Mind monkey or monkey mind, from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin’en [lit. “heart-/mind-monkey”], is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”.
Tomorrow is the six-week anniversary of my ‘release’ from my 33-year corporate identity. I wrote about my first three weeks in my last blog post, All Things Are Possible; Anatomy of a Corporate De-Tox.
During the holidays, it was relatively easy to manage the change. Most everyone was on vacation from ‘work’, so life didn’t feel too different. It was easy to be distracted by the holiday bustle. But it’s the middle of January now, and everyone else is back to normal. I, on the other hand, have absolutely no idea what constitutes normal these days.
It’s just been me and my monkey mind for the last three weeks, and it’s taken me for a pretty freaky ride.
The Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, and carrying on endlessly. Fear is an especially bossy and dangerous monkey, the one with the loudest voice, who constantly points out all the things that will most likely go wrong.
These drunken simians have been having a party in my head, 24-7, since the new year started. For sure, the Fear Monkey plays a strong leading role, but his counter-part, or foil, is one I call the Dreamer Monkey. She and the Fear Monkey have a big tug-of-war going.
It goes something like this:
Jeri and her Dreamer Monkey get an idea – say, travel to Italy for a language intensive school, or go for broke and enroll in a professional photography program. Or maybe take six months off from deciding anything, and just explore whatever comes to mind. The Dreamer Monkey and Jeri research the idea, start formulating a plan, and begin to feel the excitement in their gut. Then the Fear Monkey runs across the stage, literally takes us out at the knees, and steals the show.
The result is wild swings of action and in-action, following multiple paths while listening to two contrary monkeys. The Fear Monkey drives me to update my profile on LinkedIn and Monster, to urgently avail myself of the free career counseling services offered through my package, when I’m probably not even ready to start the process.
Today I went to the studio of a photographer friend, and had head-shots taken. I brought both classic corporate attire (black suit, diamond studs and pearls) as well as more casual clothes that might signal wide-open entrepreneurial possibilities.
Those damn monkeys are making me truly schizophrenic. I have multiple identities vying for stage time, and the director is more than occasionally incapacitated.
To use another analogy, I think it’s kind of like shooting buckshot, instead of defining the target and then aiming for a single, clear, well-aimed shot to the heart. I’m buckshot all the way right now.
The Fear Monkey plays dirty. Very, very dirty. He often comes at night, and wakes me up at 4am. For a while my strategy was to watch a movie, or escape into a novel to quiet that voice and the very unpleasant physical sensations it produced.
The Fear Monkey even kept me from writing for a few weeks. When I finally took myself and my journal to a coffee shop last week, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I examined why I had not been writing, and determined that the damn Fear Monkey had been in charge. The Fear Monkey KNEW that when I picked up my pen I would see his methods for what they were. Blockers, just coarse, but nevertheless, very effective blockers. I wrote in my journal, in something like 40-point font, STOP! JUST STOP! WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THIS OPPORTUNITY?? DO NOT GIVE IN TO FEAR.
Last night, when the Fear Monkey arrived at o’dark thirty, instead of a movie or a novel, I opened Michael Singer’s book, The Surrender Experiment, and was transfixed for several hours.
Singer, in his books The Untethered Soul and The Surrender Experiment, calls the monkey mind “The Voice.” He likens it to the experience of “sitting next to someone in a movie theatre who never, ever stops talking.” His just wants to shut it up and find peace. In The Surrender Experiment, he shares his lessons in learning to disassociate himself from it. He discovers, primarily through meditation, how to WATCH the voice, but keep his perspective as a distinct Being separate from that voice, one who can always choose whether to listen to it – or not.
I hate that Fear Monkey, but it is a constant companion. And whenever he comes, my mind and body convince me that he, and only he, is the voice of reason.
But I am getting just a little bit better at being the “Watcher”. I am not at the point yet where I can just say hello and watch him pass on by, but I can recognize his grip and just allow myself to ride the wave until he decides to let go and takes a rest.
The Buddha knew that you can not ‘fight’ with the drunken monkeys. “That which you resist, persists.”
Once Michael Singer learned to really separate and just watch The Voice, he started doing the very thing that The Voice told him NOT to do. Not fighting or resisting, but seeing it, recognizing it, and then doing what he felt the Universe was calling him to do anyway. And when he did that, marvelous things started occurring in his life. More marvelous things than he could ever have imagined.
On Sunday I leave for a Writing Retreat on Tybee Island with the author Patti Digh. My plan is to just think, dream and write, think, dream and write, while going head to head with the Fear Monkey. At this point, I don’t know who will win, but we are going to get to know each other a whole lot better.
Elizabeth Gilbert, in her latest book, Big Magic, has a whole chapter devoted to dealing with Fear. She says that Fear will always show up, particularly when you enter into realms of uncertain outcome. The Fear Monkey absolutely HATES uncertain outcomes. Fear is like “a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL. He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe”.” Gilbert makes her peace with Fear by recognizing that is part of the family, allowing it to come along in the car for the ride, and to have a voice if it must. But it absolutely, positively does NOT get a vote as to the direction they are going. Fear is NOT allowed to drive. “You must learn to travel comfortably along with your fear, or you’ll never go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting.”
I’m not comfortable with the Fear Monkey in the passenger seat just yet. He still grabs the map and rocks my world in the middle of the night, but I’m getting used to him.
I think it’s all just part of the process.
Uncertainty and Possibility, Fear and Dreaming, they go together, whatever wave you are riding.