Loving the monkey

Mindsprings Loving the monkey Blogpost

This is a tidied up transcript of an answer I gave in the Live Sessions in December 2020. Chuck, sitting with his dog in front of his Christmas tree, was worried that he was having to visualise and discipline himself to keep on track with the 3 object practice we were exploring...

OK, so here’s the thing, I would give yourself a holiday from that.  I’m not a great fan of the discipline meditations where you stay with the visualisations, stay with the breath. 

I was always like, “Screw you. I don’t want to do that.”  I want to go off and do something else. And I think it is a natural human thing that when someone tells you,  “Don’t think of a white polar bear, don’t think of a white polar bear!”, that, of course, you’re going to think of a white polar bear. 

But I would just relax. Don’t visualise a Christmas tree. Just look at a Christmas tree. Just open your eyes and look at it. You don’t actually have to do anything. 

It’s an add-on. Your eyes are perfectly good at seeing a Christmas tree and taking that in and they automatically create a visual image for you in your brain. 

There’s something iffy and tyrannical about the poor monkey always being this mischievous thing that can’t keep still and keeps jumping around

But you don’t have to do anything on top of that. You don’t have to recognise it or do anything. Your brain just does that automatically. 

And likewise, if suddenly the dog wagging his tail is more interesting, go to that. 

I have an intuitive dislike of the image of the monkey mind. One, because I love monkeys and two, because  I think it’s very anthropocentric and – I don’t know – there’s something iffy and tyrannical about the poor monkey always being this mischievous thing that can’t keep still and keeps jumping around. And that makes it bad. And the only way to calm that pesky critter is to take its paw and tie it to a palm tree or trap it in a coconut or just to train it over and over to stay still.

If your mind is really, really busy, don’t try and make it really, really calm. Be really interested in the busy-ness. 

Of course, there’s a great benefit in what they call shamata, the practices of steadying the mind, but you will never train a monkey to be quiet by just jamming it in a cage or constantly smacking it around the head every time it moves. You might, but you’ll end up with a really brain-damaged and unhappy monkey.

And it feels like the human mind is not a monkey. 

It’s not some wild creature. 

It’s this beautiful, beautiful thing that thinks and dreams and fears and flits around and sometimes is still and sometimes is deep and sometimes is shallow. 

And this kind of imagery that it’s like a monkey, like an evil monkey… I don’t like it, I don’t like it at all. 

I find that if you can go with the grain, it’s a much more of a taichi wu wei experience. 

If your mind is really, really busy, don’t try and make it really, really calm. Be really interested in the busy-ness. 

And what you’ll notice is that in that turning towards it, it’s like: “God, my mind is like on fire and it’s red hot and it’s zing, zing, zing, zing”.  But as soon as you turn towards something, then the thing, the object  – in this case, “object number one”  – the object calms down. 

It’s like a child.  If you continually ignore a child, they will make more and more noise and then they might tragically collapse into a crying, silent heap. 

But we don’t want that for our minds. We want to turn to the mind with interest and curiosity and just give it some space, see what it does. 

And of course –  as I’m saying this and as you are maybe thinking about this –  as soon as you’re making space, then you’re making space for awareness. 

As soon as you give some space to the busy, red hot, distracted, sludgy, dissociative mind -whatever it is that you’re experiencing – as soon as you give it some space, the object calms down and starts to grow or reveal something about itself.  But most importantly, this mysterious co-arising field of awareness gets very strong. If you are constantly disciplining and telling yourself off, all that happens is that your mind is filled with anger and irritation and repression and misery. 

That’s the very opposite of what we’re trying to achieve! 

Even when our mind is full of chiffchaff and nonsense that’s also sacred. That is something that is arising in the universe.

Many of you are very experienced, but there has to be a way that we turn towards the mind with love and space and just let it be. 

If it’s a monkey, let it be a monkey. If it’s like a roaring tiger, let it be a roaring tiger or if it’s just a tired mind then let it be tired.

We are not children. Don’t treat ourselves like children, like naughty children. We’re full-functioning, glorious, adult Buddhas, and we need to treat our minds and our experience with utter respect. It’s very sacred. 

Even when our mind is full of chiffchaff and nonsense that’s also sacred. That is something that is arising in the universe. And so I think it’s important just to relax. To relax, give space.  

And not try and do anything. 

And stop this endless bossing ourselves! Goodness, we’ve got enough of that in our life already. We don’t need to do it to ourselves as well.

So this is why I quite like this “three objects practice”, which is this is very simple. You don’t have to do anything fancy except explore this ability to move awareness. 

Notice that awareness grows. 

Notice that the objects shift and change as we go around the three objects. 

It’s not fancy, so you don’t have to do anything. You just need to fall back and experience it. 

I’d love to know your thoughts about the mind. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!

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  • Hexagon Sun says:

    Alistair, thank you very much for this form of communication . Sitting here with the sun stretching silently across the floor and reading your blog. Alone but not lonely. Thinking that the written word is probably the most pleasurable and impactful form. I love your live sessions and the videos, but it may be that the mind is oversaturated with Zoom and all this YouTube and social media. Can we do more Samadhi please? Merry Xmas. X

    • alistairappleton says:

      Ah, that’s a lovely image of you, all cat-like, reading the blog. I’m happy to be writing again and I’m well aware of the over-Zoom that we’re all suffering this year. There’s another two big pieces coming which you might like… I seem to have changed my mind about words and thinking!

  • Amina says:

    Really useful advice, had a bad time of it lately, more grief, more loss. This practice seems to be the only thing that helps, don’t try so hard, just be.

  • Victoria Eldridge says:

    What a huge relief to hear what you are saying. Other practices I have done in the past have rabitted on and on about how you must not be distracted by ‘thoughts’ so you spend the time reining them in when actually you can swim with them and be with them. Helpful. Thank you.

    • alistairappleton says:

      Wonderful! There’s another two big blogs coming that explore the positive side of thinking in even greater detail. Maybe they’d be interesting too!

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