Inertia. Apathy. Terror. Monkey Mind.

Nita Sweeney, author of You Should Be Writing, has written a new post for her blog, Bum Glue, on the idea of “Monkey Mind”, take a look.

Inertia. Apathy. Terror. Monkey Mind.
Inertia. Apathy. Terror.

Was I alone in my delusion that becoming a published author would cure this ill, drive it from my mind? Having books out in the world with my name on them hasn’t fixed it. Rather, the critical internal voice has grown stronger and more bold.

“Who do you think you are?”

Imposter syndrome. Low self-esteem. Personality quirks. Sloth. Insecurity. Anxiety. Chronic depression (recurrent, severe).

This is what I face nearly every time I sit down to write. Call it what you want, but one term fits better than any other:

Monkey Mind.

“According to Buddhist principles, the ‘monkey mind’ is a term that refers to being unsettled, restless, or confused.”—Psychology Today

Monkey mind can take many forms. It might be a voice in your head or mild (or extreme) agitation. It could send you to the refrigerator (or the drug dealer) and is probably why you’re unloading the dishwasher (or going for yet another dog walk) instead of writing that piece you promised your editor months ago. Monkey mind transforms itself and reformulates as quickly as you find a solution.

Monkey mind is the great chameleon.

Best-selling author Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones, Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home) explains one theory about the tenacity of monkey mind. In Thunder and Lightning, Natalie calls monkey mind “The guardian at the gate.”

Monkey mind, she explains, is like those enormous and somewhat terrifying statues that “guard” the gates to a monastery. They’re put there to challenge entrants. The guardians ask if you are willing to face these demons (and your own). Are you worthy of the teachings? Are you up to the challenge?

Sensei Sean Murphy of Sage Institute for Creativity and Consciousness recently discussed something similar with our 200-hour meditation leader training cohort. As he traveled across the country interviewing Zen teachers for his book One Bird, One Stone, many of the teachers did their best to evade him, refusing to answer his questions. They only wanted to teach the serious, the persistent, the rigorous. Sensei Murphy continued to show up and, ironically, their antics, playing guardian at the gate, gave him great stories to tell.

What do grotesque statues and reluctant Zen masters have in common with your unrelenting desire to play just one more game of computer solitaire?

Inertia. Apathy. Terror.

They are protecting the jewels.

The part of us trying to write terrifies the part of the mind that thinks we need to be protected. Monkey mind believes it is doing you a favor. But this guardian at the gate of your heart and mind also knows you’re getting close. The story that needs to be told, the mystery only you can solve, the message you must tell the world awaits just behind the temple door.

The guardian asks, “How bad to you want it?”

And how do you prove you want it?

By writing.

Simple, but true. In another piece I’ll talk about how the only cure for writing is writing.

Is that it? Just write? Yes, and no. Other techniques can help you still that chattering monkey which will, in turn, allow you to face the page.

For me, it’s meditation both on the cushion and out in the world.

Sitting meditation, writing practice, and moving meditation (usually running) have brought my own monkey mind out of hiding. It’s stealthy, slippery, persistent, but not invincible. When you sit through terror, run through inertia, and write about (and through) apathy, monkey mind realizes you’re not fooling around.

But why bother if writing is so difficult? Why not take up plumbing or mathematics or binge-eating instead?

Because the rewards are huge. Not much beats the feeling of pushing a pen across a page. And when you’re done, you have the victory of having made a thing, first a raw, often ugly, rarely sensical, thing, and later, a more lovely, shaped, and formed creation.

You’re at the temple gate. Will you walk through?


You Should Be Writing by Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney

you should be writing

A Journal of Inspiration & Instruction to Keep Your Pen Moving

Writing Inspiration from Incredible Authors. Gathered by Brenda Knight and writing coach Nita Sweeney, author of Depression Hates a Moving TargetYou Should Be Writing provides you with writing wisdom from a variety of accomplished authors.

Writing Practice on Every Page. This journal is a must-have for writers everywhere. With quotes from a diverse group of historical and modern authors to use as creative prompts on every page, you’ll be able to bring your writing inspiration with you wherever you go. You’ll find plenty of great advice, such as Toni Morrison’s encouragement, “As a writer, a failure is just information. It’s something that I’ve done wrong in writing, or is inaccurate or unclear. I recognize failure—which is important; some people don’t—and fix it.”