Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Monkey Traps

      "Everybody wants to get enlightened but nobody wants to change."
 -Andrew Cohen

     As a spiritual seeker a lifelong direction I aim for is to simply be fully present in my moments and in turn my life. To observe our lives without adding on mental drama or without checking out is a path to deepening self awareness. And it is with clear eyed self awareness that we become more helpful to our fellow man and more connected to God. So let's take a look at the three major distractions that pull us out of our moments and see where we can perhaps refine our thoughts and actions. I know I could use work in all three areas: desire, aversion and simply checking out.

     There is a method of trapping monkeys in which the trapper uses a basket as a trap. There is a small hole in the side of the basket allowing a monkey to reach in and grab the tempting fruit left as bait. All the monkey needs to do to be free again is to unclench its fist and drop the fruit. But mostly the monkeys hold onto the fruit for dear life until they are captured. The call of desire has a strong hold on all creatures, man and monkey. Healthy desire can lead us down wonderful roads of spiritual exploration and desire can literally create life. Our desires can also be destructive distractions. Like all mental and emotional states,  as it arises desire must be mindfully explored and then either acted upon or released. Inflamed unchecked desires will lead us away from living presently and the objects of our desires will ironically become less obtainable the more we crave them. We must hold our fruit lightly knowing when to let it drop back into the basket. When desire rears her head feel it is your body. Does it manifest in clenched hands or perhaps a tensed jaw? Many people express desire with a simple leaning forward of the torso. Finding it and softening it in your body is a first step to softening it in your mind and spirit.

     There is another side to the coin of desire: aversion. Aversion equally has the power to tear us away from presence and peace. Unlike desire which most often manifests locally in the body, aversion has a tendency to tense  up our whole body and interfere with smooth breathing. Our mind darts around looking for escapes and our awareness is wholly invested in leaving a situation or person. This is a shame because the aversions we carry are potentially rich areas of personal growth if we can be compassionately present with them. Almost always an aversion we have to another person is a reflection of where we could refine ourselves.  Like desire,  aversion can be a healthy tool alerting us to situations that are potentially harmful and like desire,  aversions must be gently examined and perhaps acted upon.  Sometime the aversion tells us not to drink the spoilt milk but sometimes the aversion is mirroring a darkness in us. We must be curious and friendly as we apply awareness to aversions rather than assuming and judgmental.

     Along with desire and aversion the third monkey trap that can steal our awareness is simply becoming numb or checking out, mostly manifesting as lethargy or mindless busyness. There are a thousand ways to check out some benign and others down right dangerous. Technology over use, addictions, focusing too much on others, worry and anxiety are common monkey traps. I know when I watch a 30 minute show on my iPad I feel like I have taken a healthy break but when those minutes turn into hours I have crossed the threshold to numbness. When we recognize that we have numbed,  a good technique to apply is a simple body scan. Our bodies bring us back to present when our minds have torn us away.What distracts you? Anxiety and worry may not feel numb but they are distractions from the now. There is a fine line between being "in flow" and being "checked out" and this line is one we all must measure for ourselves. Do your downtime activities leave you nourished or numbed? In short when we are stimulated by desire or aversion or numbed and distracted we are not fully living our lives, however we can use these monkey traps as tools to awaken  when we approach them skillfully. So, here's to the journey into Inner Space to connect to our Highest Selves, it truly is the journey of a lifetime.