Saturday, February 6, 2010

quieting the monkey mind

Anyone who has ever practiced any form of yoga or meditation will have experienced the monkey mind. The monkey mind jumps from one thought to another like a monkey jumping from tree to tree, and it does it at the most inappropriate moments.

In the second verse of his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali talks about chitta vritti nirodhah or the ability to control and still the movements of the mind so that the true self or Atman can be seen without distortion or distraction. Only then are we truly practicing yoga. Only then are we truly practicing meditation. Only then are we able to enter sat-chit-ananda, a state of conscious bliss.

Apart from very brief and occassional moments; one notable one in a hotel room in Katmandhu, the state of sat-chit-ananda has mostly eluded me mainly because of the constant distraction of my monkey mind.

We've all been there, sitting on our meditation cushions pretending to look calm and serene when really our mind is racing ten to the dozen like a duck's legs as it paddles along, producing a stream of consciousness of which Joyce would be proud.

"Goodness I'm uncomfortable."
"I wonder if I'm sitting up straight enough."
"I'm hungry."
"Must remember to buy some washing up liquid on the way home."


It happens in asana practice as well.

"Hmmmm... she's very bendy, I wish I looked like that."
"oooh nice yoga trousers/tattoo/navel piercing."
"I'm hungry."
"Must remember to buy some washing up liquid on the way home."

And I don't know about you dear reader, but even away from my mat and cushion my monkey mind is in overdrive. Whilst looking for one thing, I will find another and begin an entirely new search at a wholly impractical time. I will be distracted by a shiny button and right now the monkey mind is in overdrive about an exciting new development in my writing. Now this is all well and good, but there is a time and a place for everything.

In this year of mindfulness it is more important than ever before for me to be conscious of my monkey mind and at least attempt to deal with it when it strikes.

Personally I have always found focus on the breath the best way to bring the awareness back to the present, to the here and now. One practice that works for me is feeling the breath travelling up and down the body and this can be done anytime, lying, sitting, standing, during asana practice, whilst doing the washing up, wherever you choose!

As you inhale visualise the breath travelling up the body from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, filling up the whole body with energy and vitality. As you exhale visualise the breath travelling down the body from the top of the head to the soles of the feet taking with it tiredness and tension. A few rounds of this breath can soon bring you back to the moment, and the task in hand.

As for the achievement of of chitta vritti nirodhah, well all I can do is keep practicing. Maybe one day. In the meantime I take solace in something Tara once told me. Like sleep, we can set up the perfect environment for meditation, but like sleep, we cannot force it to come.



La Gitane said...

Having a somewhat troubled theoretical relationship with monkeys (and a very troubled real one... grr... little pests!!), I prefer the "butterfly mind"...

But the butterfly mind, like the monkey, is so easily distracted... I am particularly (in)famous for listening to a conversation and then forgetting it immediately because my butterfly fluttered on elsewhere... Not very mindful at all!!

Lovely post. :)

Inca Maia said...

It is such a relief to hear that even yoga teachers are not immune from the butterfly/monkey and need to work to achieve the state of quiet mind.

Thank you, I'm most grateful for this. Monkey mind is part of the reason why I have (nearly) given up on yoga.

We cannot force it to come indeed. We can only work on getting better at bringing it about. :)

Eco Yogini said...

oh i totally have the monkey mind. it's slowly improving, verbal cues sometimes work.... :) love your thoughts on this!

kathleen said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this topic Rachel. I find that the first step in mastering the monkey mind is learning to observe its antics without judgement...I'm getting there slowly. Perhaps one day I'll figure out how to send him on his way but in the meantime I try not to join in.
Also if I focus my mind on a particular part of my body as I work in the asana I find the monkey loses interest.

Rand(Om) Bites said...

The monkey mind plays a part in my practice more often than not also but at a meditation class I went to, the mentor just told us to go with it. Let it arise but then let it go at the same time by not dwelling on it. I think that helped me so much more than people telling me I should just be able to control it and my practice is not true if I can’t. It feels more organic to let is arise and naturally pass so it doesn’t mess with me instead of trying to deny it and making it more of a barrier. It’s all about focusing on the current task at hand too I think and I agree about the focus on the breath. I always try to do too much and when you do too much, there’s less quality over quantity. Oh, and now...I must remember to buy some washing up liquid on the way home, ha!