Monkey Mind and I

The sky is clear and unaffected by what is happening.
The clouds come and go,
the winds come and go,
so does the rain and sunlight,
but the sky remains clear.”
~ Joseph Goldstein

Try to sit still, do nothing and not think about anything at all for a few minutes or so. An average person will soon find the mind start wandering. Sometimes, the mind seems to have specific issues to grasp. Some other times it just hops on and off, from one thought to another. Just like monkeys, the mind incessantly jumps from one branch of thought to another. So, we call this mind monkey mind.

Now suppose we were to spend these same few minutes in a practice called meditation. It is generally being taught that meditation equals to focusing our mind only on our breaths and nothing else, which is supposed to be very calming. Unfortunately, this idea about meditation does not correspond to our reality of monkey mind, and this can easily frustrate anyone who try to learn to practice meditation.

What is not being as often discussed is that the meditation practice is a practice where we keep on returning the mind to our object of awareness, be it breaths or anything else. The calming focused mind is the meditative state resulting from the practice, and not the practice itself. It takes practice to arrive into the calming focused mind.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

For many of us, monkey mind drives us mad for two main reasons.

First, it is because we would like the mind not to be “monkey-ish”, while in reality it IS a monkey mind – the mind that just would not obey our demand to be calm and still. So, there is internal conflict between what we want and what it is.

Most of us do not realize that how lively that monkey mind is depends on how busy and agitated we have been during the day as well as how little real rest we allow ourselves. Our agitation and activities energize the monkey. If we wish for the monkey not to jump around so much, then we should remember not to jump around so much either. And yes, that includes not to jump around from one social media posting to another.

What do we then do with monkey mind? First and most important, Stop telling the monkey to sit still, because being still is simply what monkey mind does NOT do. Instead, we can practice being a passive observer. We observe whatever comes into our mind, be it good or bad, the way we observe monkey jumping from one branch to another. Being an observer, we do not jump around with the monkey, nor do we get upset about which branch the monkey chooses to land on. We passively observe until the monkey gets tired, or it runs out of branches to hop on, and it will eventually stay still. As will our mind.

I suppose this is why there is an old Zen proverb that says something like “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour”.

Sometimes the monkey is over-excited that it overwhelms us. In times like these, give the monkey something to do for a while, like counting the breaths, or regulating the breaths in certain rhythm. Practices with breaths are usually calming, that it is easier for us to go back to being an observer again afterwards.

Second, if we happen to have certain issues that are gnawing deep within, the monkey, for whatever reasons, tends to linger around these issues despite our dissent. In times like these, meditation is more of an agitating practice than calming one.

During such episodes, apart from being a passive observer, it also helps to be a good friend to the monkey mind. Most of the judging self-critical thoughts we have towards our own thoughts and emotions, the aversions we have towards our state of mind, would not be anything that we would do or say to a good friend. A good friend is kind, and being kind means being understanding, accepting and encouraging – full of compassion.

So, we do no different towards the monkey mind. Let it jump around, and talks incessantly and tells us stories we do not want to hear, fears we try to hide away, grieves we refuse to let go. We let the monkey mind do so with an open heart that is understanding and full of compassion, despite of temptations from time to time to jump after the monkey mind, or to grab its tail and try to make the monkey stay quiet. Instead, we stay put and be at peace with it. And that, for what it is worth, is the practice of meditation.

As we give our friend, the monkey mind, a space, to be still or to jump around, we learn so much about it, as much as we learn about our being. In this understanding, we can be more at peace with ourselves, anytime anywhere.

“How shall I help the world?”
“By understanding it,” said the Master.
“And how shall I understand it?”
“By turning away from it.”
“How then shall I serve humanity?”
“By understanding yourself.”
~ Anthony de Mello

Our Contemplations ~


What Mindfulness Is Not

To be aware of this whole process of existence, to observe it,
to dispassionately enter into it, and to be free of it, is meditation.
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti, Book of Life

As mindfulness practice has become some sort of a new life style nowadays, we see the practice being attached to various activities and events. When the word is being very loosely applied to almost anything, it can be rather confusing. Indeed, Mindfulness is a curious something that is rather delicate to describe, especially to those who try to learn about it on a cognitive level.

portrait-317041 - Image by 192635 at Pixabay
Image by User 192635 at Pixabay

Nevertheless, there are a few things that Mindfulness is definitely NOT. Below are a few of them.

Mindfulness is Not about being happy-stress-free All the time.

While Mindfulness practices have been found to be significantly beneficial in alleviating stress, it is not about stress reduction. The practice of Mindfulness trains us to accept things as they are, not by changing our thoughts or feelings about a certain thing or occasion, but by not identifying ourselves with any unwelcome thoughts or emotions. Freedom from identification helps us to see the problem for what it is, that we can understand it properly and act from a place of wisdom.

This is the essence of the practice. Stress reduction is a very welcome bonus.

Mindfulness is Not a practice to free the mind from thoughts.
It is not uncommon to perceive mindfulness as a practice where one attempts to empty one’s mind from any thoughts, resulting in blank zombie like state.

Thought formations, mainly our responses to external objects or internal memory, are present almost all the time in the mind. With mindfulness practices, we learn to not react unnecessarily to each and every stimuli. This results in less thought formation, less fluctuations in the mind, a state which is experienced as calmness.

Such state of mind is a result of regular practice. It does not happen overnight, nor does it happen with a simple intention of emptying the mind.

Mindfulness is Not about sitting crossed legged for hours.
Despite sitting meditation being the core practice of Mindfulness, the practice is not only about it. Sitting meditation, when performed regularly and “properly”, would rest the mind. Once the mind is rested, it is still a mindfulness practice as important as sitting meditation to be mindful of our body, breaths, thoughts and feelings as we go around fulfilling our daily activities.

In the midst of challenges and problems, it is also just as important to mindfully choose our actions and actually doing them. Being calm allows us to be more open to different solutions, but it is not the solution in and of itself.

Mindfulness can Not be reduced to being aware or conscious.
We are generally conscious all the time, with objects in mind, unless we are no longer alive, or perhaps, in a coma. In this case, very few people, if not none, can say they are mindful in all their conscious moments. Therefore, Mindfulness is not about being conscious.

Meanwhile, being aware is whenever we are aware of a certain thing, be it sound, sight, smell, taste or sense. Not all these awareness are Mindful awareness. For example, we can be aware that we are planning to harm ourselves or others and proceed on doing it, all the while being aware of doing it. This is not Mindfulness either.

With Mindfulness practice, we learn to be aware of the intention, of the desires or fear or aversion that propel the intention, and not being driven by them.

“Mindfulness requires a thoroughgoing equanimity. This does not mean you don’t care or are indifferent to what is happening, only that the mind is evenly balanced and fully aware of things exactly as they are, without the desire to change them by favouring one thing or opposing another.” ~ Andrew Olendzki PhD, What Mindfulness Is (Not)

Having said all the above, this article does not aim to strictly define Mindfulness. Words, more often than not, have many limitations. Have a go, and define Mindfulness as per your unique first hand experience.

Our Contemplations ~

Pimpinan Berkesadaran

Pemimpin Berkesadaran tidak memimpin
Ia adalah katalis.
Katalis yang menumbuhkan kesadaran
Bagi diri, bagi yang lain.

Photo credit: Markus Spiske at Unsplash

Ia berlatih sadar bahwa semua bisa saja berangkat dari saya, diri
Ia berlatih sadar bahwa semua bisa saja menuju bagi mereka, diri yang lain
Ia berlatih sadar bahwa saya dan mereka adalah selalu kita

Pemimpin Berkesadaran berbagi melalui keteladanan, tanpa perlu menjadi Sang Teladan
Pemimpin Berkesadaran bercerita melalui cerita diri, tanpa perlu dibuat-buat.

Pemimpin Berkesadaran menyiapkan dan menjalani sistem operasi organisasi
Semata untuk pembelajaran
Bukan untuk menjadi mekanistis
Bukan untuk menjadi otomatis
Bukan untuk menjadi kemelekatan
Pembelajaran yang selalu berubah, sesuai konteks, sesuai yang disadari.

Pemimpin Berkesadaran senantiasa menjalani paradoks.
Ia nyaman mengukur, dan juga jernih merasa
Ia tenteram berpikir, dan juga damai menerima intuisi
Ia bersegera aktif melakukan, dan juga rileks pasif melalukan

Pemimpin Berkesadaran senantiasa menyadari batas ego
Menyadari apakah masih berupaya, atau sudah mengharuskan
Menyadari apakah masih berserah, atau sudah bermalasan
Menyadari apakah ini perlu, atau ini ingin

Pemimpin Berkesadaran senantiasa menjalani
Perjalanan yang berisi latihan yang tak pernah usai
Perjalanan untuk mengasah batas ego yang tak pernah tuntas
Perjalanan untuk menjalani paradoks yang tak pernah selesai

Pemimpin Berkesadaran sadar bahwa Berkesadaran adalah perjalanan.
Ia adalah perjalanan yang sunyi, karena setiap orang unik
Ia adalah perjalanan bersama, karena setiap orang berkelindan dengan yang lainnya.

Kontemplasi Kami ~


Ketika kita makan,
sadarkah bahwa yang kita makan
ikhlas bersatu dengan kita?
rela menjadi bagian tumbuh kembang kita?


Ketika kita memandang,
sadarkah bahwa yang kita amati
ikhlas bersatu dengan kita?
menumbuhkan inspirasi
ataupun menjadi pengingat jiwa

Ketika kita berinteraksi
sadarkah bahwa yang kita temui
ikhlas memberi ilmu bagi kita
tidak selalu dalam ceria
namun senantiasa memberi makna

Ketika kita bernafas
sadarkah bahwa yang kita hirup
ikhlas memberi kita hidup

Ketika kita hidup
semuanya ikhlas menyatu ke dalam kita

~ Kontemplasi Kami ~

All It Takes

“How am I to transform? I see the truth – at least, I see something in it – that a change, a transformation, must begin at a level that the mind, as the conscious or the unconscious, cannot reach, because my consciousness as a whole is conditioned.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti


dandelion by Monsterkoi
Picture by Tom (monsterkoi) at Pixabay

Inspired by a few Earth Day initiatives, I once started this project of reducing tissue consumption, simply because I have done plastic on daily basis for a few years now. Reminded of a TED Talk by Joe Smith (“How to use one paper towel”), which I have been practising ever since I watched the talk, it seems to be interesting to extend the practice to other types of tissue and paper.

So the mind began with trying to exactly measure the current tissue consumption, observing the process to find any non-value added use of tissue, and then trying to measure the right quantity that is necessary for each activity. Complicated, that is just how the thinking mind is, as it always runs with assumptions and frameworks. In this case, the mind assumed that there must be a certain perfect formula just like the one for paper towel and it operated under continuous improvement based framework.

It did not get me anywhere.

Until I noticed that as I observed myself taking any tissue or paper towel, the amount that I threw away after use was noticeably less than when I took the paper in a rush or absent mindedly. After a while, I decided to stop trying to figure the perfect practice. This self observation, which is actually one of mindfulness qualities, is sufficient in reducing waste.

“We’re always fixing things, aren’t we? It never strikes us that things don’t need to be fixed. They really don’t. This is a great illumination. They need to be understood. If you understood them, they’d change.” ~ Anthony de Mello

Then I went for one week mindfulness retreat in this really cool facility that allows for no unorganic waste to be left behind in the compound. If we produce ANY unorganic waste, we have to bring them home. And yes, this includes any plastic wraps, bottle, tissue and paper towels.

So I went there with a few big waste plastic bag ready, thinking that no way I could abruptly adopt a lifestyle with so little one-time use things the way it used to be decades ago. Also, retreat is for the so-called “real” practice, I did not wish to trouble myself with any inconveniences that would deter my practice. In other words, I was ready to litter.

Astoundingly, I went home with barely a quarter of small waste plastic bag filled in, and it was not inconvenient, nor did it feel primitive at all. In fact, the lifestyle felt no less natural than breathing when we practice mindfulness in each step, each movement, each breath, in every single task, no matter how simple or unimportant or mundane the task may seem to be. It appears to be easily translated into very little waste.

Since this was so easy, I was easily convinced that I could be just a good friend to the earth as I had been from then on, only to find that being at home, my trash bin quickly fills and I empty my box of tissue just as quickly. How so?

One main variable was the availability of things that could easily turn into waste. This is perhaps one of the few occasions where we find scarcity highly beneficial. The Retreat centre simply did not use nor provide anything that is of single use or non-recyclable. While I have quite a few in my bag, the fact that it was not readily available simplifies our struggle to use less, and because we were mindful, it was effortless not to complain as we easily turned to what is available.

Then, there was hardly any trash bins in the compound that we do not get to see anyone putting anything into trash bins and I recognize the use of clothes instead of tissues every now and then. The only two trash bins within sight are almost empty throughout. Given that human brain is designed to mirror our environment, we tend to behave the way others do. As individuals, each of us endlessly copies and reinforces our behaviours to one another.

In this case, it is easy to reduce our consumption when everyone else does. Removed from such environment, we have to perpetually battle our nature to mimic those around us.

Above all that, most essential is the fact that we were all there to practice mindfulness, being aware of our actions and thoughts from moment to moment. If being Mindful on some trivial moments is already beneficial in reducing tissue consumption without any other active effort, the same applies on a bigger scale during moment to moment mindfulness.

Now imagine applying this to more people working together in an organisation set-up, that is, mindful people working together in a mindful way, with a few mindful ‘conditioning’. CSR would no longer be in constant conflict with shareholders interests. Green marketing would not be a me-too movement under social pressure, but an automatic gesture as a result of Mindful thinking behind every action. We all would have less recycling to do because each of us optimize our consumption and thus the most important link of the reduce-reuse-recycle happens most of the time. The remaining resources, or money, can be allocated for many other things. If people end up using less of our products, they will have more money for the extra frills and services, providing we know what to offer and why we offer them. Everyone will end up happier.

How do we make that happen? Nothing sophisticated, one Mindful breath at a time, one Mindful action at a time, and one Mindful conversation at a time.

That is all it takes, no more, no less.

“I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride.”

~ William James

~ Our Contemplations~