“Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
My monkey mind took a quick hiatus this morning when my right foot slid through a pile of bear shit. I didn’t stop to fully examine it, but at first glance, it reminded me of oatmeal—gloppy, greasy oatmeal embedded with twigs and berries. I was plodding along at my blistering 10-minute-a-mile pace, on a riverside trail near my home in Oso, Washington. As usual on my morning runs, my body was on autopilot and my mind played hopscotch, skipping from one thought to the next. Mental Chatter. Monkey Mind. We’ve all been there: our wild minds, unharnessed and undisciplined, swinging from one inattentive thought branch to the next. Until something snaps us out of it—like stepping in a pile of bear shit.
I’d given my monkeys permission to run amok for the first half of my run. (I do this on my paddles too.) It’s my way of letting off steam, rebooting my personal hard drive, and clearing my brain. My monkey’s constant chatter accompanies me mile after mile, until, like gale-force winds, they finally run out of steam. Then slowly, something begins to shift. My mind, I notice, is finally quiet. The monkeys have left and I can focus on the magical power of now.
I absolutely love trail running this time of year. There’s something about autumn’s rich, earthy bounty that grounds me and helps me to feel more balanced and connected. And I love it when my monkeys run their course and I can tune into what’s in front of my face. I remind myself of good running form: ears over shoulders over hips over feet. My nose is no longer buried over my toes. I’ve lifted my chin, pulled my shoulders back, and opened my diaphragm. I envision the trail covered with hot popcorn and I practice running lightly on the balls of my feet. I’m in the present moment and life is more vivid.
When the monkeys leave, an awakening replaces my unmindfulness. I get out of my head. On today’s run, I eventually noticed the richness of the earth and the openness of the forest as fall slowly gives way to winter. I noticed the delicate snowberries hanging on slender branches. I saw the thick carpets of moss draped over massive branches, reminding me which way is north. And finally I looked UP, and I saw the dusting of snow on the ridges directly above me. And the blue sky “sucker holes” trying to fool me into thinking the sun will stick around. I shake my head at my oblivion, thankful that it’s temporary.
My monkeys had some pretty good rides on my through-paddle of the Inside Passage. One of my original goals was to derive simple pleasures from all that was out there: the creatures, the plants, the water itself that would challenge me with its dance of rising and falling twice a day, every day. I also hoped to be more at peace with myself and truly learn to live in the moment. For out there, what else is there? The mind-numbing repetition, the familiar motion of the paddle, and the delicate sound of the blade piercing the water—all those things were comforting to me and helped me to live more fully into the present moment. My 1,200-mile journey taught me many lessons and helped me reach new levels of mindfulness. The challenge is to continue with these lessons in my off-water life. I obviously still struggle with staying in the present moment and continue to seek out ways to more deeply feel the power of now.
It can be very stressful to have a barrel of monkeys screeching in our heads all day. My antidote? Meditation in motion. I have to get OUTSIDE and I have to MOVE. I believe that playing in nature gives us the gifts of physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being. It’s that freedom and spontaneity that lets the monkeys run their course, then sets them free. It’s my hope that my tribe of monkeys will quiet down quicker and my mind will become more still, as my body moves over our great Mother Earth.
What do you do to tame your monkeys?