The Buddha apparently described the human mind as being filled with drunk monkeys, endlessly chattering, jumping around, and screeching. Picturing my mind filled with monkeys jumping around is one thing, but drunk monkeys? This is hilarious. And brilliant.
And a great band name.
But it’s true, isn’t it? When I become aware of what is happening in my own mind at any given moment, I notice I am not at peace. I am not present. I am agitated, unsettled, and discontent. I am constantly being pulled away from what I’m doing and worrying about something else.
- I’m wondering how many people have bought my book and why Bono hasn’t called me about it yet.
- I’m judging myself for eating too much at dinner.
- I’m mad at my kids for being too loud and for never listening (come to think of of it, they are a little like drunk monkeys sometimes, too).
- I’m rehearsing an imaginary conversation I need to have.
- I’m worried about the critical email I got earlier in the day.
- I’m anxious about how I’ll get all my reading done for the class I’m taking at the end of the month.
The drunk monkeys are banging their drums while I’m trying to engage in something that’s actually happening, like having a conversation with someone, or driving, or watching tv, or preparing a sermon (and believe it or not, sometimes while preaching as sermon). Is this multitasking? If it is, I say we declare war on multitasking. Let’s be the generation that learns how to do one thing at a time again.
Let’s be the generation that learns how to play Uno together at night, how to be with each other without technology, and how to have office hours for email (even our personal email). Let’s rediscover the joy of gazing out the window with a cup of coffee and nothing else. Let’s be the generation that relearns how to listen. To God, to ourselves, and to others. Let’s be the generation who learns how to wait.
I think about Jesus, and I wonder about his eyes. When those eyes looked at you, what happened to the drunk monkeys? Were they tamed for a moment, stunned by the singularity of focus that Jesus must have brought to his interactions with people?
There was this time that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, and a demon possessed man suddenly jumped up and screamed at him, uncontrollable, raging. Go there in your mind. Try to picture what was happening in the room. Look at the 11 year old boy who had read the Torah portion that morning, eyes bulging in fear, wondering what would happen next. Hear the old man with three chins who had been dozing jerk up from his slumber with a snort and a grunt. Watch the eyes of Jesus, blazing and burning, a fire that was simultaneously threatening and kind.
Jesus calmed the monkeys. With a word, he cast them out, and they left. Now see this man, suddenly at peace, maybe for the first time in his life. His own sober eyes finally found the calm eyes of Jesus, and when he did, he found rest for the first time in his life.
I’m not saying our monkey minds are demons. I am saying there is something to be done about taming those drunk monkeys so that you can be more still. So that you can learn to be more present to God, ourselves, and others. It is possible to be less controlled by those drunk monkeys, banging their drums and taking you away from where you are.
What would it be like to be present to God in the small moments as well as the big ones? What would it be like to be present to others, or even to yourself? What would it be like if the buzzing phone in your pocket really wasn’t such a temptation when you were actually with another human being?
Lately I’ve been taking 10 minutes each morning to meditate. For those of you that are freaked out by that term, just replace it with “learning to be present to God.” I focus on my breathing, in and out. I notice what’s happening in my body, where there is pain, where there is a feeling of ease. I notice my mood, where there is a sense of anxiety, or joy, or anticipation, or worry. I am beginning to learn to notice those things without judgment, which is no small thing.
Every time the monkeys chatter (and they do all the time, especially during my meditation), I am learning just to calmly return to my breath.
I’ve been doing this almost every day for about a month now, and I’m noticing that practice is slowly making its way into my actual life. Last week, I was freaking out about something while sitting in my office. Suddenly, I remembered to come back and be present to my breathing. So I put down what I was doing, started breathing, and I looked up at my office wall, where there is a picture of each of my three sons as babies, with me holding them. There’s also a picture of me and the guys with whom I ran the Grand Canyon. As I looked at those pictures, I breathed in, and then out. In, and then out.
And for a moment, the drunk monkeys were silenced. And it was a gift.
I have been using a great app called Headspace to help me meditate. There are lots of apps out there, but I like this one a lot.
In it together, friends.