At the church I attended before the pandemic, after the main talk there were a few minutes of meditation scheduled. One Sunday, I was chagrined to realize that what I was meditating about was cake. Chocolate cake.
Not that it was unusual for my mind to be wandering during the time for meditation. It just made me feel shallow for it to wander to chocolate cake.
Actually, I’ve always found it difficult to meditate meaningfully. To meditate: to reflect on, to contemplate. In Buddhism and Hinduism, to train, calm or empty the mind. My tai chi class began with the participants reciting in unison: “Clear your mind. Calm your heart. Breathe deeply. Relax.”
My oldest son, who has been interested in the benefits of meditation since he was in college, has spent many hours trying to explain the process to me. He has bought me books explaining meditation. We have discussed the subject on several long trips to Texas and back and, most successfully, one beautiful morning on a mountainside in Colorado. I always understand it at the time. I always agree it would benefit me greatly and make me a better person. I always resolve I will work on it.
But I always run into the same obstacle. I am afflicted with monkey mind. Monkey mind is a Buddhist term which describes the persistent churn of thought in the undisciplined mind. It includes the descriptive words “unsettled, restless, capricious, whimsical, confused, indecisive.” It describes a mind that jumps from thought to thought like a monkey jumps from tree to tree.
The writer, Elizabeth Gilbert, explains it well. “I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the monkey mind,” she wrote. “My mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas in a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined.”
The antidote to monkey mind is mindfulness. Buddha said if you will spend some time each day in quiet meditation, calming your mind by focusing on your breathing or a simple mantra, you can, over time, tame the monkeys. They will grow more peaceful if you lovingly bring them into submission with a consistent practice of meditation.
On the way home from church that Sunday, in self-defense, I pondered some of the other things that I might have thought about during meditation time: people who and things that annoy me, the legislature, congress, Republicans, things I had to do, whether the Cowboys would win the game I was going to watch that afternoon.
That my mind wandered to chocolate cake, I told myself, was slightly less egregious than those topics and contained no malice or ill will.
I will try for mindfulness again next Sunday, I promised myself. And then I’ll have a piece of chocolate cake.
Mary McClure lives in Lawton and writes a weekly column for The Lawton Constitution.