Everyone, along their meditation journey, meets parts of their mind that are less than easy and peaceful, uncomfortable if not scary; days when 'inner world' things just won't go as we would wish. Let's take a straight on, non-judgemental look at our monkeys and monsters, and how we can view and greet them.
Drawn from "Just a Moment Please: Meditation For Life", part of Cynthia Alves' Living Earth Awareness series. approx 1800 words See also Relaxation and Meditation Courses
Sometimes, all the benefits we hear about meditation, and indeed usually experience, aren't 'there'. It can seem as if something has gone wrong, or we just aren't good enough at it. Let's be increasingly aware of how the mind 'works', acknowledge what we may observe, and learn to not be surprised or upset, nor take personally the utter and painful, well, um, rubbish we may observe 'there' in our mind. But no, its not just rubbish, and sometimes its an important step to meet 'shadows' and too-long suppressed, unhealed pains, important to notice and be with them, let them be. Severe disruptions are not common, yet usual enough to be recognised and the ways through possibly predictable.
The mind is not a nice place. 'Nice' is part of what is 'there'. The deeper we explore and the wise ones tell us the mind is vast to infinity the more likely we will come to areas that challenge, and which, for those not prepared, could become a danger zone.
Here is a safety line: If at any time in your meditation practices you experience lingering disturbance or discomfort, bring your attention to your breath (again and again). If the disturbance becomes prolonged, and basic aids such as Bach Flower Remedies don't help you to shift your way of looking and feeling, at least to a sense of proceeding through, then go for help. As well as an appropriate teacher and guide, ask inside yourself, your own wisdom, for help to accept, to transform and heal what you have discovered.
Make no mistake, and avoid naivety: As well as the brilliant light of all loving creation within you, there are monkeys and monsters. This "Going Deeper" section of "Meditation for Life", includes tips to help us to face, be with, live with and sometimes dissolve the tricky places we meet. We can learn to not be a victim of our mind's shadows, that they can be great teachers, keys to our innermost wisdom.
Monkeys? Oh, the games the mind plays! Inquisitive, distracting, entrancing and mischievous at best; tyrannical and vicious at worst. This is how monkey mind does, plus looks elsewhere, averts view, pretends it sees something different or justifies the suffering it cannot hide from. And you thought you were settling into a nice, quiet, peaceful de-stress session! Squirmy and wriggly, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.
Monkey mind! Slides around, plays tricks, says 'this is what I am' and leads you to believe it! "I'm worthless!" or "I'm the greatest", whatever. You intend to focus, whoops, ten thousand other somethings come to mind! You endeavor to quieten the inner fields, and the racket seems louder than ever. You aim for stillness, but thoughts are circling more crazily and insistently.
Once we notice "this is monkey", then the games begin in earnest. "Its nothing to do with me. Its not so bad as it looks." Or jumping into the fiery pits of anger, "You bastards how could you; your fault; you are all so wrong", or slithering into self blame and guilt (pout, cringe). Every n-th of resistance magnifies monkey a hundred-fold. Breathe, watch monkey's games, and choose acceptance and compassion for monkey mind.
Remember the abilities we have already been developing through elemental practices*, which go a long way in cultivating inner balance and harmony, and not getting caught up so much in whatever we meet. Breathe to disengage, re-focus into body to quieten monkey mind thought streams, to let flow without hindrance. I often find that whenever I listen 'straight on' to thought stream, its goes quiet. (*The overall approach of this book is exploring and living the 'world' of meditation through earth, air, fir and water elements.)
Learning to observe to face fully and honestly and just watch, without judgement, this is a great ability for every aspect of living and inner exploration. We become able to observe without being swayed by, caught up and stuck in. Whatever we are seeing and feeling, this ability is the doorway into compassion, the means of bringing the fire the light and heat, the passion of our consciousness to nurturing and healing our mind.
Monsters! Memories, habits, weaknesses, tendencies that shake and shock, disgust and bring fear and guilt. And 'shadows', the seriously 'not nice' parts we usually don't like, maybe even the vile liking for our own viciousness. Though I haven't yet read it, Dante's "Inferno" is how I imagine the journey with monsters, going level by level down into the pit of hell. Hell isn't after we die, and Dante wasn't just telling some allegory or weird story.
As the ability to observe and let be develops, and most likely at each stage of consciousness expansion, we come to face our monsters. They seem to pop up and grab, or creep slyly into our awareness. We become intensely aware of pains, past disappointments, judgements about body, life story, others and the world. Mucky bits we thought we'd already dealth with, grown beyond and healed turn up - again! Its just not fair. Horrors and fears, guilts, nightmares, griefs and grievances, all manner of inner conflict and violence confronts us, the Shadow seems to reign. Monsters may appear to be or come from some thing or someone else, and it could be easy to let oneself become a victim, to imagine we are a victim of whatever planted the monster seeds and memories. Yet they come to be seen, must be seen, so they can be brought to light.
Beware! Monsters are not always ugly! What is unloving, sick and distorted can appear very beautiful and attractive. Monsters have some of the most amazing costumes and masks. Arrogance and spiritual pride might appear strong and Right, and ignorance can look like comfort and the easy way, fears as dependent Real Guides, hard heartedness seems justifiable and righteous. Cruelty can seem to shine and fascinate, and seem what's "best for you".
We experience this in the daily reality world 'out there'. As we learn to face and address, learn from and to heal the monsters within, learn to accept, love, see the monsters for what they are, neither resisting nor giving energy to and so on through our meditation journeys. . . As we learn to 'deal' with monsters and monkeys, so also we are learning how we can do so in the world.
Until we can face and accept our follies and foibles, our hurts and evils and violent deceivable nature, we are powerless to learn and change, and we are indeed victims. I carry an image of a little teaching story. The wise monk in his remote cave. One day a hoard of demons comes up the path, shouting and threatening. He invites them in for tea.
Before a couple more 'how could' guidelines, I want to point you toward two great general helpers for staying sane and healthy through the trials of monkeys and monsters. First, Eckhart Tolle's, "A New Earth", wherein he looks clearly at the dysfunctional human mind. Even after my own thirty-plus years of exploring mind, and psychospiritual practices, his rendition is the most clear, touching, inspiring, non-judgemental, empowering look on humanity's dysfunctional mind I have yet found. I live in gratitude for his clear work and huge heart.
Second, the whole dynamic of switching focus from weakness to strength. No matter who we are and what sort of life we have had so far, every one of us embodies real, virtuous strengths. On the one hand, it is crucial to notice and not deny or suppress the 'dark' bits. On the other, we can easily lead ourselves astray by wallowing in our own muck, getting caught up in weaknesses, and spending undue attention on them. More valuable and effective is to not just remember, also to consciously exercise our strengths. The best aid I have found so far in this, besides Bach Flower Remedies, is the work of Positive Psychology in the USA, and Seligman's "Signature Strengths" in his Authentic Happiness work. LINK Whether from his book or via the web site, I encourage you to 'do the quiz', even if you think you are already well aware of your strengths. Their research confirms it truly makes a world of difference.
Let's finish here with reminders of easy "what can do's" when meeting monkeys and monsters during your meditation practice and of course during any day!
Mmmmm: Make the sound 'mmmm'. Humming. Good Vibration. Letting the sound carry, stimulate, shift focus, energise the cells, each breath like a touchstone you can come back to if gone too far; or like hide and seek, 'come home free'.
Notice, without changing, responding to. Like a peripheral vision of seeing but not trying to catch with direct glance, not giving energy of attention to the beast. "There's anger. . . Ah, that stream of thought again." Just notice, no need to resist or respond.
Breathe, adjust presence and posture (physical and social). Sometimes its simply a matter of shrugging 'it' off. No big deal. Beware dramatizing, melodrama picking up others' monsters not my meat! Its a common and easy human trait to like jumping into and getting caught up in stuff that isn't really ours. Seems a good buzz sometimes. There are a lot of big, collective energy waves we can get caught up in. We need to be honest and not deny evil in world, yet not all is our personal responsibility, and getting drawn into others' individual or collective beast-lands easily sucks and drains our own energy, and leaves us out of balance and out of sorts. "That's yours, bless you, not mine". We don't need to fix either.
Hate no one and no thing, not even hate itself; or if you must, be aware that's what's going on and how hurtful is that state of mind, and that you really can choose again..
In my mind, in a crackin' good Aussie accent, this seems to sum up the most healthy relationship with monkeys and monsters: "G'day mate!"
You are welcome to - CONTACT Cynthia Alves about your meditation experiences. I can't guarantee an answer, but all comments and questions will go toward sharing a better understanding about the ups and downs of meditation in practices and life.
As a P.S. I end this light-hearted 'take' on a more serious note. If you have been experiencing troubled mind, especially following meditation practices or healing sessions, I most highly recommend going first to "Feeling Safe" by William Bloom, and making his grounded and usually easy practices into habits. A more in depth tome on the subject of 'monsters' is David Ashworth's "Dancing With the Devil, as You Channel in the Light". All in all, on the one hand, avoid looking for 'trouble' and inviting it with fears; on the other hand, be informed and sensibly prepared. Go gently and lovingly.