Defeating “Monkey Mind” With One-Pointed Concentration
Meditation is the fundamental practice of spiritual yoga. While hatha yoga is focused on physical movement and dynamic balance, meditation is all about stillness, physical and mental. Maintaining meditation postures or “asanas” while ignoring the urge to scratch your nose or stretch out a numb calf can be very challenging, especially for beginning meditators. But that challenge pales in comparison to the daunting hurdle of quieting the mind.
What is Monkey Mind?
The normal activity of the mind is to move quickly and efficiently from one thought to another. In the waking state, it is more or less constantly evaluating the environment as perceived through the senses and responding to it according to the demands of our survival instincts and our will. Not surprisingly, withdrawing outward stimuli doesn’t immediately turn off the mind’s constant flipping from thought to thought. Like a monkey swinging from vine to vine in the jungle, each thought seems to lead inevitably to another, creating a constant distraction of attention and energy.
Give the Monkey a Banana
There are many meditation techniques available through various spiritual organizations and traditions. A fair number of these include awareness of the breath as part of the recommended practice. Others bestow a mantra, a special word or phrase to be repeated mentally. Still others advise visualizing with the mind’s eye an object of devotion, such as a guru or saint, or maintaining literal visual focus on a sacred pattern or mandala.
Rather than trying to move the mind from its normal high rate of stimuli processing to a dead halt, these strategies provide one or at least a limited number of stimuli on which the mind may focus. Giving the mind an object, especially one associated with calmness, love or even joy, gently shifts its generation of thoughts to a lower gear. Will thoughts continue to pop up, willy-nilly? Yes. But as the old saying goes, just because a bird flies across the sky, you needn’t let it nest in your hair. Being aware of an unbidden thought need not disrupt the flow of meditation if you exert your will to simply refocus on the meditative object, rather than flying away to your next free association.
The Goal of One-Pointed Concentration
One-pointed concentration on a meditative object is a most desirable achievement and goes a long way toward stilling the body and truly resting the mind. However, once you have successfully turned the beacons of outward attention down low and you are resting for longer and longer periods in a single thought or perception, the possibility of a different sort of experience arises. Rather than being anchored in sensation and thought, the sense of self begins to float unaided in pure awareness. It is then that connection with spirit, with the enormity that contains all, transmutes the little monkeys from constant sources of annoyance to servants of a larger consciousness.
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