Monkey See. Monkey Do.
Updated: 3 days ago
In my never-ending quest to balance my social and essential selves, it helps me to think of my social self as a band of capuchin monkeys perched on my shoulder overseeing my every move. They vacillate between lazily chomping on bananas and grooming each other when life is calm. But when they sense danger brought on by my openness to experience or any outside force they don't fully understand, they jump about with ear-splitting shrieks.
My concept is a twist on "monkey mind," a Buddhist metaphor describing the natural but chaotic state of the untrained mind. According to a western Buddhist nun, Venerable Tenzin Tsepal, “The Buddha coined the term ‘kapacitta’ to describe this restless, agitated, incessant movement of the mind. He said, ‘Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.’”
My mind monkeys dole out thoughts that create suffering like penny candy. Why? Remember my social self's job is to keep me safe and acceptable to society. But my social self and her monkeys can take their job too seriously. And regret is one of their most potent weapons.
Questioning My Mind Monkeys
I didn't know to question the truth of the tales my social self spun until I discovered The Work of Byron Katie during my life coach training with Martha Beck Institute. I was delighted to learn I didn't need to believe EVERY thought that crossed my mind. And if a thought created any kind of suffering—angst, anger, stomach-churning, rising heat, hyperventilation—that was my clue to question it.
Why? Because the thought was likely untrue. It was fabricated by my social self to keep me safe.
Questioning my thoughts was quite a revolutionary idea to me.
And how did I know that Byron Katie was on to something? Her idea made me feel a bit giddy. Lighter. Relieved. And according to my teacher, Martha Beck,
"When a thought feels like freedom, it's true."
I've spent a lot of the four years honing my inquiry skills. It has become a daily practice— one I can now do pretty quickly in my head but usually do as part of my daily writing. Although I still find Byron Katie's "Judge Your Neighbor" worksheet to be helpful when I'm really suffering from a thought.
The Work has become a key element of my coaching practice. It's something I teach my clients to do themselves. I love how this tool shines a new light on what feels like a rock-solid belief even though it's not serving my client well. I have yet to see a thought that creates suffering stand up long under inquiry. There is always a truer thought that arises once we question it. Relief is usually right there in the midst of the turnarounds. And the freedom of truth isn't far behind.
Original publication April 6, 2017, updated May 23, 2021