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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Monkey Mind

Ever wake up in the morning, certain of how your day - and, in fact, the next few days - were going to proceed, and then, something happens and you have to go to Plan B.

Except, there wasn't even a Plan B to begin with?

That happened to me just today.

I won't bore you with the details, but I had it in my head - and written down in ink in my calendar, so I knew it was going to happen - exactly what I was going to be doing today and tomorrow.

I had made a most excellent start - up before dawn, my car full of gas, my bags packed and in the car, I got to my first meeting and was anticipating another before I hit the highway - and then came the phone call that changed everything.

It wasn't the end of the world, but it was the end of my carefully made plans. 

I promptly made a few calls to the folks who were expecting me, experienced some momentary disappointment because I wasn't going to be able to see them as planned, and then went on with the rest of my day.

I've already filled up the empty spaces in my calendar for tomorrow - God knows, there's never a want of things that need to be done - but I found that, in this time, the time I had planned to be traveling and listening in my car to a book I've been reading on my Kindle, I was suddenly "itchy".  Restless.

I tried reading my book.  I couldn't concentrate. I tried listening, as I had planned, not in the car but in my comfortable, favorite chair. I found myself noticing something that was ajar or amiss in the house and my mind wandered.

"Monkey mind". That's what the Buddhists call it.  It's what I had.

Most often, I experience "Monkey Mind" when I'm trying to meditate. If I try meditating when I'm anxious or worried or Very Busy, I have to use three techniques I was taught years ago in order to  prepare for the actual meditation.

The first is "Sit. Stay.", wherein you treat your mind as you would a puppy.  Very calmly and evenly but very firmly, you give your mind commands to be quiet and still. "Quiet," you say. Out loud, if you need to. "Be still," you say, or "Easy now". It takes a bit of work, but within 10 minutes, I can actually notice a difference.

The second is to help you to focus by getting physical with the exercise "Push Mountain, Lift Sky". It's simple enough. You stand still for a few minutes, taking deep breaths. When you're ready, you inhale as you raise your arms and exhale as you push off that mountain of worry and anxiety that is burdening you. Still breathing, you bring your arms together over your head and visually lift yourself toward and become one with the sky of tranquility.

Stop snickering. This isn't "new age crap". It really works if you give it half a chance. The act of imagining what you are doing - pushing the mountain and lifting the sky - actually helps you to focus, which helps to train "Monkey Mind" and keep it from jumping around.

Finally,  in standing or sitting meditation, I use "The First Prayer". It's a deceptively simple exercise, based on the first prayer uttered in The Garden. If prayer is a response to God, then, the first spoken prayer was when God asked Adam, "Where are you?" And Adam responded, "Here I am."

So, I breath in and say to myself, "Here." I exhale and say to myself, "I am."

After a few minutes of this, my "Monkey Mind" may not be completely gone, but I'm in much better shape to meditate and pray than I was before I began.

It takes lots of practice and I've gotten much better over the years. Not perfect. Better.

It occurred to me just now, as I was doing meditation, that this is really the work of Advent.

These three pre-meditation practices contain the essence of the spirituality of the Season of Preparation for the Nativity.

The first is about intention. The second is about focus. The third is about openness.

As I looked at my calendar, which is rapidly filling up with holiday obligations and celebrations which I try to stuff in around my normally scheduled life, I laughed and thought, "Well, nature may abhor a vacuum, but my schedule really hates it, too."

If I'm going to make it through the next couple of weeks and have any shred of spirituality for Christmas, I'm going to have to be very intentional and focused so I can stay open to the possibility and joy of The Feast of the Nativity.

It's hard work. A labor of Love. Divine Love. Incarnate Love. 

Making all my good intentions and nice words flesh. Real. Human.

Intention. Focus. Openness.

Well, that's my work of Advent spirituality. Hope it helps you.

And, here I thought I knew what I was going to be doing for the next few days.

Turns out, no matter what I'm going to be doing, I'm going to have to do these three things first, or I'll never get anything done around here.


it's margaret said...

Oh thank you! "Push Mountain, Lift Sky" --I need that!

I hope and pray that you find that much needed space.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thing of it is, Margaret, we all do. I am finding the space - because I'm making it.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Elizabeth--I can't tell you how helpful this is. Bless you for sharing!

Your final line reminds me of a story about Martin Luther, who is reported to have said (paraphrasing from my increasingly terrible memory) "I have so much to do today that I shall have to spend 3 hours in prayer first."


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Doxy. Miss you! And, thanks for that MLK quote. It expresses exactly how I feel about Advent.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

That's actually a "quote" from the ORIGINAL Martin Luther. (The German one. ;-)

Miss you too. World AIDS Day has kept me so busy that I don't know which way is up. Glad that it's tomorrow and I can catch my breath again.... (famous last words!)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, of course it was Martin Luther. Still love it.

I can't believe it's already World AIDS Day. Every year, I keep praying it was the last. I'm such a silly dreamer.

MarkBrunson said...

Monkey mind is a clever monkey. It leads to all sorts of toys in the mind, doesn't it? And they all seem so worthwhile, but they're just toys.

If you haven't read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, I think you'd find it useful. It has also gotten an unfair rap as "new age crap." Part of that is because Tolle is a little . . . odd himself. I don't have a problem with that, as I think Jesus was decidedly strange and St. Francis was a complete loon . . . thankfully.

As for making your intentions human, I can only give you the words of Zen patriarch when asked what the realization of True Mind looked like: "Chop wood, draw water."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - I read Tolle's book and liked it very much. I'd love to work with him, strange as he may be.

"Chop Wood. Draw water.," is my "Wash dishes. Sweep floor.".

walter said...

I have found, 4, your teaching about intentions focus and openness absolutely insightful starting from yesterday money after I received a response to an email I have send out. It took me from yesterday morning prayer up until few minutes ago to experience a spiritual Anglo-American advent, a clear inner sense of how I tried to offer a response with good genuine intentions, focus and openness of heart. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused in the moment lyrics and liturgy of life awakening the mystery and fullness of life 143:

Walter Vitale

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Walter. A Blessed Advent to you.