A few months back, I wrote a blog entry about a deceptively simple, practice-changing meditation instruction: there’s no point in fighting monkey mind; instead, learn to sit with the monkeys, not despite them.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that a proper meditation practice should actually create an almost literal space in the mind between one’s awareness and the non-stop, erratic stream of thoughts that I often describe as the monkeys. Bernie Schreck wasn’t telling me to ignore them, but was instead helping me clear the space necessary to see past them, and in doing so, to separate them from my awareness and, in fact, render them powerless.
Yes, you heard that correctly: the monkeys. have. no. power. over. me. Period. Talk about an eye-opening realization! While it sounds like a new-age mantra (“My thoughts do not control me, my thoughts do not control me…”), the fact of the matter is that my meditation practice has allowed me to realize that it’s possible to detach the person I am right now, in this present moment, from the mind that is constantly projecting my storylines outward.
A good example: I have a recurring professional issue at the office that isn’t likely to change. During the two or three times each month when I have to work directly with this situation, I get easily frustrated, and sometimes that frustration can turn to anger — the type of anger where you can actually feel your blood pressure rise as the level of frustration sinks in more and more deeply. The situation has been so challenging that I actually lost my temper in front of two co-workers.
When I am in the heat of that moment, I consciously (and subconsciously) pass judgement on the people involved. I think to myself, they don’t get it, they don’t work hard enough, their actions force me to work harder, they are wasting my time, etc. It’s really almost endless, the things my mind can churn up to help justify my anger!
But shouldn’t have I learned by now that the situation isn’t changing? Or, if I were able to completely release these ideas and approach the matter with a fresh perspective, could I possibly find a way to make the situation better? Truth is, my mind isn’t fully, openly and spaciously engaged because so many strong thoughts and emotions are blocking my ability to do anything other than react. What I need is the same sense of space in my mind that I described earlier — I need to create the space that will allow me to stop grasping these negative thoughts and instead see the situation in a more realistic light. And if the situation can’t be fixed? Then I can stop grasping at ego and realize that this is, plainly and simply, a job.
I am making a commitment to start practicing consistently on a daily basis — call it an early New Year’s resolution. I have the power to take a simple instruction from realization to reality, but it’s not going to happen on its own.