As you may have guessed, the Monkey Mind is but a metaphor for the state of mind that must be overcome during meditation. It is particularly useful for helping us to understand meditation, and is a great tool with which to assist students.
Envision the behaviour of a monkey. Surely, in your mind’s eye, it screeches as it jumps from tree to tree. It appears wild, and far from tranquil. The monkey of your imagination is very similar in spirit to the behaviour of the untrained mind. For just as the monkey screeches and leaps, the mind also makes noise to its possessor as it jumps from thought to thought. As the mind whirrs about, it becomes impossible to focus its awareness on the present – which is the very goal of meditation.
For this reason, one of the most important tasks that we face during meditation is that of returning the mind to its state of silent, calm concentration. This can be achieved through a variety of techniques, including focusing on a burning candle, or chanting a mantra, like the syllable Aum. Another useful technique is that of returning your thoughts to your breathing as air flows in and out of your abdomen.
The human consciousness is, in many respects, a wild mishmash of sense-impressions, nervous reactions, sensitive experience and racing thoughts. Our consciousness is affected and influenced by our sensory experience, which is constantly perceiving the world (both the outer and our inner world) of multitudinous objects.
Consciousness, therefore, can be more systematically defined. But in Eastern traditions, ‘the witness’ is something of a mystery – even though it plays a very obvious and important role in meditation.
When doing yoga and meditation, we raise the mysterious question: “who is it to whom the mind presents all of our sense-impressions, thoughts and emotions?” We certainly do not ‘present’ our feelings and emotions to ourselves – instead, we consider our emotions to be part of ourselves. To make this clearer, consider the following. We tend to say “I feel tired,” and not “my tiredness presents itself to me,” or, “to myself I offer up my tiredness.”
Confusingly, even though our sense-impressions and thoughts are part of ourselves, the nevertheless continue to whir, make themselves known, and influence us. This mysterious pattern of internal energy describes the unique relationship between consciousness and the witness.
However, when we do meditation, we actually change the standard relationship between consciousness and the witness. When we meditate, we temporarily cease to exist as a free-wheeling consciousness, and instead, we strive to become the witness. The witness – instead of being bogged down by thoughts and emotions – simply receives and observes the presented sense-impressions in a neutral fashion. In summation – in yoga and meditation, we strive to become the witness.