I've just noticed that this is my 20th improg post, which means that Hayley and I are about two thirds of the way through our original words. If you'd like to participate in our improg project by suggesting words or improgging yourself (c'mon, Margerie, I know you're wanting to!), let us know.
If this were any other week, I would have groaned after pulling the word monkey out of Hayley’s envelope of improg words. But just yesterday I stumbled across a new blog, iHanna's Creative Space. On Hanna’s “About Me” page was a phrase that made me stop in my tracks: monkey mind. I’d never heard this phrase before, but I was pretty sure I knew exactly what it meant and I immediately Googled it.
Well, my guess was right and—here’s more evidence that I live under a rock—it seems that lots of people already know about it. It’s from the Buddhist analogy comparing a cluttered, chattery, unfocused mind to either (a) a monkey swinging from tree to tree, unable to stay in one spot for long, or (b) a room full of noisy monkeys. Both analogies work for me.
Plans for the future, memories of the past, relived conversations, conversations I’ve never even had, shopping lists, to-do lists, self-recrimination, other people’s criticism, ideas for projects and writing, snappy comebacks I couldn’t think of when I needed them, panic over all that I’m behind on—all of this is going through my mind all the time. Being in my head is like walking through the primate section of the zoo.
I’m largely unaware of the noise or of the tension it causes until something makes it stop. Then I get that sense of ear-ringing relief that comes after leaving a very loud place, like a rock concert, a three-day camp with 13 Brownies, or any social occasion involving a group of almost-teenagers.
One place in which the noise stops is my favorite park. I don’t know why my mind calms down in this particular park. It’s a beautiful spot, with water and trees and trails, but hundreds of parks in this area are beautiful spots with water, trees, and trails. I used to go to this one sometimes the first time I lived here, but my memories of it aren’t particularly quiet ones. In fact, they’re decidedly fuzzy and involve things like sitting on a dock with friends, drinking rum out of paper cups with Ronald McDonald’s picture on them and singing “American Pie” loudly and off-key.
But for whatever reason, when I go to this park, the monkeys get very quiet. It doesn’t matter how awful I feel when I pull into the parking lot, whether I’ve just had an argument with someone or I’m teetering on the edge of the Black Hole of Depression, how much work is waiting for me, or how loudly my clients, my children, or my mother are clamoring for attention. I step out into air and light that seem somehow different and it all stops. For a few minutes I can hear the ringing echo of the voices and I become aware of the tension I’ve been carrying around. And then my head enters the same time zone as the rest of my body and I understand what people mean by “living in the now.”
The other calm, although not quiet, place for me is my belly dancing class. Moving my bottom half in one direction at one speed while moving my top half in another direction at another speed—sometimes while balancing a cane on my head—is all my pea brain can cope with at one time, so everything else just has to stop. Although it sounds kind of funny, belly dancing class was a sanctuary last year when my cousin was dying of cancer. The heavy sadness was there even during class, but for one hour a week my mind could let go of the worry and the stress.
So now I’m looking for more ways to bring the noise down to a healthier and more manageable level. Do you have a monkey mind? What helps you to calm it?