Unsettled, restless, confused, uncontrollable – these are some of the words used to describe the Monkey Mind or the Mind Monkey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_mind). Most if not all of us can relate to these feelings as they all lead us towards one direction – fear with a capital F. That familiar, sometimes fleeting and at other times lingering and overwhelming feeling of fear that takes hold of us, keeps us powerless in its grasp. It is so familiar that it literally takes a microsecond for us to get to a fearful place – it is so engrained in our DNA, a necessary component for our evolution and ultimate survival, that most of the time we aren’t even conscious of how prevalent it is in our daily lives.
Our familiarity with fear does several things. Firstly, fear becomes a trained emotional habit and an easy place to go to when we start to feel slightly uncomfortable feelings. Secondly, fear creates an inextricable connection with the egoic part of ourselves. The ego loves to dominate, control, sabotage, criticize and hold us back from being vulnerable and taking chances in life. Lastly, fear draws its strength from the harshest and most judgmental parts of ourselves. All combined, fear prevents us from living our most fulfilled and joyful lives. It is such a powerful driving force that if we begin to connect the dots and trace back to the origins of conflict, strife, wars, misunderstandings, stand-offs, divorce, abuse, violence – they ultimately all begin with fear with a capital F.
And so, this trained pattern of fear is just that – a familiar and often very unconscious habit which was crafted and honed and practiced over many years, many interactions, many disappointments, many hurts, many dark nights. And so, the opportunity lies in us becoming conscious of this habit and intentionally beginning to extinguish its power and hold on us.
So where do we start? How do we even begin to tackle such a huge (with a capital H) emotion when the world around us is seemingly falling apart? We just need to watch five minutes of any news channel and we will hear all about the rise of COVID-19 cases, the death rates by country, the unemployment rates rising, the rates of suicide skyrocketing, depression, anxiety, you name it – it is all there – in five minutes or less. How can one not feel the emotions of fear after listening or watching five minutes of that? How can one not feel the emotions of fear when our own individual worlds are falling apart in some way?
We begin with the only place that we can control – the present moment. It is in this moment, in the here and now, that everything exists. It is in this moment that we begin to take back our power. It is in this moment that we consciously choose peace and calm over fear and anxiety. Our tool for this is the practice of mindfulness. We begin simply with focusing on our breath. “When one breathes in and out, one’s concentration causes the generative force to rise and fall (in the microcosmic orbit) thus slowly turning the wheel of the law. Count from one to ten and then from ten to one hundred breaths with the heart (mind) following the counting to prevent it from wandering outside. When the heart and breathing are in unison, this is called locking up the monkey heart and tying up the running horse of intellect.” (Daoist breath meditation technique: Luk 1990: 48). Mindfulness helps to empty our mind of our thoughts, our racing monkey mind which chatters endlessly and can lead us down a very dark path. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, at any time. It can be practiced while driving the car, washing the dishes, taking a walk. It can be practiced for thirty seconds or thirty minutes or thirty hours. It can be practiced on top of a mountain or in the bathroom. Where we do it doesn’t matter, how long we do it really doesn’t matter, what matters is that we create the intention in our hearts to try to move from fear-based living towards joy-based living. It is a daily practice and one which gets easier and more familiar over time. It begins with small efforts and grows to become a way of being where it feels so good and joyful to be in that mindful space most or all of the time. Mindfulness and living in the present moment also help to teach us that our very “real” thoughts are actually not very “real”. They are just thoughts that pass through our minds just like the clouds drifting across the sky. They are temporary. We can’t touch them, we can’t hold them, we can’t chain them down – they are fleeting and illusory and yet, for many of us, they hold so much power and control over our daily lives. As we become more and more aware of their illusory nature, we can see that they are “just thoughts” – they come and go and they pass through like a storm or sunny day or the wind. Through mindfulness we come to the understanding that we are not the sum total of our thoughts. “Identification with your mind creates an opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that blocks all true relationship.” (Excerpt from The Power of Now by Eckert Tolle).
Let today be the day that we commit to a new way of living and a new way of being by taking one small step forward to loosen the chains of fear on our lives. It is a choice we all have the power to make at this moment, and the next, and the next and the next.