Crouching Tiger, Sleeping Monkey

For the first five or ten minutes of a run, my monkey-mind is in complete control.  Swinging from thought to thought. He (I’ve decided it’s a male monkey) asks me countless questions. He makes ridiculous statements. He tries to undermine my every step.

What do you have to do after this run? You should make a list.  There’s so much to do.  Why are you wasting time running?  The house is a mess. All of the Christmas presents are still in the living room. There are dishes in the sink, three loads of laundry.

What is the schedule this week? There are three basketball games, school projects, yoga classes, work.

What are you going to make for dinner? You really have to go food shopping. You are out of coffee, and ketchup and garbage bags.

You need new sneakers. When are you going to buy new sneakers?  You should’ve worn a heavier sweatshirt.  It’s colder than you thought.

What is that twinge in your knee?  That could lead to something bad.  Running is so bad for your knees.  Why are you doing this again?  Running on asphalt?

You really should have eaten something.  Maybe you should just turn around and go home.  I think you should.

Let’s do that. Let’s just go home.

But then all of a sudden, it happens.  There is silence. There is space. Openness. Emptiness. Nothing.  There is nothing but the sound of my breath and my feet hitting the pavement.   It is right here, in this wide-open space that I come back to me. My mind is like a vacuum, and the monkey can’t breathe in there. He can’t make a sound.

When I was a kid the radiators in my house used to make noise.  They would let out short hisses for a while.  Then the hisses would become longer. Until finally enough pressure would build up and the radiator would let out a long high pitched squeal.   I remember my dad coming to the room and turning something on the radiators to let out some steam and make that horrible noise stop: a release valve.

Running is one of my release valves. So is yoga.  If I’m lost in a yoga class I can get to that same place. That vacuum.  It also happens when I’m writing. I get in the zone, and I become single minded, completely focused, and there is no room for anything else.    It can happen when I’m absorbed in a conversation with a friend, or listening to a favorite song, or making love.   It can happen with meditation.  With practice and patience, I can get to that same place, if only for a moment or two.

There are days when the monkey is relentless   He points out every annoying little thing in my life: the full calendar, the droning of the television, the mess in the kitchen, the shoes on the floor, my crow’s feet, the kids’ fighting, my mushy gut. It’s like a squealing radiator in my head.

If I can step away from it all and take a class, or a run, or close myself in a room and write, if I can just get to a release valve I will feel so much better.

But instead of waiting for the moment to come when the pressure has built up so much that I have to open the valve right away, I can keep the valve slightly open all of the time.

If I just take a little while every day to take myself to that place, to that vacuum, maybe I can keep that monkey anesthetized.


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