Say “Hello, monkey.”
Whatever the chatter is — no matter how harsh, silly, irrelevant or distracting — you must learn how to handle the monkey mind: that endless chatter of fear, restlessness, distraction and other voices in our heads that Buddha described as monkeys clamoring for our attention.
If you hate the monkey mind , it is like giving it steroids. If you bathe it in compassion, it is like a soothing balm that will entice it out of the trees to be held safely in Jizo’s arms.
When did the phrase “mind-monkey” first arise? Around 500 C.E. Emperor Jianwen of Liang wrote a poem using the phrase “mind-monkey.” That was over 1,600 years ago, and we still struggle with the racing mind, attempting to quiet it with meditation. There were no electronic distractions in the year 500. Basic needs of safety, health, sustenance were at the forefront of the mind and yet still, poets and ascetics observed the mind doing pretty much the same thing as it does today.
The Tang Dynasty poet Zu Hun wrote in 832 C.E. “you must make your mind as pure as still water, control your emotion-monkey’s indolence and fidgeting, and restrain your idea-horse’s haste and galloping.”
The “Idea Horse” is new to me, today. I have often thought of reining in my thoughts the way I learned to rein in Bodhi when he was a young horse and we were training together. But I did not know that the image of the Idea Horse was lingering in Buddhist poetry since the 800’s.