Pensive monkey

Photo by Paolo Nicolello via Unsplash.

Monkey Mind is a Buddhist term for mental noise.  It’s what can happen when (if you’re lucky) you are having a massage and trying to enjoy the experience.  If you are like I am, focusing on a massage is difficult because there is so much swirling around my brain:  to-do lists, the sound of steps in the hall, the masseuse’s breathing, my itchy nose and–the granddaddy of them all–self-reproach for the inability to relax and enjoy the experience.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a morning meditating with my son and daughter-in-law and 20 of their fellow-Buddhists in a zendo in the Sierra foothills.  The meditation period was divided into four 30-minute segments with 10-minute breaks between each of the sessions.  If your idea of Buddhism is that it is an easy-going sort of practice, scotch that idea immediately.  The sessions are precisely timed, the meditation cushions are set out in a pattern around the room and there is a gong for every segment of the proceedings.

Clearing one’s Monkey Mind is difficult.  To make it easier, many meditators count their breaths.  One breath in, one breath out:  1-1, 2-2, 3-3—up to 10.  I use this system when I go to sleep at night and it works well.  But at the zendo there was so much noise in my fevered brain that I would get up to 23 or more before I reined my thoughts in and went back to one.  The brain noise felt literal:  a marching band of worries, physical discomfort from sitting still, self-recrimination for being unable to concentrate and repressed giggles at the various digestive noises in the room.  When the occasional period of clarity made an appearance, it was exciting (in a calm kind of way, of course).



About Alexis

Alexis Rankin Popik, author of Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, is an award-winning short story writer whose work has appeared in The Berkshire Review and Potpourri Magazine. She has penned numerous articles about local history that have been published in Connecticut Explored and the University of Connecticut School of Law and The Hartford Seminary publications. A former union organizer, Popik traveled the country educating shipyard workers about health and safety and founded a labor-management health plan before turning to writing fiction full-time. She lives with her husband in New England.
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