Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lessons from my Zafu: Monkeys are everywhere!

I have decided to write a series of insights that have passed through my head while sitting on my Zafu...and I invite readers who have a meditative practice to chime in as well.
For those new to Zen, a zafu simply means sitting cushion. In Soto Zen we sit on black zafu's. They are usually round and placed upon a zabuton, or sitting mat. When we sit down to meditate our focus is upon our breathing...and that's all we do.

Even though when you sit upon a zafu and look motionless in zazen, there is lots going on...at least in my head there is. I tend to have a lot of mental chatter going on, typically called 'monkey mind' in Zen circles. Monkey mind loves to chatter endlessly.

The insights I will share are again my experiences and not eternal truths or to be taken too literally. Trying to describe what happens sometimes while sitting is truly at times trying to describe the describless. The real experience cannot truly be captured in words or pictures. As I have mentioned in other posts, you need your direct experiences. That is what counts. I am only sharing mine in the hopes they inspire you in your practice...and writing helps me keep the monkeys from taking over.

So, this is one of my first insights about zen practice. Don't try and get rid of the monkeys. This only makes them noisier and more mischievious. To quiet the monkeys, just watch them and allow them to quiet themselves down. You see, your monkey mind is like a spoiled child who screams and screams for what it wants...and if you give in to it you reinforce bad behavior. Best advice is to ignore or just note the monkeys exist as you are watching your breaths in zazen.

Over time, they do quiet down...but very rarely are they truly quiet for me. Even during intense moments of 'clarity' there is a subtle 'chatter' going on. Just part of the whole experience, neither to be sought after or gotten rid of. Just watch and see what happens. Regardless, monkeys are everywhere.

Take Care,



  1. I tried sitting. Once. I did as you suggested, watching the breath and calmed the monkey mind. Everything was fine, just cruising along, when a small soft bubble popped at the end of the exhale. A wall of emotion burst out, and I had the interesting experience of dispassionately watching it approach me and wondering, 'Now...where did that come from?' Then it hit me like a wall of bricks, and I was sobbing and covered in snots.

    Nothing I read prepared me for this, and when I asked the zen teacher if he would my teacher, he told me 'Good luck in your search...keep looking.' Man...did that tee me off. I thought, 'What kind of zen gimmick is this?'

    Angry, I kept looking. By the time I figured it out, I decided moving meditation was probably better for me.

  2. Hi Narda...thanks for sharing your Zen story. Yes, Zen is not always pretty...there is snot, farts and sweat, but there is also the peaceful sound of a temple bell and the calming smell of incense.

    In terms of this teacher you met...it is probably good you did leave. From what I was taught a good Zen teacher is all embracing and takes you as you are, snot and all. After all, even snot has Buddha nature!

    Don't give up on sitting zen. There is great usefulness in it uselessness.

    Hands palm to palm

    (a side note...I can't get into your blog)

  3. RE: the blog...I don't know why. 'harlan's place' is the only open one. the rest are stories in process.

  4. Yes the mokeys are always there! Some are louder and less friendly than others and I think that is excactly why some people do not enjoy or cannot experience(stillness.) Its easier for some to turn up the volume on the tv or their life(own exterior minds) than listen to what is there in the silence. Myself not uncluded in this group, I enjoy the quiet stillness of meditation when it comes.