How to Train the Monkey on Your Back

How to Train the Monkey on Your Back

I can't imagine anyone alive who doesn't have at least one monkey on his or her back ... more likely a few of them, if not a whole tribe. Whatever it is that feels like a burden, there are ways to distance yourself so it doesn't lessen your opportunity to enjoy your life.

The trick? Perspective, I think, would be the word.

I look at my own life and, certainly, there are a few monkeys who seem to have permanently parked their bubble-gum butts on my back and shoulders. But then I realize that there were other monkeys weighing me down at certain times in my life who have long since expired. They are gone now, and good riddance. In fact, it takes a bit of effort to remember what they represented. School was a big one, if not the biggest -- a huge orangutan -- now dead a good many years. Then there was the one named Mortgage, a gorilla for sure, still big but now more or less properly trained. I clearly remember Nicotine, what a bastard of an ape that was! But I blasted that sucker with a lethal dose of Nicoderm CQ in September 1997. Dead as a doornail now.

There used to be a school of little twittering monkeys, circulating rather frequently, a bunch of half-baked romantic relationships that didn't quite pan out in the long run. Those too, are mostly gone, although I can still occasionally hear one of them whispering across the divide: "Hey, Hans, remember me?" And I do, of course, I have lots of good memories, and a few not so good. And some never disappeared completely. Which is fine, they are worth being a part of me.

Now I am old ... really old. As in, approaching the expiration date. In getting older, I managed to kill off some of the more obnoxious apes. Time was a big help. Time eats monkeys for breakfast. Still, sometimes it takes a conscious effort to either kill or train your monkey. Killing them doesn't always remove all the loose ends, so training them is better.

Take, for example, some of the bloody annoying monkeys currently parked on my back. Recently, a young one by the name of Tinnitus has moved close to my left ear. Tinnitus, the incessant ringing or hissing sound in your ear, is a very common problem, affecting about 50 million Americans. It is usually caused by hearing loss due to age, or having been exposed to loud noise or music. (Thanks Jimi, Janis, Mick, Eric, Van Halen, thanks a lot!) So how am I gonna train that noisy monkey?

The way I see it, there are really two problems with this monkey. On one hand, it just makes a constant hissing sound. Not that big of a deal when you think about it. On the other hand, my stupid mind just keeps wanting to comment on it. Things like: "God, I wish my ear stopped hissing!" Or, "I sure hope I don't have to put up with this for the rest of my life! Or this one: "That sound is driving me nuts!" Which brings me to the essence of this blog: training the monkey!

See, all I have to do is recognize that it isn't the hissing sound, but my always-so-bloody-happy-to-comment-mind that is the real culprit. If I can stop my mind from paying attention to the things I would prefer to ignore, then I am in charge. I decide what is worthy of my awareness. I get to be the boss!

So that's what I need to do, as far as my monkey named Tinnitus is concerned: ignore her, you fool! (For some reason this particular monkey feels decidedly female.)

Now that I figured that out, let's take a look at other monkeys. My chocoholic sweet tooth has been fattening me up slowly but surely; a life-long friend, that monkey. Stella Artois, a pretty decent Belgian beer ... and another monkey. But wait, that one I actually like, so let's keep him (feels like a big, gentle, male ape to me). Then there is Deadline. But that's a monkey I better not ignore, it might cost me my job!

Anyway, I am sure you have your own monkeys. Take a look at them, see how many of them you can afford to ignore. I bet quite a few. If one of your monkeys is named Money, go ahead and ignore it. Don't let your mind dwell on it, worry you sick, do all the stuff this particular ape is good at. I am not saying don't look for solutions or forget about your obligations. What I am saying is take care of business, then free your mind from unnecessarily worrying and fretting when there isn't really anything you can do about it right now. Keeping things in perspective, that's the trick.

The fact that you have issues is not the issue. Everyone has them. The problem is that you have a mind that keeps turning the compost pile, causing a stink with every shovel full. And after all, it's YOUR mind. You should be able to control that thing, stop it from blasting you with thoughts and sound bites you'd just as happily not have to listen to.

Easier said than done, you say. And rightly so. But there is a way. First, you have to recognize the simple fact that (drum roll, please): You are not your mind! You know that, don't you? You are something else altogether. Something much bigger, much more durable, much more enjoyable and way more valuable. Your mind is just a tool, nothing more. A great tool when used properly, a terribly dangerous tool when not used correctly.

Take, for example, a person with a mind that says things like, "Those other people's religions are false and must be destroyed. My religion is the only true religion. Death to the infidels."If that person does not realize that his or her mind is just a tool, and that the human being carrying it around on the top floor is worth so much more, then perhaps that person will take his or her illusion to the ultimate level and act out his beliefs. What a terrible monkey Religion can be if not properly trained!

And surely, all your monkeys have this one common denominator: The way they make their presence know is via your mind! Control that gateway and you control your monkeys. To a lot of people, that is pure nonsense. They simply can't separate their essence, their identity, from the rambling, mutinous thinking-machine parked upstairs. To those, I would like to say, that there is an elevator that runs from the real you to the illusion of who you think you are, and feeling is its engine.

Feeling takes you from the illusion to the reality, from the mind to the heart, from the temporary to the permanent, and eventually, from the mortal to the immortal. Feeling prevents one from ever harming any other human being, period. Feeling is the real you radiating inward and outward. Feeling should be guiding you, not that thing that lets chattering monkeys ruin your day, makes you frown and pulls the corners of your mouth downward. Feeling, even when caused by empathy and witnessing other people's sorrow, or maybe because of it, is your ticket to paradise, here on earth and afterward.

So kick your worst habit: letting your mind dictate your life. And all the monkeys in the world won't be able to keep you down.

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