Three Mindful Steps: In the Jungle of Monkey Mind

Seven a.m., I drag myself out of bed – online meditation is due to start. I have three extra minutes if Fred decides to wait for the stragglers, as he usually does. I’m an early riser but this morning I let myself go back for those extra precious moments of unconsciousness. I don’t wake up pretty. I don’t wake up mindful or kind. I wake up, achy and grouchy, hair askew.

My cat, Casady, prettier than I, upon arising.

I like to have a half an hour to come into the world – to wash my face, brush my teeth, put on some reasonably clean clothes. The cat has been up for hours. She walks over to her food bowl and stares pointedly. I like to feed her, turn on the bathtub faucet for her refreshment, then let her out onto the back patio so I’m not disturbed. Fred starts as always, by explaining the program, twenty-five minutes of sitting meditation, followed by ten minutes of walking and ending with another twenty-five minutes of sitting.

I have a love/hate/gratitude relationship with routine. I am easily bored by it. But without it, I get nothing done.

My messy peaceful place.

Meditation has sustained me through Covid-induced isolation. It has made me calmer, more centered. My husband has noticed that I am less reactive – in other words, less irritable, less quick to anger, a teeny bit nicer than the usual Sheri. Did I mention that I hate when people refer to themselves in the third person? Well Sheri just did it and she wasn’t annoyed. Oops, she did it again.

Before coffee.

Fred is saying something like, “Where is your mind this morning? Is it alert? Is it awake?” My eyes are fighting to close. He tells us to find our seat, get settled. For me, that could be dangerous. I could easily settle back into sleep. He asks us to focus on the object of our meditation. My object is my breath. I follow my in breath and my out breath. I hear my voice in my head: Am I breathing? Am I alive? Then I hear a voice from the movie, The Fly: “I’m aliiiiiiiive.” Is it Jeff Goldblum’s voice? Or the actor in the original movie? Have I seen the original movie? And off I go, thinking about breakfast (suddenly I’m ravenous), the people who have pissed me off (there’s never just one), or others from the past who have aggravated me. Then it’s on to lunch, dinner – should I track my food on my fitness APP – it’s so annoying but none of my pants fit except the stretchy ones. I think of the Amazon order I want to place. But do I really want to support Amazon? It really is so convenient, with such a great website.


What I am caught up in is what experienced practitioners call monkey mind where your mind swings from one branch (thought) to another.

As if on cue, Fred says, “Check your mind. Are you here? If so, continue. If you’ve wandered off, then come back.” If I’ve wandered off. If I’ve wandered off. I look at one of the sticky notes I’ve pasted on my wall: Come back, written in bold black magic marker.

Come back om.

I’ll count breaths, I think. It’s a technique I’ve learned to deal with distraction. In/out one; In/out two; in/out three. I’ve been told to try to keep things simple. Maybe I can lose the in/out, and just count. Now I notice I am making a huffing noise in my head to correspond to the in/out I have tried to banish. I think of a Thich Nhat Hanh practice. It starts off: “Waking up this morning I smile. Twenty-four brand-new hours are before me.” I modify it to I wake with crusty junk in my eyes. Five hours of shoddy sleep behind me. I go back to the original and it is so pleasant. What’s not so pleasant is this pain in my back. Should I move or try to tough it out? Then I notice the rug is crooked and have an almost uncontrollable urge to straighten it.
I hear Fred’s bell. “At the next bell,” he says, “Stretch your legs. Massage as necessary. Prepare yourself for walking meditation.” He instructs us to stand in one spot, feel our feet, the floor or ground beneath our feet. I grab my cell phone from the end table and glance at the weather forecast. Seventy degrees and clear. I can walk outside instead of making loops around my house, hoping not to bump into anything and wake my husband. When I walk around the patio, it confuses the cat who trots in front of me and looks back. She makes sure I’m OK by almost tripping me.
I search for some decent clothes. My video is off. Fred won’t know I’m not standing still. I am not feeling my feet, the floor or the ground. I am pulling my bra off the chair, sniffing socks. Pulling on a pair of stretchy pants.

I live on a dead-end alcove in a FL development. I walk circles in a little turn-around bordering a manmade “lake,” or large puddle, as I think of it.

Around and around.

I shuffle carefully, mask at the ready for neighbors who might come near me – none do. A few are going to work. What must they think of me as I walk slower than that person in front of you on a line when you’re in a hurry. I figure they think I’m a lunatic. They don’t like me much anyway, I muse, as I take my small steps. Do I care? I ask myself. Do I like them? Does it matter? I can’t hang out with them now anyway. Actually, they’re pretty friendly. They’re very nice. I AM a lunatic. I am lucky to have them. I am lucky to live here. I wish we had the better lake view though. Actually I don’t care. We have a nice kitchen. And off I go, taken over by monkey mind. Breathe. Breathe.
I figure that in the ten minutes of walking allotted, I have taken maybe three mindful steps – three steps in which I have been fully present, feeling my feet, the earth, noticing my breath.
A while ago, I would have been chiding myself for “failing at meditation” but one of my favorite sayings about the process is, “It’s not good meditation, it’s not bad meditation, it’s just meditation.” Sharon Salzburg, renowned mindfulness teacher, says don’t worry if you’re lost in thought, it’s the next moment that counts. Recently, Fred has said something similar.

Fred always asks the class why we are doing this, why practice meditation. My immediate thought when he first asked was peace. Peace within my turbulent brain, peace within this turbulent world. Occasionally I have been fortunate enough to benefit by being in the presence of a truly calm and centered person. Those people are the ones who make us feel good just being near them. I want to be one of those people. I want my peace to be contagious, something that will heal others. I do not expect this to happen overnight. I know the many small steps it takes to get anywhere.

So my advice to all who practice meditation is this: if you can only manage three full breaths while sitting, that’s OK. And if you can only manage three mindful steps in your walk through the jungle of monkey mind, take them.

2 replies »

  1. I never knew it had a name: monkey mind. When I had a dog, we walked (almost) every day. People in the neighborhood were always amazed because I had taught Fox to walk. When we came to a curb, if I hesitated, he sat down. He knew to do his business when I got the leash. That was not what walks were for. When children wanted to pet him, I asked him to sit. He did not chase cats or squirrels. In thirteen (13) years, he growled only twice. Both times we had been accosted by someone who made me (us) feel uncomfortable. Fox made it possible for me to calm myself and sort-of-meditate.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wish I could take credit for the term lol but it has a long history, possibly starting with a Tang Dynasty poet as “mind- monkey.” your dog, Fox, sounds like he was a good mindfulness companion. Thank you for reading and responding! Much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

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