Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mingyur Rinpoche's Playing Tricks With Monkey Mind

Last weekend, Mingyur Rinpoche taught us how to deal with 'monkey mind', the crazy, restless part of our mind that causes us so much suffering. Making ample use of paradox, Rinpoche explained how to use monkey mind to free ourselves from monkey mind. I was reminded of structural family therapist Salvador Minuchin's clever paradoxical interventions with families.

Mingyur Rinpoche's Monkey Puppet

Below, my notes from the day, unedited . . . 

How to meditate with sixth consciousness, mental consciousness (monkey mind), is most important.

We know two kinds of dukkha (suffering/dissatisfaction/discomfort):
  • self, or mind created - 95% of dukkha 
  • natural
One example is fear of dying which is a lot worse than death itself.

Rinpoche's story, to illustrate how to use problem as antidote:
When I was in training in the monastery, I once got water stuck in my ear. The sound from water swishing around drove me crazy. I went to my teacher and asked him what should I do? He told me to pour more water into my ear. I did, and that way was able to get all the water out.
Same with monkey mind. Use monkey mind to free monkey mind.

We usually have two responses to monkey mind:
  • "Yes, Sir" - being controlled by monkey mind, monkey mind as our bad boss
  • "Get out!" - aversion to monkey mind, monkey mind as our enemy
Instead, we need to make friend with monkey mind - "Hello!"

When we put our awareness on monkey mind, monkey mind becomes a support for our awareness.

Monkey mind is made up of thoughts and emotions and entails three things:
  • Images
  • Words
  • Body sensations 
Images and words are most connected with thoughts, and sensations with emotions.

Emotions, particularly long time developed emotions are more difficult to use as support for meditation, at least at first. That is because it is difficult to get out of habits. Hence, one should start by learning first how to use thoughts as support for meditation. 

Thought meditation:
  • Having thoughts is not a problem
  • If one runs into expectations about thoughts, use these as support for meditation
  • When watching thoughts there are two possible experiences, maybe you can see them, maybe not - if you cannot see, you are into open awareness, like being at a bus stop waiting for the bus - if you can see thought, then awareness of thought as object - either way, two great meditation experiences.
  • If you want to use thought as support for meditation you can - using them just like sounds, or breath - watching them come and go
  • Like watching "inner television" - only problem is program is quite old - that's ok, keep on watching same program, the result of watching will be different each time - analogy of swimming, only five strokes, but experience of Olympic swimmer is quite different from person who is learning how to swim.
  • When watching thoughts, it is important to be uncontrived - whatever happens, happens.
Emotion meditation:
  • Difficult with long time held emotions, because of very strong habits of fighting or surrendering
  • It is very important to talk about emotions, as first step before meditation
  • There are four steps for emotion meditation.
Four steps of emotion meditation:
  1. Main practice, with two parts: 1) recognize emotion, which often means feeling it more fully - mountain analogy: when you see the mountain, that means you are out of the mountain, but at first, it may seems as if mountain is bigger, 2) don't ask question, only be aware of three aspects of emotion - audio (verbal), video (images), body (sensations)
  2. Try something different: if emotion is too overwhelming, 1) go back to other objects of meditation, such as sounds, smells, forms, breath, etc . . . or, 2) make a different emotion, eg, anger instead of panic (gossipy neurons will join anger group instead of panic group)
  3. Take a break: if 1) and 2) don't work, or if you feel too exhausted, like a computer running out of battery, don't meditate - instead, rest, do physical exercise, get a cup of coffee, appreciate being alive . . . 
  4. Step back: look at booster of emotion, which is often stronger than emotion itself, eg, fear of panic, dislike of anger, expectations about emotion, etc . . .  and turn it into object of meditation.
Brilliant, simple, practical. A breath of fresh air in Dharmadom . . . For more teachings from Mingyur Rinpoche, you may want to read his two books: The Joy of Living, and Joyful Wisdom, and also visit his website.


  1. Great advice here...and I agree, very practical as well. I'm definitely experienced with thought meditation since I definitely have problems being 'scatter brained'...in other words, my monkey mind is more like gorilla mind :)

    Typically, I'll start out purely focusing on my breath...feeling it, being with, etc. From there I attempt to let go of that to purely focus on any thoughts arising. Sometimes I'll get caught up in that, so I'll go back to the breath to re-center myself so to speak.

  2. As always, Nate, I appreciate your dedication to your practice!

    May you be well, may you be at ease, may you be at peace.

  3. I'm working on it. And, hey, thanks for the advice on sitting positions! I'll have to try some of them out. I think a kneeling position might work out well, so I may try that. A good zafu helps as well.