Ideas, thoughts and feelings jump around in our heads all day long — like a monkey in a tree. Sometimes we are conscious of them, other times not. Try sitting quietly in a room just counting each inhale and exhale of your breath without loosing track of the count. How high can you count with out some thought interfering?
Well, it is OK to have a thought come up, but if you follow that thought to the next thought (the monkey jumping to a new branch) then you may loose count of your breaths. Give it a try (if you haven’t already). Tell me how you do.
I was challenged to do this counting exercise decades ago. I thought it would be simple to sit and count breaths for 20 minutes. After just five minutes of counting, I jumped up very frustrated. Two years later, a bit more skilled, I could now fall asleep with little effort (which had been a problem for years) and I was much less quick to anger.
This metaphor of taming the monkey mind is common in Buddhism and Yoga where it is used to illustrate how our minds are restless, unsettled, and undisciplined. Learning to focus the mind is considered a very valuable skill. Once we can calm ourselves during meditation, it is easier to practice the same focus in our daily activity. Some people can skip the meditation because they practice this sort of activity in some aspect of their normal daily life. For instance, I may also practice this when I am swimming laps (usually about 40 laps). Keeping track of laps without letting thought distract me is very difficult.
But what do you do when a thought comes up. How do you deal with that thought? How can you avoid thoughts before they emerge. There are many ways to work with the thoughts that inevitably bubble up during periods of concentration. I will talk about a few of them in a coming post. Taming the monkey mind is considered a starting place in many meditative practices. For me, it was more than enough for a couple of years — actually, it still is almost all I can handle !
Wiki Article on: Monkey Mind