Light Bulb Moments: Recognizing the ‘Monkey Mind’

Ever heard the expression ‘monkey mind’? For those of you rolling your eyes in disbelief that once again I’m behind on things, please bear with me. I only came across this recently, in the process of editing a book. I had no clue what it meant and asked for clarification from the author, believing if I’d not heard of the expression, it was possible there may be another ostrich out there.

The past six months, more than I realized, life has not been ‘normal’; no regular routine, running to catch up, very little time that hasn’t been filled with mental over activity.

When life is cruising along in a regular pattern, when the weekly schedule holds no surprises, my mind is free. As thoughts fly in and out of my head I jot them down, use them in my writing, and find the process calming – the same serenity as a session of yoga, a long walk on the beach. When a page of writing is complete it brings a tremendous sense of achievement and harmony with the world.

The past few months life has not been calm. Flying backwards and forwards across the Atlantic to be with a seriously sick daughter, fighting to find doctors willing and able to help her took its toll. The last trip away the grandparents were hauled from their busy lives to man the bridge while I headed to Houston and the Captain headed to Manila – a trip he could not cancel. Harry was in the Middle if his IB exams, the culmination of his school career.

I arrived home the same day as Harry’s Senior Prom, an event I had expected to miss, a wonderful occasion held at the world famous Kurhaus, situated on the beach in Scheveningen, the coastal part of The Hague. A week later and his Graduation, a significant moment in the life of our family followed by the senior class trip to Crete. Knowing how ‘flat’ we’d feel, the Captain and I headed for a week in France, followed by a long weekend in Scotland with close American friends who’d flown in from North Carolina.

We landed home in time for The Hague launch of Apple Gidley’s fabulous book, Expat Life, Slice by Slice. I’d worked with Apple on her book, a wonderful, fun experience and although she lives in Houston we’d not been able to get together despite my frequent trips. To meet her in the flesh was to meet the delightful person I thought she was. It doesn’t always happen like that.

Throughout these months I was continuing to work, meeting deadlines, burying my head in manuscripts. And learning how much paperwork it needs to get your child to college – application for a Study Permit for Canada (‘lost’ by the Dutch post office on the way to the Canadian embassy in Vienna), application for Dutch Study Grants, in Dutch, filling in the USA FAFSA forms, something every US college-bound student is acquainted with.

Life has been hectic, demanding and, despite everything, fun. My notebook was full of all the things I wanted to write about but there wasn’t time. The outcome of Missy’s operations, the mixed feelings of facing an empty nest, the wonderful experiences we had in France and Scotland (our host in France, a former female barrister at the Old Bailey in London, the gearbox dying on the périphérique in Paris during rush hour, the Captain reversing into a tree despite rear sensors, being invited into the kitchen of a pâtisserie owner who spoke no English but we managed to chat for half an hour in French – something we haven’t achieved in the Netherlands in six years).

I wanted to share these wonderful stories of kindness, generosity of spirit and the excitement of knowing that as Harry can’t wait to see his new horizons, there are new horizons out there for the Captain and I and we can’t wait to get started. It’s energising and exhilarating, a time of positive transition and the feeling of a small delicate seedling getting ready to burst into life.

Could I write about it? Oh I tried, but the brain was incapable of linking two thoughts together, words would be jumbled on the page with no meaning. Conversations with the Captain would stop half way through a sentence with me straining every brain-cell to remember what I was talking about. I felt tired from the moment I got up until I fell into bed exhausted. No energy for exercise or pleasure in walking the dog, the things I knew would make me feel better. Everything became stressful.

Nights were no better, falling asleep only to wake in the early hours with a brain in overdrive.  Random thoughts zapping backwards and forwards with no relationship to each other, thoughts flashing like neon lights hurtling out of control – like a ride on ‘Space Mountain’ but all inside your head.

Eventually my head would go to its default place – mentally rearranging furniture in homes I’ve lived in. I know every nook and cranny of every house, the colours of the walls, the curtains, the cupboards, the gardens, right back to childhood. And every piece of furniture I’ve ever owned, when it was bought and where it went in each house. In the long hours of restless nights I rearrange the furniture in each house in an attempt to get to sleep. A therapist would have a field day.

What I have learned over the years is that this may indicate my brain needs a break.

I will admit I have wondered if these unsettled, restless feelings are related to our youngest fledging leaving the nest, but in my heart of hearts I know that while there are transitions ahead I want to embrace them; I want Harry to have that sense of awe, the joy of beginning new things, the blank page waiting to be written on. I’m thrilled for him, envious too that he has so much ahead. But so do the Captain and I, and we can’t wait.

So it was I came across the ‘monkey mind’ and asked the author to clarify for those readers, like myself, for whom it is a new expression. When the response came back, the light bulb went on. Monkey mind is a Buddhist term meaning ‘unsettled, restless, capricious, uncontrollable’.

I’m delighted to report I am not on the verge of a mental breakdown, early onset Alzheimers, or falling apart because I have a child leaving home, I am merely suffering from ‘monkey mind’. It is a huge relief to know there are strategies for dealing with this condition, it can be cured and life will return to normal.

In the meantime life won’t fall apart if I can’t blog three times a week, turn down a work assignment, switch off my computer or kick back and read a beach book or two.

Like my computer, there are times I need to shut down and reboot.

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
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4 Responses to Light Bulb Moments: Recognizing the ‘Monkey Mind’

  1. mtptrial says:

    This makes a change from the goldfish mind – my current explanation for not being able to finish sentences. Now to go and google how to tame that monkey…

  2. Well this certainly explains a lot…for many of us. Glad I have good friends who research this and share the latest news. You deserve to relax, take it easy, recharge and be very excited about the changes to come. My own personal mantra is ‘Embrace Change’.

  3. Ellen Graham Worling says:

    What a relief to read this. I thought I was the only crazy person who can’t remember the end of a sentence. Never heard of “monkey mind” either, but it makes sense. Hang in Jane, the birds are almost flown and life will return to a new normal.

  4. Life can be quite overwhelming and sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break. I’m sending you plenty of hugs and well wishes…

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