Mind monkey or monkey mind, from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin’en 心猿 [lit. “heart-/mind-monkey”], is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. Wikipedia
That’s the official definition of monkey mind – well, official if you buy Wikipedia’s definition. A group of writers were discussing the concept on another blog. We’d all heard of it, although we all discovered it in yoga and/or mediation classes. It’s amazing how many writers participate in yoga and meditation. Oops, that’s the perfect example of monkey mind. So, why would writers be talking about distraction?
Writing is all about creating and living in alternate worlds. We have to believe our worlds before we can effectively portray them to our readers. That makes a scary kind of sense and I’m hoping no one has a copy of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders handy because I’m thinking what I just wrote might be included in a few its definitions.
Writers also talk about “the zone.” I expect its different for every writer, but for me, it’s the place where the story is unreeling in my mind like a movie and all I’m doing is taking dictation. That’s when the story writes itself. It’s a heady, wonderful, feeling and if someone dares to interrupt me…family are you reading this…well, that’s why the justice system created justifiable homicide.
So how does monkey mind figure into writing? The zone is not always a stop on the way to a story. Most times writing is hard work. Writers literally sweat words and it’s not a pretty sight. We write, delete, write, edit, write, curse, write, cry. In the old days, this was accompanied by a small mountain of crumpled paper growing alongside our chairs. These days, we create sub files on our computers with various titles of despair. Inevitably, monkey mind takes over.
We start out writing a dark and stormy night, but our mind jumps to broad daylight and a man standing on a cliff gazing at a raging storm tossed sea below him. Then the monkey leaps to the hand thrusting out of those wild waves grasping desperately at nothing. A face, pale and pinched breaks through the froth, the mouth visible as it gasps for air before sinking again. The man on the cliff laughs and turns away.
Little vignettes pulled not from the story we intended to write, but from the depths of our imagination. The monkey may leave us there, or it may take us to a crime scene in the woods. The body of a woman found half buried by leaves, her face a rictus of pain and fear. And then flash us to a small child playing tea party in a garden. The sound of weeping in drifting out to her from the open windows of the house.
Monkey mind takes my stories in different directions than I intend. It never gives me whole scenes, just little itchy brain cells with tantalizing hints of possible complications. My monkey leads me down the path of rabbit holes as often as it leads me to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but whenever I’m stuck, I can count on my monkey mind to kick in. It’s monkey mind that often answers the question, “What’s the worst thing that could happen here?”
Do you have a monkey mind? How do you feel about it? How do you control it? Do you even try?
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