Sitting and sitting, this person becomes more and more aware of the inherent dissociation between nafs (ego) and soul. I go back and forth between various strategies for taming my “monkey mind,” a Buddhist term for the endless chattering of the brain while the soul seeks to find itself in God. Recently, someone said to me, “I don’t think I’m cut out for meditation. I just can’t stop thinking.” Well, you poor thing, I thought to myself. Not coming from the Baba Ram Das New Age milieu I cut my teeth in, he didn’t realize that his Monkey Mind is all part of the Dance, a necessary ballast to keep him on the planet, rather than where he properly belongs and longs to be.
My teacher Shamcher once wrote to me, “Don’t even think about the ego, it is a phantom dreamed up in a nightmare.” A phantom, yes, but one that is highly schooled in keeping the Self in a death-grip while the soul attempts to spread its wings and take off. Recently, I read the book Eat. Pray. Love. by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had mixed feelings about the book, although I realized that I was at an entirely different phase of life than the author, and could be expected to. But I did enjoy her description of sitting in the Ashram in India where she was fortunate enough to be able to spend several months (one reviewer referred to it as “Enlightenment for the Affluent”): attempting to quiet her mind and meditate, it was indeed like a monkey swinging through the trees, chattering, quarreling, clinging….. The Monkey Mind is frightened when we try to separate from it: it wants to be preeminent as it has always been, and when we unmask the hoax and begin to open up to the possibility of another identity, its life seems threatened. I have it on good authority from my own teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, that the ego is always going to be there, as it should be, at least in the here and now, and that wherever we go, we will come back.
I have been “called” into an impromptu alchemical retreat in these past few months, and life has cooperated to allow me to acquiesce. I note, in the several hours daily I sit, that my friend the Monkey Mind is not just beginning to calm down, but to–dare I say it?–actually transform a bit. Instead of sitting on my shoulder, picking bugs from its fur, picking fights, quarreling, worrying, doing its level best to distract me from my spiritual endeavors, it is beginning to calm down a bit. It goes into the corner and wraps its tail around its body and broods, sneaking an occasional glance at me to make sure I’m still there. I notice that both of us are becoming more aware of who we are and who we are NOT. Sometimes… Oh, sometimes. . . . . . .
I am camping out on God’s doorstep. Sometimes I get invited in, however briefly, and sometimes. . . I even get to have some say-so as to when I come and when I go.
I am becoming rather fond of my little nafs in the form of my Monkey Mind. A well-known Zen koan is: What was my face before my parents were born? As I polish that particular mirror and the clouds are rubbed away, the nafs does indeed reveal itself as but a phantom, a dream, useful fantasy that has gotten out of hand. The surprising thing is that it is so easy to tame, once one is finally ready to unmask the hoax, as I mentioned. When I am lucky–and increasingly–Vayu the Wind blows it out of range for awhile. I see the difference between that eternal face and the phantom. We are thoughts in the mind of God. Even that goofy monkey swinging from limb to limb, yammering, picking its nose, raising hell endlessly.
When once the Nafs is crushed you will never find it necessary to be angry any more, though you can act the part of one who is angry and pretend to be angry. So if it is necessary to show anger this does not mean the fire of hell for you as it would be for others, for you are only using an instrument, and that instrument is not your master. In the same way you are justified in whatever course you find before you in life, as long as you really have freed your self from control by the Nafs. –Inayat Khan