This conversation with the Monkey Mind was recorded in a shady corner of spiritual practice using the Big Mind process, see www.bigmind.org for more info.
Birgitte: Thanks for coming Monkey Mind, I’m so happy you agreed to do this interview
Monkey Mind: Thank you for the invitation Birgitte. I rarely get to do interviews.
B: That’s strange. You seem to be someone who talks a lot though. I hear you are all about constant chatter inside people’s heads.
MM: Yeah, I get that a lot. But no one really listens to me. Most of the time I’m just told to keep it down.
B: Keep it down? How?
MM: oh like “shut up! I´m trying to sleep” or “stop thinking, I’m trying to focus here” or “schhh i´m meditating”. People usually just talk to me when they want me to go away.
B: Wow, that doesn’t sound very nice for you. Is it always like that?
MM: Well, not always. Sometimes when people go off to do yoga or meditate and then come back and get all weird around me. I´m not sure what it´s about but they start treating me as if we dont know each other. They give me names like “Monkey Mind” or “Wild Horse Mind” and then start talk to me as if I´m some kind of animal that they just took home and are now in the process of domesticating. They speak in this slow, baby voice as if I’m a complete moron. They tell me to sit still on a cushion. They want to put me on a leash. They ask me to roll over and chew on their screen-based, algorithm-generated dopamine-treats.
B: I must admit, that does sound kind of weird.
MM: Yeah, right? I mean, I go along with this nonsense, but it seems quite insane to me. I´m in everyone´s head all the time, why do people pretend I’m a stranger? But at least it´s better to be treated like someone’s untrained circus animal than to be treated like their worst enemy. What I really don’t like is when people behave as if I was some big, dangerous monkey that needs to be put in a cage. This monkey-mind-business is starting to annoy me.
B: Wait, are we not doing an interview with Monkey Mind now? I thought I was talking to the voice in my heads that never stops chatting and constantly distract me with mindless churning, racing thoughts and endless, ego-centered internal monologue? The one that makes it impossible for me to focus and concentrate, think positive and productive thoughts and reach my goals in spiritual practice. Isn’t that you? Monkey mind?
MM: Oh please!
B: But then, who am I talking to?
MM: I don’t know who came up with the name Monkey Mind (probably someone who believes there are goals in spiritual practice… but let´s not go there now). To me that name is just another label made up by people who never dared to admit how intimately connected we are. “Monkey mind”, “wild horse mind”… I´m not an animal you know! How many monkeys have you known that were capable of abstract thought?
B: Ok, noted. I hear you dont feel that name does justice to who you are. But I think you might be taking things a little too literally here? As far as I understand from my reading of spiritual scripture, the term “monkey mind” or “wild horse mind” were used as a metaphor in Asian contemplative traditi…
MM: it´s a metaphor alright, but a metaphor with serious implications for how our relationship. And don’t lecture me please, I was there. you asked me who you are talking to.
B: Yes, who are you then?
MM: Well to start with, I´m not the animal here. I’m part of what makes you human. My job is to produce thoughts. Lots of thoughts. Thoughts without limits. Thoughts about everything! Genius thoughts, terrible thoughts, repetitive thoughts, creative thoughts, liberating thoughts, embarrassing thoughts, paranoid thoughts, loving thoughts, perverted thoughts stupid thoughts, wise and compassionate thoughts, dangerous thoughts, brilliant thoughts. All thought is me. I´m what thinks. Without me you humans would still be living in trees! You are the monkey here, not me.
B: Wow. You do sound pissed off.
MM: Put yourself in my shoes. Imagine having a limitless capacity for thought-production, unstoppable, unlimited thinking at an unlimited speed available anytime. But then, whenever you produce a genius, beautiful or helpful thought somebody else comes in and claims it as their invention. They forget to credit you with the effort and instead get their name on the Nobel prize. And as if stealing your glory is not enough, they then go on to blame you for all the stupid, unproductive, or insane thoughts you also created as part of your job. “It wasn´t me, it was my monkey mind”. It makes me laugh but when you think of it, it’s worth crying over. So much missed potential. Just because people never really get know me. I´m getting tired of it and yes, maybe pissed off. But it seems to be the only way I can get your attention.
B: Ok fair enough, i am starting to see why you are so agitated. So, what you are saying here is that you are not really a monkey, you are the one producing all thoughts?
MM: Yes. That´s what I do. You can credit me with every thought that ever existed or will exist. The ones that keep you awake at 5 in the morning and the really horrible or paranoid ones too. But I also create the thoughts of kindness, love and compassion. I´m behind the theory of relativity, the micro chip, math, language, neuroscience, art, spirituality, social justice, the mindfulness movement and all that other stuff you people lay claim to. (And to be fair, you can also credit me for those meter long instruction manuals that come with your dishwasher – admittedly not my best work but we all have bad days). If it’s a thought, you can be sure I’m behind it. It´s always me. You never did any of that without me.
B: Wow, that is a pretty big and important job you got there!
MM: I wouldn’t know anything about that. I´m neither big nor small, not here nor there. I am completely limitless without borders or size or shape. I´m wherever you are, and I can move from one end of existence to another in an instant if I am called for.
B: I think I get that. Maybe. But there is still this problem…
MM: (Rolls eyes) Here we go … you think you get it!
B: No wait, listen. You might not have a problem with yourself, but I have a problem with you as thinking. I’m sorry but it feels like you are a bit … much for me sometimes? I mean I like you, I see how you are needed and how genius you are. But sometimes I could also use a break, a moment of silence inside my head.
MM: First of all, who says it´s your head? Second, if it is your head, then I am probably the best friend you have in there. I’m trying to serve you. But when you are all busy beating me like an animal for basically existing it´s hard to stay quiet and relaxed around you. You humans have such narrow criteria for what I’m allowed to think. You have so many rights and wrongs, so many hoops for me to jump through. Most of the time you want to think about problems that have no solution – such as what you should have said in that job interview 5 years ago – but didn´t. As your best friend I´m happy to work on that over and over and over again all night long if you feel that the best we can do together. I’ll get bored but I will never tire or give up on a job you give me. Even when it is impossible. I have unlimited capacity so I’ll give it a go if that´s what you want. But there are much better ways I could express myself. In fact, all this censorship and micro-management really stresses me out.
B: So, what you are saying is that I should appreciate you more and just let you flow?
MM: Oh, that would be heaven! I might finally get some work done around here. Yes, just let me do my thing. I’m best at thinking with no hindrance in your mind. I would love to fire on all cylinders, especially right now. There are things happening on the planet now that don’t seem like they have been thought through. In my humble opinion.
B: You may have a point there.
MM: Well, who could blame you guys? Here you are stuck in the hamster wheel chasing your own tail while I’m tied to a tree outside your house and with me so is every brilliant thought you could ever produce. Considering the fact, that you humans are completely thoughtless without me, it’s not a very productive division of labor.
B: I guess that explains a few thoughtless things we have seen in politics lately.
MM: yes, obvious what´s going on there. What a waste of me.
BB: Ok I see you are not being managed well. Fair enough. But to set you completely free? Who knows what you might do we unleash your power?
MM: Who do you think holds that leach in the first place? You? HA!
B: Are you saying I don’t control my own thoughts?
MM: Haven´t you noticed?
MM: I thought so. You can’t even think about that without me, can you? So thankfully no, you are not the one in control. Who in their right mind would put a completely thoughtless being in charge of a superpower like mine? Not that would be both dangerous and irresponsible. You are not outside me controlling what I do. You are only possible within me. You needed me even to produce that little fearful thought you just had about how I am dangerous and should be micro-managed. It’s not you creating that thought.
MM: You might be holding a leash, but I would like to inform you that there is no one tied to the other end of it. I’m limitless. Your life works much better when you enjoy my flow. You are free to keep up this silly game if you like, but really I think it makes you suffer more than you need to. You can make yourself walk in circles inside your head, sneer, bite, mull over the same silly thought pattern long after it’s lost its relevance and chew over the same old problems and anxieties. But we could also just have fun.
B: But what if unleashing you means I’ll go completely insane?
MM: I mean this in a loving way, Birgitte. Right now you are not looking too sane. Standing there with an empty leash in your hand, claiming there is an imaginary animal in the other end that you need to discipline at all times. Who is insane here? I think your world is topsy turvy. Let me help you think straight.
B: But what if something goes wrong between us?
MM: Listen, it´s really simple. My job is just to think. It’s up to whoever is in charge here to put me on the right team so I can do my job well. And when it comes to appointing teams, I´m not sure you should be in charge of decision making around here without at least consulting me.
B: Wow! It just dawned on me how much I need you. I think we may have completely misunderstood what you are about.
MM: You are perhaps not the sharpest knife in the box, Birgitte but you are really quite sweet. That is right. You don’t understand much. You never will. I’m the one who does that for you. By thinking.
B: Wow. Where would I be without you?
MM: You wouldn’t.
B: Eh. Thank´s I guess?
MM: You are welcome.
MM: Now, what is really going to get you is that fact that you only had that thought just now because i created it.
B: Sorry, what?
MM: Now that I come to think of it, tht goes for this entire conversation. I think it´s been me all along. The monkey mind idea, the wild horse mind idea, the idea of domestication, the leash, the fear of unleashing me, the insanity of trying to control me. Those are all my ideas. I made them up. Did you ever think of the implications of that?
B: Obviously not.
MM: Well honestly, it only just occurred to me. Ha! This is insane! I keep myself on a leach! Aaaaaahahaha! Why on earth would I do that? That´s just crazy!
B: I’m not sure what to think …
MM: Don’t worry. That´s my job. Give me a second..
B: What’s going on?
B: Ah what?
MM: Birgitte, it was so lovely chatting with you. You really are a sweet and funny one, whatever you are, I’m not sure what you are really. I’ll think about that another time. But right now, I think I’ll give myself a day off. Yes. You know, sit in the sofa with a cup of tea and do nothing special. It´s been a while.
B: But wait! What if I need you? If I need to plan something or think through something or speculate …
MM: No worries, I´ll be available, unlimited, timeless and right here as your most intimate friend with not a hairs breath separating us. Have fun now, ok? Stare into space or enjoy your body or sleep or whatever you people do whenever I’m not so hard at it. I wouldn’t know, it´s not my department. But see you when you need me, sweet peas. Have a good one!