Tldr: The monkey inside of us is the biggest enemy we have to meditation and spiritual progress. He is also our BIGGEST friend. The monkey is the one responsible for our problems, but he is also the one who gets frustrated with himself and tries to find peace in meditation, religion and spirituality. Ultimately, we have to work with the monkey.
Meet The Monkey
There is a monkey, a mechanical demon inside of us, the one that most religions warn us about.
This is the one who gets angry and strikes out at people, who feels scared all the time, who is constantly thinking about food or sex.
This monkey is also territorial, easy to take offence, and always on the lookout to pick a fight with someone. Old style family feuds, plus fights on social media, are all caused by this beast.
The monkey is also mechanical, almost like a robot. If you have ever felt really angry and lashed out, even though logically you knew it was wrong, that was the beast. The monkey is what you feel when you feel your emotions or thoughts are out of control, something that happens a lot in meditation!
And so the religions hate the monkey, and have come up with a million rules to control him. Some work (practice love/compassion), some don’t (control of sex / emotions like anger/hate/ other biological urges).
A history of the monkey
We could go back millions of years, but let’s go back less than that. Let’s go back to the monkeys/chimpanzees, our closest cousins.
A chimp was always in danger. All alone, he could be easily hunted by the smallest of predators.
He was safe in a group, but the group had bullies. Not only that, a strict hierarchy. If you didn’t respect the hierarchy, the stronger animals would attack you. An injured chimp made for an easy prey.
I was reading this great book by Loretta Breuning, The Inner Mammal. She says that status is more important than both food and sex, because without status you wouldn’t get either.
If a chimp saw a banana on the floor, he just couldn’t pick it up. He needed to check if there was a stronger chimp who was hungry. Only if there was no one stronger and hungry would he reach for the banana. The same with sex.
And so our chimp had to be very careful. Living in a group meant he was safe from predators like lions, but it also meant he could be attacked and killed by his own kind. And so our chimp had to be hyper alert for all enemies– within and without.
He not only had to look out for lions, but the alpha male being in a cranky mood. This hyper awareness was the only way to survive.
Of course, you might think you were safe if you were born big and strong, but no. Other chimps could gang up on you and kill you. Even alpha males need allies.
So whether you were at the top or bottom of the hierarchy, you were at risk.
And so the chimp came up with a few mechanical rules (by chimp, we mean evolution, of course). Always be on the lookout for danger, look at the faces of other chimps, assume the worst, assume you can be attacked anytime, be ready to pick a fight, because this fight will very likely be your last.
The chimp in the city
And then we put this chimp in the city, dress him in a tie, and expect him to be civilised.
Millions of years of evolution, and we expect humans to change in a few thousand years.
And so the human lives in a city, but still has the programming of the chimp. He still looks out for danger at every turn. Instead of the alpha male, he has bosses, politicians, TV news anchors, priests, actors, all of whom seem to control his life and tell him what to do.
The behaviour of being hyper alert, that helped me so well in the forest, now is killing him. He is looking out for enemies that don’t exist. The final bill for electricity becomes a lion, and he is terrified of it.
The fight to find a parking space becomes as important as saving your tribe from invasion.
And when someone insults his football team/political party, especially on social media, it becomes a fight to the death.
You might these examples funny, but to the chimp, they are a life or death matter. The chimp confuses an attack on his ego/mental self with a physical attack.
And that is why we feel so stressed. Something that worked even as far as 20,000 years ago (remember, the chimp family is millions of years old) no longer works.
That is why we can’t control our emotions or thoughts. Society might say: Be a good boy, and ignore that person who insulted you on the street. All the while, the inner monkey is screaming, I’m under attack! I will DIE! Need to act. Ooh ooh ooh!
And so we learn to suppress our emotions. Nothing wrong with that. People who don’t learn to control their emotions end up dead, in jail, or as outcasts.
But it does mean we are in constant war with ourselves.
And so we see the monkey
We can now see where the beast comes from:
- He is always angry, willing to fight, because that was the way to survive for a million years
- He is mechanical, because many of these routines are coded in our DNA
- He is stronger than us, and can crush us. Look at overeating– we know it’s bad for us, but the monkey says eat-eat-eat, and we jump up and say High ho, sir!
So the monkey is unbeatable? *
* pun intended
Seeing how strong the monkey is, it is amazing anyone does any spiritual things at all.
In the beginning, I said the monkey is our best friend. How can that be?
Because as humans start using the rational mind more, and more importantly, start meditating, even if for only 5 minutes a day, they start seeing their own madness.
We start seeing how we cause our own problems. How the outer world isn’t that bad, but we make it bad with our over reactions.
And that is when the beast inside us, the monkey, starts to realise it is not happy.
This monkey is the one who wants happiness, as it has been programmed for it.
The monkey, as we have seen, is our biggest enemy; but, this might shock you: The monkey is the one who wants enlightenment
The Higher (or Deeper) self, is already at peace; it needs nothing.
It is the monkey who meditates; it is the monkey who prays to a god to help it. The monkey can become our greatest ally, if it is 100% convinced that to be happy it needs to be spiritually awake.
Of course, the monkey has problems. The monkey gets irritated and frustrated with the time it takes in meditation. It often gives up spirituality in anger, but always returns (under the gentle guidance of the Deeper Self).
Many of the problems with spiritual materialism, like people hopping from teaching to teaching, guru to guru, or running after fads (chakra opening using crystals powered by angelic reiki!) are caused by the impatient monkey. But we can see now it is unfair to judge the monkey. It is being driven by millions of years of programming, programming that has worked so far.
And so the part of us that wants peace, that wants nirvana/heaven is usually the monkey. It realises after some time that it has been wrong all this time, and wants to escape this cycle of constant fear of attack, constant vigilance against invisible enemies. The monkey meditates because he is tired and just wants peace.
And there is nothing wrong with that. That is the ONLY way most people will start on this path– after they have become disillusioned with the world, with the way they have been doing things their whole life.
Let’s get back to our question: The monkey is so damn powerful, so how does anyone EVER meditate? Surely spirituality should be an impossible task?
Enter the Deeper Self
The monkey lives in a fog. The world is hazy to it. It sees everything from its eyes of fear.
In its fog, it misses the beautiful world around it. It is so busy just trying to stay alive, it misses Life.
Like I said, the monkey usually gives up on meditation, because it takes time, and time is one thing the monkey doesn’t have. Out on the savannah, you had to act NOW, or you would be eaten. Sitting in lotus pose for 20 years sounds stupid to the monkey. And it is.
And yet, the monkey perseveres.
Because as we continue, something from the dark, something from deep within the subconscious, awakens. It slowly starts taking control of our life, our mind, our being.
The monkey hates this son-of-a-bitch trying to take over its life, at least in the beginning, and will fight it tooth and nail; but soon he starts to trust it. Because this Deep Self hints at what the monkey has never felt: True Peace.
Through the grim darkness, a light shines, a sort of lightening thunder that is gone in seconds; but in those few seconds, it shows us the ground for miles around. It shows us where we have been wrong, and what the Correct Path for us is.
And for some time, the monkey must trust this dim light, that comes and goes. Over time, the light becomes stronger, and the monkey weaker.
Have you felt this light in you?
While the monkey speaks loud, the Light speaks slowly but deliberately
The monkey wants to act NOW; the Light is patient.
The monkey wants to lash out, attack, hurt others before they hurt us. The Light is forgiving and compassionate.
Ultimately, we can’t get rid of the monkey. He is here with us till we remain in body.
What we can do is have the mind enlightened by the Light, so the mind is no longer controlled by a terrified monkey. The monkey will still be there, he just won’t have any power over you.
Until that happens, we are stuck in the space between hell and heaven. The Light has come, so we can’t go back to the old ways. But the monkey is also still there, so we don’t feel peaceful either.
This is the worst state to be, because you feel you have lost the material world, but not yet gained the spiritual.
There is nothing to do but wait. The Light takes its time to enlighten the mind, and there is nothing the monkey can do to speed it up.
Well, there is one thing it can do: It can continue helping the Light anyway it can– meditating, practising compassion, being mindful throughout the day etc.
Ultimately, the Light will come, and the monkey will get what it wants: True Peace.
Read more in the Series on Meditation