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Your thoughts and a monkey mind

Updated on June 27, 2012

The Writer

The writer has been a practitioner of Vipassana or Insight Meditation for over twenty-five years.
The writer has been a practitioner of Vipassana or Insight Meditation for over twenty-five years.

If we sit quietly and really listen to our thoughts...

A long time ago the famous Indian sage, Swami Vivekenanda, said that most of us have ‘monkey minds.’ What did he mean by this?

If we sit quietly and listen to our own thoughts, without our becoming immersed in what is actually coming up, we will find that there is no continuity; no continuous flow. In fact, we might find ourselves – perhaps for the first time in our lives - in total silence. But holding on to that silence isn’t an easy thing to do. This is because for all of our lives we have just let our attention wander, jumping from one topic to another as suits our ‘attention’s whim.’ Occasionally, and very temporarily, we interrupt this to concentrate on something. For example, when we’re listening intently we are concentrating. When we read we concentrate. When we talk to someone with a purpose, rather than just babbling some automatic reply, we also concentrate. When we write or type we think about what we’re doing even though a part of our unconscious mind is assisting us in performing these manipulative tasks.

Our mind goes elsewhere much of the time. We are not in 'The Now.'

Moreover, when we climb on a bicycle for the first time we’re also fully concentrated. We don’t want to hurt ourselves. But, like driving a car, after a while it becomes habitual. Then our mind goes elsewhere for much of the time. The monkey mind is back.

You could say that we definitely concentrate when we’re threading a darning needle, or trying line up a screw driver with a hard- to-get- at screw. But for most of the time we let ourselves be drawn into the automatically rising thought-stream; this stream generally being a continuing verbal discourse. More often than not it is dialogue. And when it isn’t, it can be a series of imaginary people we might be discussing something with – even arguing a point. And all this completely undisciplined activity is assumed by the majority of us to be the way it should be. Even our trained psychologists assume this is normal.

The King of Bhutan

Buddhist Meditation is a way of life in Bhutan.  Rather than Gross National Product, this kingdom opts for Gross National Happiness - the only nation in the world to do so.
Buddhist Meditation is a way of life in Bhutan. Rather than Gross National Product, this kingdom opts for Gross National Happiness - the only nation in the world to do so.

We drift on an endless collection of thoughts and call this 'thinking'

In other words we spend the greater part of our lives drifting on a seemingly endless collection of thoughts, ideas, along their attendant reactions and emotions and, in the main, letting life happen to us. Now and again we set to with a determination to undertake something. We set goals. But for the greater part of our day we are not working on our goals but rather, going along with what is washing onto to the beachfront of our consciousness. This can be news headlines. Sports results. Chatter about the weather – anything.

Can you control your attention voluntarily for just 60 seconds?

To reiterate, most of us have what Swami Vivekenanda said, way back around 1900, as ‘monkey minds.’ We have little or no discipline over them. If you think I’m wrong, just look at an object, take a real good look, and then determine that you will keep that object in your ‘mind’s eye’ for just sixty seconds. I’m betting that within far less than a minute your attention will be whisking you away from that task. The monkey will have jumped to another branch. You – that is your will – will have lost out again. What I’m saying here is that most of us do not have our attention under the control of our wills – most of the time. Something else is in charge here.

Unlike dogs, cats really are independent thinkers

Total relaxation but alert and attentive at the same time.  We can learn a lot from cats
Total relaxation but alert and attentive at the same time. We can learn a lot from cats

A Giant within which so often wants its own way

That something else has enormous power. It is like an huge bull elephant or massive buffalo in strength compared with that of the usual, self-willed human being most of us are. This tremendous power can become our loyal assistant. It can become our great ally. But only if we train it. Until it is trained it has a will of its own. At present it is sometimes in alignment with our desires, at other times it is not. We need to make it our good servant at all times. If we do, then we will be truly aligned to a ‘Giant Within.’ And once this alignment is made greatness is simply a matter of choice.

Are you really in charge of your life?

So, if we want this sort of improvement in our lives, the very first thing we have to do is to knuckle down to this task of bringing our minds under the control of our will. It is the first, and probably the hardest step in moving ourselves towards the life we really want. With that, I leave you to decide. Do you want to rule over your life? Or are you content to retain your Monkey Mind?


Submit a Comment

  • Tusitala Tom profile imageAUTHOR

    Tom Ware 

    6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    The only way I've been able to bring about a reasonably long period of quiet - that is non verbal thought - is by a ten day sojourn in a 'serious' meditational retreat such as are run at a Vipassana Meditation centre. But once experienced, and knowing it can be done at first hand, you realize how peaceful your life can be.

    Unfortunately, a few days back into the busy world again, the old habit of verbal thought returns.

    It is said that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, so I'm assuming that if one could maintain silence for a month, it would become the mind's normal state.

  • Virtual Treasures profile image

    Kacie Turner 

    6 years ago from Michigan

    Excellent hub! Gives you a lot of information to consider. The mind truly is powerful, and if you can step outside of what most consider normal and never question, you can do a lot of powerful things!

  • thumbi7 profile image

    JR Krishna 

    6 years ago from India

    Especially after a busy day, there will be a train of thoughts and very difficult to focus our attention to the work at hand.

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful piece

  • Deborah Brooks profile image

    Deborah Brooks Langford 

    6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

    i think I need to find my monkey mind.. what great information for us to go by.. thank you for sharing

    i voted way way up



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