My monkey mind


The first time I tried to sit, I thought the book’s instructions were unreasonable. Clear my mind of thoughts? When a thought arises, let it go? Was that author crazy?

My mind was like a carnival. There must have been a thousand noisy things completing all at once for my attention. Chaos ruled in there. I’ve heard people say they counted their breaths at first, to try to get a grip on all that cacophony — I couldn’t even focus on my breath long enough to count past two.

There was a period of time when I felt enormously frustrated with my lack of progress. I’d been sitting daily for about a year, and my mind would still escape from me, go off to plan my breakfast, or to replay some TV show from the previous night. Irritation came often. I would get up and feel grumpy. Not doing this right, damn it, I would think.

But I kept on sitting. And I read, in my eclectic way, and somehow a lot of things I read at that time seemed to be pinpointing exactly what I was feeling. One text in particular (I forget which one) said something like — if you are frustrated, you’re making a mistake. If you’re dissatisfied with your practice, then that means you want something. You can’t want something. There is no goal. There is only the practice, moment by moment.

So I sat with that. I sat with wanting nothing. I sat with no goal. I stopped reading about techniques and just sat down with one direction. Right Effort, I told myself. Or, “What am I? Only don’t know.” Or, “Save all beings.” (That one is a bit more challenging.) But no counting, no special breathing, no rules. Ah, a thought. It can go. Another thought. Okay. It can go too. Ah, heck, I was away for a bit, wasn’t I? I’m here now. Here. Now. Then no thinking. And no thinking.



6 responses

  1. If you think of the mind as a sense organ (which I think it is), it is as impossible to stop it from having that incessant chatter as it is to stop your eyes from seeing or your ears from hearing. If there is chatter, then that is what the meditation is about. Achieving a sustained state of a silent mind is not the practice, rather it is the act of returning to concentration, over and over and over.

  2. I am sure you are correct, @Dai Chi, but I would modify one part of what you said. I think it is possible to cut through the “incessant chatter.” It is not possible to stop all thinking — thoughts will come. It is, as you said, what the mind does. It is the mind’s function, just as seeing is the function of the eyes.

    Through our practice of returning (always returning) to attention, to awareness, to concentration, we are able to isolate the thoughts, separate them, calm them, observe them. Our thoughts do not need to come always as an uncontrollable flood that sweeps us away!

  3. Really nice post. I feel that we can’t “stop” anything, only observe them, from a neutral place, and as we do, we find that organically they lose their intensity, and we are able to return to the present with ease. But that process is an organic one over which we have no control. Practice, return, that is all we can do. The right effort.

  4. I find it a challenge to be “okay” with how things actually are. How can I be “okay” with the back-seat-driver mind? How can I be “okay” with all the chatter when Dae Soen Sa Nim said to keep a mind clear like space? It’s still a mystery to me.

  5. When you consider thoughts, mental chatter, emotions, or any turbulence in your mindstream as ultimately empty, then they will lose their power. That’s the protection of Shunyata.

    But on a relative level, the fact that you even notice your thoughts and chatter is already saying that you are being aware. And the more aware you are, the more it will appear like your chatter is incessant, like a waterfall. That’s actually great progress! You should congratulate yourself!

    One of my fave quotes from a teacher is: “The mind that sees confusion cannot be confused.”

  6. Nishijima Roshi wrote:

    “When we sit in Zazen for one minute, we have already become Buddha for one minute.”

    Thoughts come and go, no big deal. Just letting go, just practicing day after day, everyday, continuosly.

    Thank you for your post.

    With palms together,