Friday, February 11, 2011

Monkey Mind

I can prattle away to God about all my feelings and my problems all the livelong day, but when it comes to time to descend into silence and listen...well, that's a different story. When I ask my mind to rest in stillness, it is astonishing how quickly it will turn (1) bored, (2) angry, (3) depressed, (4) anxious or (5) all of the above. Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the "monkey mind" - the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl. From the distant past to the unknownable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined. This in itself is not necessarily a problem; the problem is the emotional attachment that goes long with the thinking. Happy thoughts make me happy, but - whoop! - how quickly I swing again into obsessive worry, blowing the mood; and then it's the remembrance of an angry moment and I start to get hot and pissed off all over again; and then my mind decides it might be a good time to start feeling sorry for itself, and loneliness follows promptly. You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love, (New York: Viking Penguin, 2006), 132.
Gilbert's description of religion & spirituality is very interesting. At times I think she takes the easy route and uses a form of universalism to support her inability to choose truth. However, I do think she narrows in on some key concepts that are very applicable to my own life. For most of her time in India, she is highly focused on meditation and its practical benefits. She spends her time searching for the proper way to meditate as well as spend time in solitude & silence. All of these are invaluable spiritual disciplines. And uniquely I find my own life a mirror image of her's in terms of struggling to sit still, silence myself and actually listen to God.

Rest in stillness. My mind never seems to do that and frankly I am not completely sure how to make it. I admire the idea of retreating to a place that would cut me off from the hustle & bustle of every day life. I don't have the luxury of seeking seclusion in India, but I do think the first step in finding quietness for my mind is seeking an environment that would could help encourage it. The other key point is being a slave to my emotions. How easily true this is of me. I often find my actions & speech reflective of my current wave of emotions. The danger of my monkey mind - is that certain emotions & thought processes can easily derail me.

So now I am left with - how do I accomplish what Liz Gilbert set out to accomplish? Where do I go & how do I take it upon myself to accomplish a mind that seeks stillness? And even more importantly - what am I missing by being the only one talking in my relationship with God?