The term “monkey mind” was originally coined by Zen Buddhist monks to describe the condition of your mind racing from one thought to the next, creating mental churn that saps you of vital life force energy. We here in the Western world experience it as that which keeps us in busywork mentality, feeling overwhelmed, susceptible to taking on too much and having really long, sleepless nights.
While monkey mind has come to have a negative connotation, it also has a vital purpose. The reason it exists is to process information necessary for both survival and problem-solving. These are functions that are as significant as any other body function; the challenge is that, by virtue of its role, it continuously handles information. Monkey mind is activated due to system overload when there is more information than mental processing bandwidth. Myth has it that there is more information in one Sunday edition of The Wall Street Journal than there was available for an entire lifetime when Thomas Jefferson lived, so you can see where our innate mind has learned to race to keep up.
Knowing that the monkey mind has a viable and valuable job helps to honor when it takes an active role in your life. However, there are three secrets that, when you know them, can completely change your understanding of how you are living your life.
The first secret of the monkey mind is that it is your servant. That is, you have the power to consciously direct it’s activities through focus and addressing whatever it is working on in the moment. The din of the monkey mind is similar to that created in a room full of people having individual conversations – all together, it just makes noise. However, if you handle each conversation individually, they begin to make sense. In the monkey mind, these conversations are information that you may need to know; if you acknowledge what your servant is doing, reporting or working on, your monkey mind will move on. It requires, however, that you being present to your monkey mind to allow information processing.
The second secret of the monkey mind is that it processes by opposition. That is, we live in a world of duality where every item/condition/state of being has its’ opposite. For example, up has down, left has right, and masculine has feminine. The monkey mind is trained through our Western socialization development to function by repetition and in a linear fashion. Therefore, it will chug down a linear thought path, which becomes a pattern over time.
The idea is that the monkey mind can, as a result of repetition and logical order, accordingly and effectively handle the issues that challenge us most, such as whether to move or stay put, to pay down debt or make an investment, to get a new job or start a business. There are many conflicting desires in our world that cause the monkey mind to become activated. The secret is in knowing that it processes by opposition, so if you feed it with lots of potentially conflicting information, it will eventually sort it all out for you in a linear fashion.
The third secret of the monkey mind is that its’ voice is the loudest when you are making big change for yourself or have the opportunity to do so. Remember, its job is to protect and provide information for survival. If your status quo is threatened in any way, even if you wanted and initiated the change, your monkey mind will intervene to let you know there’s an influx of new information. The key to appreciating this secret is that it can be your indicator that you are on your right path to creating significant change in some way.
While the monkey mind has limited wisdom in some ways, knowing these three secrets can mean the difference from letting it make you crazy to allowing it to help you in a more meaningful way.