Monkey Mind is a term that describes the mind and typically means, “Agitated, easily distracted and incessantly moving behavior of ordinary human consciousness. Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.”
I would imagine that everyone reading this can relate to the experience of having Monkey Mind. For me, it seems like letting go of thoughts has become harder and harder. As I gain more perspective on the world, I feel as though more monkeys are trying to invade the peaceful forest of my mind.
Although the metaphor of monkey mind might be an easy one to imagine, I’ve only seen real monkeys a handful of times - each time either caged or roaming free. It’s interesting to examine the way that this metaphor plays out when viewing the behavior of actual monkeys.
I’m no primate expert, but I imagine that a caged monkey can’t possibly be a happy monkey. Stuck within the confines of metal bars with no access to freedom, a caged monkey is deprived of lush forest trees, crisp sweet air, and banana trees to indulge upon. Last summer, during a trip to the zoo, I came across two remarkable caged monkeys with long black tails and expressive, human-like faces. I stood and observed them for a while. I noticed their patterned behavior, the way they nibbled on food. I thought about how amazing their hands were. I watched them go back and forth, left and right, up and down, repeating the same paths over and over, over and over. I imagine that this is what caged monkeys do all day – repeat the same paths they have already taken. After all, they really have no choice but to keep bumping into the same walls that they’ve already bumped into.
To me, these monkeys seemed anxious, apprehensive, and tense. Just watching them, I also felt anxious, apprehensive, and tense. It occurred to me after a while that I could stand in the same place all day and that the monkeys would never leave my sight because they simply couldn’t. This feeling made me uneasy, and I left with my stomach in knots and my jaw clenched.
Compare this to a monkey that is allowed to roam free in a vast, boundless forest. I had the privilege of seeing some when traveling in Costa Rica three years ago. I had been there for two weeks, and all I wanted was to see a monkey in its natural habitat. Each day I would wake up and hope to see one, and each day I was let down. After a while I stopped searching so hard.
On one of our last outings, we were driving down a dirt road when I finally spotted a lone monkey way up high in the treetops.
My heart pounding, we got out of the car and sneakily tip toed over to the tree. We were overjoyed to see not just one, but an entire troop of monkeys, sprawled across the branches like a net! There must have been about twenty of them - some adults, some babies. It was finally the moment I had been waiting for, and I was not disappointed! We stood there in awe and watched them for what seemed like forever, silent and mesmerized
What I remember finding most amazing was how beautifully and gracefully each monkey was able to swing from branch to branch and then stop, explore its surroundings for a moment, and then move onto the next tree. Going up high, swinging down low, free to explore leaves and fruit, grabbing onto thin and thick branches, and sometimes finding a branch to just lounge and relax upon.
In contrast to the caged monkeys in the zoo, they seemed relaxed and peaceful as they explored their environment. Watching them with curiosity and interest, I also felt relaxed and at peace. And before I knew it, the whole family was gone, having moved on to another patch of trees. I smiled for the rest of the day, and I still smile when I think about the experience now.
Sometimes, when my thoughts are carrying me away to another place, I catch myself and realize that I have a choice. I can keep the monkeys in my brain caged, forcing them into a state of constant rumination and repetition. Bumping into the same walls over and over, they are never able to move onto a new patch of trees, or escape their surroundings. This is a state of suffering in our minds and bodies.
Or I can catch myself. I can anchor in the present moment and imagine this monkey in my brain, dancing around in the treetops like they do in the wild. I can allow it to explore the vast forest of my mind with curiosity, tenderness, and warmth. Eventually, if I let it roam free, it will move on and disappear – leaving my mind and body in a state of tranquility. And so I’ve learned to better accept my monkey brain for what it is, and to try and watch it from afar.
I wrote the song “Monkey Brain” to help empower young children with this choice, so that they can learn how to recognize their little monkey brains. Perhaps they can learn how to gaze at them with wonder as they roam free through the forest.
Yogi Jessie (@OTyogi) is a certfied Little Flower Yoga Teacher. She attended all three levels of training at Princeton Center for Yoga and Health and completed her training in 2014. Jessica is currently working towards a degree in Occupational Therapy so that she may better serve the children in her life.
1). What has LFY Training offered to you?
Little Flower Yoga has offered me not only the skills to teach our little yogi’s, but also a better understanding of what these children need from us as teachers, and as fellow human beings. Through LFY and their methodology, I have learned the necessary skills so that I may teach kids how to self-regulate and deal with the immense amount of stimuli that is constantly being thrown at them. LFY has taught me how to be a better teacher for my students, and in turn help students cultivate a better understanding and ownership of their emotions, body, awareness, and focus. The scientific foundations that LFY is built upon is something I really appreciate and mesh with. Their approach to teaching kids yoga is unlike many others.
2). What brought you to your decision to go back to school for Occupational Therapy?
My compassion for others led me towards Yoga and the way in which it can be used as therapy; a service that is valuable to the rehabilitation of those with adverse conditions. I knew I could put my own time, research and skills from my Little Flower Yoga Trainings into therapeutic avenues for my students. I began working with a young man who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Through developing a Yoga practice for him he began to function better. His overall quality of life became better and his day-to-day dealings seemed to be much easier for him to handle. This brought me immense joy, the kind that forces you to smile uncontrollably when you think about it; being able to use my passion and knowledge of Yoga to help treat a condition that negatively affected someone ensured that I was on the right path, although I still felt that I could do more to help the world through Yoga therapy. I couldn’t help but feel like there was more work to be done to help a broader range of children with health issues. So when the opportunity to volunteer for the Make- A-Wish foundation arose I jumped at it.
By volunteering for Make-A-Wish I knew I would be able to work with children more like I have always desired. Becoming a Wish Granter placed me in the position to grant children ‘a wish come true’ through this amazing organization. The heart wrenching part of this is that the children are all stricken with a life-threatening and sometimes terminal diagnosis. While working with my first ‘Wish Kid’ I could immediately see that he was so sweetand adorable, yet had a condition that at its center was terminal and we all understood that. Spending time with him I could see in his eyes that he was full of love, yet I couldn’t help but notice that he was also full of pain and discomfort. His muscular degenerative disorder left him with a body that was in braces and unable to assist him in experiencing the joys of childhood the way he deserved. This broke my heart, getting to know this sweet little child and seeing him unable to live the life he deserved left me distraught and disbelieving. I refused to accept that nothing more could be done to help.
I knew Yoga has an immediate place in development and therapy for children yet this was uncharted territory in a sense for me. I began investigating how Yoga could be used to treat muscular disorders; how could it be used to help him and others like him, to better their lives, to gift them the enjoyment that they deserve. I knew there was some way to use forms of Yoga therapy to ensure that his little smile would shine through the pain and reduce his discomfort, I just wasn’t sure how yet. I began to find articles on how Yoga was being used in a few Occupational Therapy settings. This immediately sparked my interest. I knew I could utilize my Yoga tools from my trainings in conjunction with a Graduate, and eventually a Doctorate education in Occupational Therapy. This would not only allow me to help this child but help those all over the world in similar need.
3). What do you plan or see yourself doing with all of your trainings?
My goal is to couple my love, education, expertise and treatment of patients, with clinical research, thus yielding the necessary data to advance the way in which people are rehabilitated with yoga. I plan to weave the essential benefits of Yoga into the crucial rehabilitation techniques of Occupational Therapy in order to bridge the gap between mind and body treatments. Though there is some research showing science based evidence to back the use of Yoga in therapeutic settings, there is still much research needed to advance the way in which Occupational Therapist employ Yoga. My ultimate aim is to spearhead the advancement of Yoga within the Occupational Therapy career field with empirical evidence and research, backed by experts trained in the combined Yoga and Occupational Therapy field.
4). How does teaching and helping children make you feel?
Teaching and helping children is one of the greatest things I’ve ever been able to do in life. Working with Special Needs students has made me become a better teacher and taught me things about the human condition I never knew before. I love every minute of it! Children can be some of the most pure and honest teachers we will ever have in life, the important thing to remember is to just listen. Listen with receptive ears, a compassionate heart, open loving arms, and a thoughtful mind. I am very grateful for all that I've learned with my Little Flower Yoga trainings and the position I'm in to help children.