Monkey vs Mind
Updated: Nov 2
I am learning this lesson over and over again – knowing your brain helps you live a better, wiser life. In order to do that, you need to observe how your own brain works.
This time I want to talk about several mechanisms that, regardless of all our differences, we all have to a certain extent. Systems that we are often unaware of. We can call them all together The autopilot.
Those systems play tricks on us and how we perceive the world. They filter on our reality. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative, those filters are influencing how we feel and how we behave.
I strongly suggest you observe and question them from time to time – it’s liberating!
I heard this phrase for the first time in yoga practice. It really is the best description of my inner life. It is a Buddhist term meaning unsettled, restless, inconstant, confused, uncontrollable… Technically it means all of us living in the “modern world”.
The monkey mind is the voice inside you that is always talking, talking, talking…. It is the train of thought you have while you wash the dishes. It’s the anxiety for the project you haven’t started yet…
It’s what you think when you zone out. What you talk to yourself when you are not present here and now.
Don’t worry too much about it, we all hear the “voices”. You are not (the only one) “crazy”. Crazy is only that we sometimes surrender to the over critical, almost cynical and never satisfied monkey mind. That’s when monkey in us wins. Your happy, curious, creative and child-like mind being shhhhhhut by your same old, safe old, monkey.
F***ing monkey mind! Why?
Well, the instinct to keep you safe.
Because your brain wants to protect you. “Protect” equals “Survive as long as possible! By no means get hurt!” And if that means protecting you from yourself, than so be it. But why myself? I'm not trying to hurt myself!? Because we have evolved. We’ve changed so much since our only need was survival. We want so much more now, but our instincts still work the same way – stopping us from proceeding with any "crazy idea" we might have.
Just like our parents.
They told you not to climb that old tree! Remember when you were eight and you broke your arm? They told you a hundred times that the dry old branch will break sooner or later!
Similarly, your brain does not like any dangerous activities. It does not like you going around climbing trees. Or writing blogs. Or talking back to your boss…
Almost too similar to your parents, isn’t it? But it’s “only trying to protect you!”
It’s an instinct, right there in the core function of our brains – keeping you safe. And the experience says that the unknown might hurt you. Challenges may hurt you. Any change to the status quo, may hurt you. So the never stopping yada, yada, yada, may just stop you changing anything. Or doing anything for that matter.
Very often it will. It will do whatever it takes to stop you. Even if it takes creating fears, making you feel like there is a real threat out there. Boo!
The Belief System Again same as your parents, your monkey mind annoys you and makes you feel like you can’t breathe. Like you want to escape.
Congratulations, you are a teenager – Now you know what you are capable of, you believe in yourself, but they are always stopping you. And when you are old enough to move out of your parents house and break free, well hello monkey mind.
You already had your instincts, now you also have a belief system installed so deeply into your unconscious that you don’t even know it’s there. And since you are all “grown up” now (if you don’t challenge it) you start identifying yourself with it.
It’s ironic because you have almost nothing to do with it. Your belief system is what you have (unconsciously) learned throughout your life. Not just from your parents. It goes much further back with ancestors and it goes wider, as wide as the whole society you grew up with. Wanting it or not, you inherit your beliefs from your family, your friends, your community, your religion, your society … the part of the planet you were born in. All of it is in you.
What you perceive as beautiful, valuable, right, wrong, successful… it has barely anything to do with you, and has everything to do with what beliefs you were exposed to, and how you accepted them. You may have been a rebel, but believe it, even rebelling against a belief system is often within it. You may have had your own view of the world, but only through the frame you grew up in.
Then you grow up. Maybe you move. You meet other people, hopefully from other places and with different belief systems. And hopefully, that’s when you start questioning your own. Because you can only notice it (and challenge it) when you know what else is there.
Reading, really listening to different opinions and experiences, trying hard to understand a different point of view might help you learn something. It might help you grow.Don’t challenge it, and you will never know that you have a strong belief system that you may even not agree with if you think about it. That’s where racism, nationalism, homophobia and any other form of inability to understand others come from. That’s how you become the monkey.
The need to be right
So you have all your “safe and sound systems” installed (aware or unaware of them) and then another one that makes you believe that everything you believe is right. A whole new level of “protection”. You are right.
You need to be right so much, that your brain even creates false memories for you. So you can keep on thinking that you are right.
Then there is the self serving bias. So you can keep on living with yourself even if you are a stupid arsehole. Makes you believe that you are a good person. So adorable (Not!). Thinking that everything that is good in your life – you caused it, and everything bad that happens is everyone else’s fault.
And there is the just world belief – making you think that the good person you are (ha ha) doesn’t deserve bad things happening to them. Only those other people, the ones whose fault everything is. It’s how you rationalize all injustice that you see around you – they somehow deserved it. And you move on, like nothing is wrong. Making you not care. Making you even worse than you were before.
You can spend all your life, as many others are, thinking you were right all the time. Thinking that you know everything. Believing that you know best. Because that’s your default state. It’s how you were born and raised – a little monkey.
Breaking through all these “layers of protection” is not easy. But it is an “awakening”. A path to a conscious state of mind. That’s where the human lives. We evolved so much since we were monkeys, it’s time to accept that change.
And don’t get me wrong, this is not a one time thing! Changing the default takes breaking through these systems over and over again. Every day. Every hour… It’s not easy, but with time you get better at it. The life you are rewarded is worth every fight.
Ask questions. Observe. Learn. Change. Grow.
As the Mind learns and grows and it wants to go crazy creative and conscious, it also gets better at ways to do the opposite. (It does not need a higher goal. It does not need a deeper meaning. It only needs to survive.) Fight it. Your highest form of consciousness and your monkey mind it’s all in you. You choose which one will lead your life.
Whenever you zone out and start biting your nails, try waking up and talking back. Something like: “Thank you monkey mind, I know you are afraid of everything but let me breathe please.” Begging yourself might actually help you understand that it’s up to you which of this two (ok, maybe more) voices you identify yourself with. “Yes Monkey, I know it seems dangerous to you but it is exciting for me. Why don’t we try work something out here.”
Here is mine from today: “Hey Monkey, how are you today. Still afraid of pressing publish? Still not good enough? Come on, we have been through this so many times already! I know that people might not like it. And I know that people not liking me hurts, but I also know that some people like what I write. They might even find it helpful! I really like doing this. It’s my form of expression. Can you be quiet so I can finish this and publish? Please? Thanks. I love you”
And whenever you feel like you know best, ask yourself why. Is it what you really believe or is it your monkey belief system wrapped in some of the protective systems that is feeding you bulls**t, so you don’t have to really think. Take one of your strong stands on any topic to practice. See how deep you can explore your beliefs.
Ask questions and avoid the cliche answers! Think for your own. Argument only with your own, well thought thoughts, not the default ones that everyone else uses.
Read! Other people might know some stuff as well.
You can win your arguments. They are yours, you choose how to lead them. You can do this. Try it and you’ll see. Put your monkey to bed. Break free.