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Do you have a monkey mind?

Updated on August 7, 2011

So, what's up with the monkey?

Some time back, I was eating at a local sushi restaurant and, while we were waiting, the server brought out a plate of sample rolls for us to try. "What are these?" I asked. "Monkey brain," she said. I paused momentarily, then saw it was comprised of mushroom and other non-cranial parts and smiled. When I returned home, I told the kids I had monkey brain sushi. "Eew!", they said, and then stared at me. "It wasn't REAL monkey brain, was it?"

Monkeys are fascinating animals. They swing, climb, jump, goof off, chatter, screech and are more fun than a barrel of . . . . wait. We humans have always had a certain fascination with monkeys, especially with their similar features and mannerisms. One thing that's hard to imagine one of our primitive friends doing; however, is contemplating nuclear fission, or sitting cross-legged and meditating to Yanni (Ouch. Sorry, that made me wince!)

In Buddhist philosophy, the notion of a monkey mind describes a mind that jumps from issue to issue, or figuratively from tree to tree, trying to scatter about, but not being in the present moment. It conjures an image of a monkey swinging from branch to branch, lured by another banana, while he still holds an uneaten one in his hand. The person with monkey mind has trouble with focus. He stays on the surface and doesn't reflect. His mind chatters with self-defeating phrases like "I'm not good enough" and "life is hard" (see

Our tendency to compare ourselves with others, where we let our insecurities overrule our more evolved, meditative self is another example of monkey mind (i.e. "Am I prettier than her?") A monkey mind also gets overwhelmed easily by thoughts of all the actions it needs to take. It makes them seem complicated or impossible, so much so that the mind feels paralyzed and confused.

The who . . . what . . . where am I?

It's pretty pervasive today, when you think about it. We're all affected by this ceaseless cacophony of stimulation - cell phones, ipods, TVs, texting, IMs, speed dating, video conferencing, interruptions, overcommitments, etc. I absolutely love how Ellen Degeneres discusses this topic - she heads downstairs to get something, sees the cat and has to rub it's tummy, then notices the dust on the floor, goes to get a mop and gets distracted by one thing, then another, then another. We're overstimulated!

We try to sit still and all we can think about is what we have to do, whether we remembered to file our taxes, whether we remembered to tell the kids to do their homework, whether we promised a friend we'd call her back today. Not long ago, I tried this meditation technique where you imagine a 24-second digital clock - like they have at a basketball game. The objective is to visualize the 24 second clock, and completely wipe your mind clear of any other intervening thought. The number 24. Nothing else. Then, very slowly, you decrease to 23, thinking of nothing but the number. Then 22 . . . 21 . . . 20 . . . all the way down to zero. The catch is, if even for a fraction of a second, your thoughts travel to anything but the number (like a sound in the room, your comfort level, your sister's annoying phone message, your shopping list, etc.), you have to start over at 24.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? If you have as much life stimulation as I do, it can take many tries! If you can slowly and quietly go from 24 down to zero, thinking of nothing but the number, with no intervening thoughts, you will theoretically have a reached a state of meditative relaxation.

Have you ever forgotten what you were going to say . . . as it's coming out of your mouth? ;-)

More monkey business

Most of my online research refers to "taming" the monkey, and I don't know, something about that sounds wrong. ;-) But I get it - I intuitively know that part of emotional intelligence is paying attention to our thoughts and actions, and acting with deliberate intent. Not letting our thoughts take hold of us, but observing them, and choosing to hold or release a thought and let it go if it feeds the chatter, instead of our peace.

I write to reduce the chatter. Writing focuses my energies - it channels my thoughts in a direction of my choosing. I can alter and direct my moods by what I introduce and feed my mind. William James (1842-1910), the famous psychologist and philosopher (and brother of novelist Henry James), said "the greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his state of mind." In James Allen's 1902 book, As A Man Thinketh, he writes, "Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind, weeding out the wrong, useless and impure thoughts, and cultivating toward perfection the flowers and fruits of right, useful and pure thoughts. By pursuing this process, a man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life."

I'm not going to let this mindless chatter dominate me. There are so many amazing things on which I can focus my attention - my kids, my family, my lover. It's an amazing ride we're on, and we can choose to push our way through it kicking and screaming, writhing in pain, acting with superficiality or with integrity and authenticity. We can bring others down or try our best to brighten their lives in some small but meaningful way. We can laugh at circumstances and ourselves.  We're not monkeys, though we may sometimes feel that way.

William James also said, "we don't laugh because we're happy. We're happy because we laugh."

And I intend to.


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    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      No, you are definitely not! Thanks again, Ms. S...

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      6 years ago from Upstate, New York

      I, from time to time, am afflicted with Monkey Brain. Glad to know I'm not alone.

      Very interesting write.

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      That's such a surprise. ;-) I'm actually pretty audiological as well. You can tell sometimes when someone tends to write in a certain cadence that mirrors their metronome mind. Or, when they misspell, it's a word that sounds like the right one.

      Anyway, it's an interesting way to be, methinks. I know what you mean - I got through college, which was mostly lecture, test, lecture, test, lecture, big test, done. Yawn.

      I've actually gotten much better at quieting my mind. Writing helps with that. As does reading. So thanks for your continued reading, and support...


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I'm so A.D.D. it's not even funny. But then I had a test done to find out what kind of learner I was, and I scored as 100% music learner. Now wonder I had to make up songs with all the history facts I needed in order to pass my high school tests! And I have the hardest time understanding people when they're talking to me. All I hear is the tone of their voice going up and down... just like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons - a trumpet with a mute! LOL

      Great, great, awesome hub! I'm still working on quieting my mind. I am able to do it, but never around this time of the year. :D

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Thank you, Vapid Maven.

    • Vapid Maven profile image

      Vapid Maven 

      6 years ago from California

      Very nice read.. Thank you.

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Jenna and glad you found value. I'm still seeking to not be this way - writing about it is what helps me to sort through the monkey mind self. I've actually enjoyed the "Breath Sweeps Mind" book referenced above, and have broadened into reading Eckhart Tolle (Power of Now and A New Earth) and others as well.

    • JennaJackson profile image


      9 years ago

      I could not have found this at a better time. Very interesting. Definitely something to think about. I must share this with a friend. Thanks for such an interesting hub.

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from California

      Thanks Pete for the interesting perspective on this issue. I can see where there's a lot of value in visual representations like this to fully illustrate how to apply the principle of focus.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 

      9 years ago

      You are describing Attention Deficit Disorder which, in our over stiimulated world, is very common. My second passion is martial arts and we meditate at the beginning of class to clear our minds. When I teach I tell the students the difference between the knife and the hammer. You can't cut a sandwich with a hammer because the hammerhead is too wide; the energy is spread out and not focused. A knife focuses all of your energy to a tiny point for the purpose of cutting the sandwich. I tell my students, while is class, be a knife and not a hammer.

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from California

      Hi Amanda - Ode Magazine recently devoted an entire issue to the subject of silence. It's a subject that deserves a lot of thoughtful attention (maybe a future hub!) I agree, we're overstimulated on so many sensory fronts. In the morning, I let my kids play this hip hop station while I drive them to school, but as soon as I drop them off, I listen to the peaceful sound of silence. Greatest radio station ever!

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      9 years ago from UK

      Hi Gerg,

      I suffer from Monkey Brain most of the time, but writing is good, because it does help me get focussed. The trouble is that there's too much noise these days. So much in fact, that we only notice when it's silent. Our ears are attuned to hubbub. It's a good idea to direct our thoughts more, and to be more self-aware. Something I should work on.

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from California

      pgrundy - I appreciate your comments. I've read Writing Down The Bones as well and found a fountain of practical wisdom there.

      lgali - thanks for your comment!

      Best, G

    • Lgali profile image


      9 years ago

      nice article again

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I liked Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones too. I used to have a writing partner. We'd set a timer and the idea was to write as fast as we could without stopping and read what came out. Always I would get the BEST stuff this way, because there's no time for thought--what comes out can be close to original mind, or it can be pure monkey mind and hilariously so. That was fun. I miss it.

      I am attracted to this stuff because I am, in the words of my partner, "The most un-Zenlike creature on the face of the earth." I have injured myself just walking through the kitchen. But hey, those bananas aren't going to eat themselves now, are they?? Great hub! Thanks!

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from California

      Well said, MTG! I think intuitively we know what to do; the sense that something is "off" is the universal signal for that. Being able to articulate it so beautifully is a gift. Thank you for giving it.

    • Midtown Girl profile image

      Midtown Girl 

      9 years ago from Right where I want to be!

      I untie my wings and step from the edge, away from the future, dropping the past and I carry the moment. - Casey Haymes

      Focusing on the inner self (I am a good person, I choose my path, I am loved) as opposed to external stimuli (this car makes me look good, reliance on affirmation from others, coveting what another makes look easy), is the only way to true internal peace. We only have moments. Moments are easier to manage than the worry we create about a future we can’t predict.

      Our society provides many unnecessary, life-robbing “conveniences” and distractions. It is up to us as individuals to filter what we let in, and focus on what truly matters. When there is an overwhelming amount of responsibilities in one’s life, that is the most important time to stop…breathe…center. Only then can we effectively accomplish all that must be attended to. Each day we must ask ourselves what we want to accomplish (writing the next bestselling novel, a quick fix for financial freedom, solving the economic crisis), and what we need to accomplish (dinner, homework, sleep). We must differentiate between the two.

      Goals are good and necessary. Insurmountable to-do lists are not. There is little in life that requires immediacy. The idea that everything must get done…and right now, is burdensome.

      We don’t have to give in to the monkey mind theory. In the mean time…I hope you laugh.


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