In Buddhism and Yoga, the mind is often referred to as the “Monkey Mind”. This describes it’s nature of having a short attention span and being easily distracted. Like a manic monkey it often refuses to take orders from the master.
You have a mind…you are not a mind. Meaning that the mind can be divided into four functions; Manas (sensory processing), Chitta (memory), Ahamkara (ego) and Buddhi (pure intellect). If your monkey is being lead by Manas, it is reactive to sensory input, a primitive response to whatever is happening. If your monkey is wrapped up in Chitta, it is responding from memory and seeing the present from a past perspective. If your monkey is being Ahamkara, it is identifying with the ego and probably pumping it up and protecting it with great resolve. If your monkey is guided by Buddhi, then it is operating from pure intelligence and not swayed by the senses, memory or ego. This is akin to our intuition or pure knowing, it’s the other parts of the mind that make it hard to hear our intuitive voice which tends to be softer.
Of course, we don’t just operate with one aspect of the mind at a time. All parts of the mind are working in concert all the time. However, they may not be producing sweet music together. Whatever we allow our monkey to dwell on and obsess over becomes our reality. We need all these parts of the mind to function in life. They are not good or bad, it’s about understanding the process so that you are the master and not the slave. Without the senses we could not enjoy all the beauty of the world and connect with others. If we didn’t have memory, we couldn’t learn and journey forward on our path with understanding. If we didn’t have an ego, we wouldn’t have a sense of individuality and a creative platform to express ourselves and interact with others. Without Buddhi, we would simply operate from the other aspects and it would be difficult to ever evolve and transcend this experience of life.
We can train our monkey mind using eight steps, the Eight Limbs of Yoga described by the great Indian sage Patanjali. First we take responsibility for our behavior (Yamas and Niyamas) and we practice Asana and Pranayama to quiet down the body and increase our vitality and energy flow. We also work with Pratyahara (separating from the senses), Dharana (deep contemplation into the nature of life) and Dhyana (meditation, single-pointed focus) which is the ultimate way to train your monkey to stay in one place.
Understanding the way the mind operates is essential to it’s mastery. We can apply this awareness daily by noticing which aspects of our mind are in control. Our thoughts are like the seeds of fruit, it’s our responsibility to notice which ones we are cultivating to ripen. Some seeds will grow into beautiful experiences and understanding, some will be poisonous to our heart and soul, some we will hold onto until they become rotten. We have thousands of thoughts everyday. We want to train our monkey to go after the positive, nourishing fruit and train it to stay in one tree rather than jumping from place to place. This is the meaning of mediation.
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