that lies underneath all that chatter.

The problem is that if we never sit and observe the Monkey Mind, it turns into a big hairy Gorilla. It gets kind of pissed that we aren’t paying attention to it, so it will wear us out both mentally and physically.

Ironically, this is often the only time that we finally sit down and shut up, and start to listen to what’s going on internally. So, though the Monkey Mind is a beast, as it were, it also can lead us back to the Divine, which is calm, collected and full of wisdom.

When we sit to meditate, we aren’t going to calm the incessant thoughts, but when we observe the stream of them – like clouds floating by in a sky – as is often taught – we get to start to choose which thoughts to follow. Then, something else kind of miraculous occurs.

We start to observe an extremely tiny gap between the thoughts. This usually only happens after years of meditating for some folks, but others notice it rather quickly. This gap signifies that we are not our thoughts. The thoughts are just something that is occurring. We can choose to align with those thoughts, or choose different ones.

That small gap in between our thoughts is priceless, because otherwise, we are swept away with whatever flood of subconscious egoic garbage is floating in our river of consciousness. With the recognition of the gap, it can also grow large enough that we can literally change our conscious choices in the present moment, realizing that about 99 percent of our thoughts are conditioned by our past, or are worries about our future.

You can’t really stop the Monkey Mind from swinging tree to tree. The conscious brain is meant to keep moving, but you can slow it down, and tame it just enough to start to exert highly conscious control over the subconscious nonsense that is running the show behind the curtains.

Mediation is like giving that crazy monkey a banana. It may not keep it busy for long, but we only need a few seconds to take control over our lives, and choose to be more peaceful, kind, loving, and open. So, the next time you sit down to meditate, don’t get frustrated with your Monkey Mind. It’s going to do what it does. Just observe what it is telling you, and wait for the gap. The observe that. You’ll start to develop a greater awareness of who you really are, and what you were meant to do, without ever having to chain your monkey to a tree.

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