We all have one. The Buddhists call it “Monkey Mind”.
It is that Chattering Chimp scampering inside my brain. He (the Chattering Chimp in my head is male) swings from branch to branch, scratches in the sand at the bottom of his cage, and keeps up an endless stream of chatter in my head. He is never still. Unless I am fast asleep he is in perpetual motion. Even in sleep he only slows him down and becomes somewhat disoriented.
Chattering Chimp can be harmless. He comments on the weather; he counts the number of people in the room, and notices what everyone is wearing. He talks about politics, relationships at work, what is for dinner, and what shopping needs to be done, who did what and who went where. Chattering Chimp spends a lot of time planning, scheming, and strategizing. Chattering Chimp loves to try to figure out what is going on and what he imagines the future will be like. He likes to explain his latest theories about everything.
But sometimes Chattering Chimp strays into more dangerous territory. When Chattering Chimp starts to judge, evaluate, criticize, attack, and condemn, he is no longer a cute benign little bonobo I can afford to indulge. There is a dark destructive side to Chattering Chimp that I indulge at my peril.
Chattering Chimp tells a lot of stories. He majors in stories about the ways I have been wronged. He likes long narratives about how unfair life is and how great my hurt is and how life has let me down. There is no end to the stories Chattering Chimp will spin in my brain if I encourage him.
It is not that Chattering Chimp is bad. To condemn Chattering Chimp only gives him more air time. Condemnation is one of his most familiar modes of speech.
There is no point in trying banish or silence Chattering Chimp. He will never go away. Chattering Chimp has a fecund imagination from which flows a perpetual supply of stories.
Chattering Chimp is just trying to find his way in the confusion and pain of life. He is trying to create an orderly universe out of the chaos he encounters. He hopes to make some kind of sense out of life and to find a way to feel safe and secure. He is seeking to convince himself that he is valued and worthwhile. Chattering Chimp puts a great deal of effort into feeling safe and secure and establishing his value and worth.
The sad thing about Chattering Chimp is that, no matter what little scraps of affirmation or reason life may throw his way, he is never satisfied. I cannot defeat Chattering Chimp with conversation, distraction, or occasional bits of candy. He is not easily appeased. He is driven by the futile attempt to form a solid identity using the insubstantial material of the stories he tells.
Like a toddler there is no reasoning with Chattering Chimp. I cannot talk him out of his stories. Even if I manage to back him into a corner and convince him that one of his stories is nonsense, he will always come back with another story.
There are always more reasons for Chattering Chimp to spin out tales of how the world is out to cheat him of all that is rightfully his and how treacherous is the human community and how history is conspiring against the fulfillment of his deepest needs, wants and desires.
The only hope of dealing with Chattering Chimp is to notice when he gets up to his tricks and strays beyond benign prattle into dangerous muttering.
When Chattering Chimp starts to judge, criticize, condemn, and attack, it is time to turn away. It is time to turn a deaf ear to Chattering Chimp. He may throw a temper tantrum but he can be ignored if I remember that he is merely spinning tales out of the fantasies of his imagination. When I give attention to Chattering Chimp, I energize his destructive ranting. When I turn away and stop noticing him, he becomes a little more sedate. He will slip into the background if I am vigilant about not giving him the attention he craves.
Chattering Chimp becomes uncomfortable when I ask –
How does the story you are telling help me to:
- open more deeply to the presence and action of the Divine in my life?|
- live more authentically?
- support the flow of love in the world?
When Chattering Chimp is uncomfortable, he chatters less.