A Passage to India
Torah study

Monkey mind

The aforementioned trip to India is fast approaching (Ethan's been there all week on business; I depart on Sunday) and as my departure date looms I find myself increasingly scatterbrained. All of the metaphors that come to mind relate to small winged creatures: I'm aflutter, flighty, abuzz. I've been working overtime to prepare for leaving my arts nonprofit for two weeks, and haven't made the time for my in-depth pursuits of Hebrew and poetry; today I had the time, but the focus just wasn't there. My monkey mind is chattering.

This is a natural reaction to knowing that I have a lot to do. Like Marge Piercy, I am a maker of lists, and I've been listing like mad this week. (Redo work voicemail recording so the message reflects my absence; pick up travel-packs of Kleenex to serve as toilet paper on the road; make sure the house-sitter knows where the thermostats are...) It's a manic feeling, like having drunk too much coffee. On the upside, I'm getting a lot done; on the downside, the clamor in my own mind is making me a little tired.

It's a truism of meditation that it's most difficult to practice when one needs it most. Fortunately, the kind of meditation we practice at my shul encourages not trying to silence the mind (after all, thinking thoughts is what the mind is for) but becoming mindful of its machinations, to ground oneself in the present moment. Perhaps the hardest part for me is refraining from the impulse to judge its workings.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto) wrote, some decades ago, "First, one simply watches for a set period of time, observing his thoughts. He eventually will notice that the mind is emptying, his thoughts are slowing a bit from their habitual flow. He then must repeat a single verse or phrase, such as 'God is truly God,' in order to insert a thought of holiness into his now open mind. After these steps, he can articulate a need for help in any one of the areas of character development which he needs to work on, be it faith or love or awe."

His threefold meditative process sounds about right to me. Today when I step back and watch my thoughts unfold, I'm pretty entertained by the slideshow. I haven't gotten as far as a mantra today (the one I usually favor is Yah Echad, "God is One," though the one he suggests is good, too) but maybe I'll get there at meditation tomorrow morning. And before I fly out on Sunday, I hope I can take a few minutes to center myself in the at the Albany Airport. (I've enjoyed davvening there in the past.)

For now, the pre-trip mental chatter is okay with me. I'm excited about going. It's good to be excited. Even if it means I'm a little buzzier than usual, today. Go, monkey mind, go!

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