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The Monkey Mind Versus The Eagle Mind

Would you like to be more focused in whatever you do? Have you tried meditating but couldn’t control your racing mind? Would you like to be calmer and feel in more control of your emotions? Then learn to control your errant monkey mind.

Most people have a mind that is unfocused, untrained and prone to creating misery in their life.

Modern life is undoubtedly stressful. It gives us so much to think about, to worry about, to plan for and so on. Our minds get used to jumping from one thing to another as one thought connects to another then another and another. The Chinese liken this to a monkey that leaps from tree to tree grabbing whatever takes its fancy.

They call it the monkey mind.

Our ability to use the monkey mind; to make connections between related things, to plan ahead, to learn from our mistakes etc has clearly enabled us to become the dominant life form on the planet.

You should never regret having such an active mind for it enables you to function in a very fast moving world. The problem comes when the monkey mind becomes over active and gets stuck on repetitive thought cycles which become negative ones.

The two modes of your mind

Many people seem almost hard wired to seek out and magnify the negative aspects of any situation or interaction with others. I guess its part of a deep seated defence mechanism that seeks out possible dangers so that we can deal with them or adapt to them.

Unfortunately this constant focusing on possible dangers leads to many mental and physical health issues and takes away our energy and happiness. One effective answer to this is to switch our mental mode.

It’s not widely known that the conscious mind of a human has two modes.

Your mind can either monitor the input of new information or it can process existing information.
It cannot do both at the same time.

You can try this out for yourself now. Listen to the sounds that are going on around for a few seconds. In order to do this you have to stop thinking. As soon as you start processing a thought you had to stop monitoring the sounds around you. You could still hear them but they became background noise while you were in processing mode.

Switching to the monitoring mode is often called meditation and has profound and well researched benefits. There are way too many to list here but essentially it empties your head so you can focus on and enjoy one thing at a time.

The gateway to meditation

meditation in the moment

During most days we spend only the smallest fraction of our time in monitoring mode and the rest in processing mode.

Meditation is known to have several science based benefits. The whole basis of meditation, at least to start with, is to get you out of processing mode and into monitoring mode for increasing lengths of time.

Animals have very limited processing abilities so they spend virtually all the time in monitoring mode. This enables them to react very quickly to threats as they are constantly attuned to their environment.

Modern humans have all but lost this ability. This is seen in the appalling ways in which we treat the world around us. From casual littering to corporate destruction of vast areas of natural beauty we tend to see our planet as a resource to be used and abused.

Learning to use your senses to bring you in closer contact with your environment gives you a richer sense of your place in that environment. You are an integral part of it and not just a casual observer. This brings a heightened sense of responsibility to look after that environment as it is as much a part of you as you are a part of it.

As I mentioned earlier we often call the processing mode of thinking ‘the monkey mind’. In the tai chi and qigong system I teach we recognise three types of animal mind: the monkey mind, the eagle mind and the snake mind. This article will focus on the eagle mind.

The eagle mind

the eagle mind vs monkey mind

The eagle mind is constantly monitoring its environment

An eagle is constantly present with its environment. It has very sharp eyes for spotting prey on the ground below and remains constantly aware of air currents and thermals through its feathers and subtle wing movements.

The eagle achieves this by constantly expanding its attention outwards. It creates a sphere of awareness around itself and particularly under itself. It expands all it’s senses to seek out what is going on around it and constantly adapts to the inputs that its senses bring it.

An important part of learning the eagle style is understanding how to express expansive power.

Start with hearing

The eagle mind consists of focusing all your attention on the information that is coming in through your senses. It is usually best to focus on one sense at a time, hearing is often considered the best one to start with.

Close your eyes, expand your awareness and focus on all the sounds you hear. Your aim is simply to remain focused on listening to each sound that comes your way. Don’t analyse them or label them at all, let them come and then, crucially, let them go again.

In this manner you learn to stay in the moment and not holding on to something that has already passed into the past. With practice your hearing should improve along with your sense of direction and distance.

Open your eyes

use your eyes

Now open your eyes and learn to use them. It’s amazing how many people wander through life virtually blind. Their eyes work just fine but they are oblivious to the visual images they are receiving.

Learn to look at the world like an artist. See the shapes, colours and patterns. Notice what is around you and where it is, in theory you should never lose anything ever again if you notice where everything is and where you put things.

Power up your touch and smell

Now focus on your other senses. Your sense of smell is quite vague but is tied in closely with your memories. Learn to gently sniff the air like it was a fine wine and gradually your nose will start to smell more efficiently. It will also help open up your sinuses and enable you to breathe more effectively.

Tune in also to your sense of touch, can you feel the clothes you’re wearing? Can you feel the wind blowing? Your sense of touch is important in many qigong practices so spend some time learning to develop it more fully. I will talk more about self awareness and the sense of touch in a future article.

All of these inputs connect you to the world around you and help you stay centred in a topsy turvy world.

Every form of meditation start with learning to focus on one thing. All of them train the eagle mind. However, you don’t need to be in any formal meditation pose to gain the benefits. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, just stop thinking, stop processing and pay attention to your senses.

Be in the moment.

You might be interested in …

  • Work on your posture and breathing while you walk
  • Walk freely with more balance and less tension
  • Become more aware of yourself and your surroundings
  • Make every walk a richer and more enjoyable experience

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