A small pack of monkeys has taken up residence in my mind. Let me be clear here, these new inhabitants are joining the two or three monkeys that live there year round. The regulars generally keep busy swinging about hooting and flinging feces like monkeys tend to do. At this point you may be wondering what on earth I’m talking about. That is perfectly understandable!
A Dangerous Disease
There is a dangerous disease sweeping the Western world called Monkey Mind. No, this is not some sort of de-evolutionary phenomenon. Monkey Mind is a term used to describe the human mind when it is in an overactive and highly unsettled state. If you manage to find a spare second in the day to try to sit and relax and as soon as you do a million thoughts and ideas start screeching, swinging, and flinging for your attention, then you probably have Monkey Mind. Take a deep breath. Relax. You are going to be OK, but you will need some help.
There is a simple, one-step answer to solve all of your problems. Bananas! Eat a handful of bananas a day and the monkeys will go away leaving behind a blissful mental jungle. Who knew the cure for an anxious mind was so simple? Just kidding. Sadly, potassium overdosing is not the cure.
We all know that our lives are too fast-paced. There are too many books we are supposed to read for class, too many social events we need to attend and not enough time to get a decent night’s sleep. In spite of our best intentions to slow down, we just can’t seem to stop.
We are addicted to doing, and in those few moments where we try to break free from the craziness our minds run rampant and we get distracted. Before you know it we’re up and running around again. The monkeys screech in delight as we flee from our pursuit of Jesus-focused stillness in defeat. After enough defeats most of us give up and just stop trying. Stillness is too costly.
I strongly believe cultivating Jesus-centered stillness is a critical part of living a Holy Spirit-led Christian life. Throughout the history of the Christian Church this has been called centering prayer. But here’s the catch, if our minds are so filled with the monkeys of work, friends, school, the future (you can keep going, and before long you realize there are a whole lot of monkeys howling and shaking branches), then there is no way that we will be able to discern the soft gentle voice of the Holy Spirit. We speed read a chapter of the Bible as we slurp down a bowl of cereal and get dressed, and we wonder why our devotional times have become dry. We wonder why God has gone quiet.
I do not believe that God has gone quiet. I think we have pushed him to the margins as we’ve over-caffeinated and double booked ourselves to an early spiritual death. We’ve expected him to show up and speak on our terms. We’ve wanted Jesus to be convenient, but he doesn’t work that way. Listening and stillness are difficult. They grow easier in time, but they are still work.
If you think you may be suffering from Monkey Mind, here’s what I recommend. Find somewhere quiet that you won’t be disturbed. Be comfortable, but not too comfortable that you will fall asleep. Set the timer on your phone for 10 minutes. It might be the longest 10 minutes of your life. Invite the Holy Spirit to lead your thoughts.
As your mind drifts, and it will, release the different things that surface to God. Use the phrase “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) to re-center your thoughts. I often focus on my breathing to keep my mind from wandering. As I breathe in I invite the Holy Spirit to fill me and as I breathe out I release the sources of tension and anxiety to God.
Centering-prayer is different from eastern meditation because the goal is not to empty yourself but rather to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When your time is up, take that attentive listening and inner stillness with you into your busy life. Refuse to let the monkeys have the last laugh. Refuse to be a prisoner in your own mind.