What Is The Monkey Mind?

By Tergar Meditation Community • 4 min read

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Uh-Oh, Monkey Mind!

You have likely heard the phrase “monkey mind,” or “monkeymind” and want to know what is the monkey mind. But even if you’re unfamiliar with the term, you can probably guess what it means: when your mind won’t shut up, churning out thoughts, images, associations, impulses, and so on. But it might come as a surprise to know that the monkey mind isn’t a bad thing. Actually, it’s neither bad nor good. What matters is the relationship you have with it.

Spiraling Out of Control

Most of the time, our relationship with the monkey mind is tricky, to say the least. You’re brushing your teeth in the morning and, glancing at the mirror, you notice something on your forehead. A small pimple. “Oh dear,” says monkey mind, “there’s a problem with my appearance.” You feel a little pang of dismay — but it’s really not a big deal, after all, so you get on with your day. But while you get dressed for work, your thoughts return to the pimple. “Could I cover it with makeup? Would it look strange if I wore a hat?” In your mind, it’s becoming more noticeable by the minute. By the time you leave the house, you are convinced that everyone on the street is trying not to stare at your hideous blemish.

The Gossip Network

What is happening in this kind of situation is that the networks of neurons in our brains are connecting. You could say they love to gossip to one another. One neural network fires off with: “Hmm, there’s a pimple.” Another responds by remarking, “Yuck.” Another chimes in with, “Now my whole face looks ugly.” More and more neurons fire together, becoming a group, and the group expands exponentially. “You did this to yourself! Remember those potato chips you gobbled yesterday? No self-control, and now you look like a monster!” It can feel like a real force to reckon with.

How to Free the Monkey Mind

If you try to fight it, you’ll never win. You will only turn it into an enemy that you can never escape. On the other hand, if you listen to it and believe it, then you are making it your boss. That’s a problem, too, because the monkey mind is restless and crazy —  and nobody wants a crazy boss. To free the monkey mind, you have to take the most skillful tactic: to make friends with it. How are you supposed to make friends with a monkey mind? By giving it what it wants the most. (Hint: it’s not a banana.)

“Even if you learn to rest in simple sensory awareness, the crazy monkey mind will always be looking for new ways to interrupt whatever calmness, clarity, and openness you’ve achieved by offering a different and disturbing interpretation of events.”

– Mingyur Rinpoche –

Becoming the Boss

More than anything, the monkey mind wants a job. And, if you give it the job of a meditation technique, then the monkey mind becomes your employee. It likes to have a task, and you are in charge — it’s a win-win situation! Eventually, as you practice giving the monkey mind various meditation techniques, it becomes calmer. Less aggressive, less frantic, less high-strung. More peaceful. Not only that, it becomes more pliable and workable.

 

A Model Employee

By working with it in this way, you will find it highly useful as a support for meditation. And eventually, the monkey mind itself transforms into wisdom, love, compassion, and awareness. As long as you are maintaining this kind of healthy relationship with it, it will become increasingly beneficial.

Giving Monkey Mind a Job: Meditation on Awareness of Sensation in the Body

  1. Raise your hands to chest level. Be aware of any sensations in your hands. If they feel cool, just be aware of the coolness. If they feel warm, just be aware of that. If they don’t feel any particular way, that’s okay; be aware of that. Whatever the experience , just be aware of it.
  2. Join your hands together. Be aware of the tactile sensation.Rub them together slowly, then faster. Now there is heat and friction. Be aware of that.
  3. Separate your hands. You may feel tingling, or coolness. Be aware of it. This is “awareness of sensation.”
  4. Put your hands down, close your eyes, and be aware of any sensation in the upper part of your body: your face, head, neck. Now the middle part of the body: shoulders, back, chest, and stomach. Now the lower part of the body: buttocks, legs, and feet. Whatever sensations there are, just notice and simply be aware of them.
  5. Open your eyes to conclude this meditation.

You can do this monkey mind meditation very briefly anywhere, at any time, and under any circumstances. To learn more about how to develop and maintain a happier relationship with monkey mind, join Tergar’s Joy of Living course. For details, click here.

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More Resources

Understanding the Monkey Mind

Monkey mind loves to create problems for us. In this video, Mingyur Rinpoche clarifies that what monkey mind is doing is not terribly important.

Intro to Meditation

Free course for beginners.

Do you want to try meditation, but don’t know how to start? This free course is specially designed for beginners, and takes only a week to complete.

About the Author

By Tergar Meditation Community Team

Tergar Meditation Community supports individuals, practice groups, and meditation communities around the world in learning to live with awareness, compassion, and wisdom. Grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of our guiding teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, our online and in-person programs are accessible to people of all cultures and faiths, and support a lifelong path toward the application of these principles in everyday life.

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