Monkey Mind

meditating woman

I wish this were me…but it is so not.
(image found on Google images, was unable to find source, let me know if this is yours and I’ll credit you)

Matt and I have been looking for a church in Austin. We have it narrowed down to two which most closely align with our belief systems: the Unitarian Universalist church and the Quaker church.

I prefer the UU service, because I grew up attending a Protestant church every week, and I find the traditional aspects of of the service (call-and-response, hymns, sermon) comforting, but I really like that Unitarians don’t stick to tradition for tradition’s sake. For instance, at the Superbowl Sunday service, the congregation did a call-response of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Including the electric guitar solo. It was awesome.

Matt is leaning towards the Quaker church. He went to a Quaker high school and is used to the format of their service, which is to sit in silence together for an hour unless someone is moved to speak. I think this service is beautiful, really. I love the idea of sharing space with people and meditating together every week.

There’s just one little problem: I super suck at free form meditation. I’ve been trying off and on since I was 15 and started reading the Beats and Tom Robbins and decided Zen Buddhism was right for me. (Cringe.) I have never managed to meditate for more than 15 minutes. My Western monkey mind just will not be silenced. I try the practice of having a thought, labeling it “thought,” and moving on, but my thoughts never stop coming, and they never slow down.

For now, Matt and I have decided that rather than choosing one church hastily, we’ll trade off, going to one church one week and another church the other. Yesterday we went to the Quaker church.

Here are some of the the things I remember thinking about during the hour-long service:

  • certain scenes in the movie Ruby Sparks
  • was Paul Dano growing into his looks or did he just look much better when he wasn’t dying his hair black
  • how I felt The Twelve compared to The Passage
  • I can’t read The Twelve before bed anymore because then I have vampire nightmares
  • the song El Shaddai, because we’d passed the El Shaddai temple on the way to church
  • how it would be freeing to have a persona which was you-but-not-you, like Billy Eichner’s in Billy on the Street, because you would be able to give life and voice to this real part of yourself which you weren’t able to on a daily basis
  • but would having a persona eventually lead you to pull more of those characteristics into your daily life, anyway? How do professionals maintain a delineation between person and persona?
  • We Didn’t Start the Fire lyrics
  • this one issue at work
  • which snacks I was going to make when friends came over later
  • totchos?
  • how one of the reasons that bikram didn’t work for me is because the instructor kept telling us that our focal point should be our own eyes in the mirror ahead of us, and staring intently into my own eyes felt masturbatory rather than centering
  • just kidding, the real reason that bikram didn’t work for me was because it was so fucking hot in there
  • how do you figure out which are the pursuits in your life which are challenging and not enjoyable at first, but which may eventually pay off, versus which are just not for you
  • can I think of anything in my adult life which I didn’t like at first but eventually came to love?
  • or is the major benefit of growing older that you come to understand yourself more thoroughly and you can identify much earlier which things are going to be “your things,” whereas when you’re a child, you don’t know yourself yet, so you’re just throwing things at the wall, desperate to find something that will stick
  • for instance, I loved roller derby right away and came home glowing and totally obsessed with it right after the first practice
  • but I do want to restart my yoga practice, because I miss yoga, just not bikram
  • Is Milo doing okay in the children’s classroom?
  • Is this going to be over soon?
  • What is Matt thinking about?
  • are we going to play Settlers of Catan
  • various strategies of gameplay for Settlers
  • how that one part of that Parks and Recreation episode was just the best
  • I could make different popcorns for snacks
  • an email from Melissa the day before
  • a conversation I had with Melissa last week
  • another issue at work
  • what do I think they’re doing at the UU service this week
  • Mirah’s The Garden
  • that one dance on So You Think You Can Dance that was choreographed to The Garden, how hot was that?
  • I hope that led to a million record sales for Mirah
  • how most of the bands and musicians I got into last year had female vocalists
  • First Aid Kit
  • Lucius
  • Hospitality
  • Shovels and Rope
  • whether I am more into female vocalists in general than I used to be or whether there is just a surge of female vocalists recording the kind of music I like, or some combination of the two
  • which bands I’m going to see during SXSW
  • how much time, if any, I’ll be able to take off work during SXSW
  • another issue at work
  • “Look what you’ve done to me, oh oh”
  • when Mia Michaels was in Step Up: Revolution and it was tragic
  • Chinese New Year
  • I need to reply to that one email
  • whether or not I took the wet clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer
  • how I need to catch up with Call The Midwife
  • that Man Experiencing Childbirth video we watched on Saturday
  • I definitely prefer the UU church.


Monkey Mind — 7 Comments

  1. Here’s some of the things I was thinking during the hour-long service:

    *Overwhelming feelings of joy and tranquility*

  2. Oh Joanna, this is such an awesome post! <3! Monkey mind is the human condition and you are not alone! Your list cracks me up so much. I also find it very difficult to quiet the mind, though I have become much better at it over the years. I always imagine a gentle breeze coming in and blowing all the thoughts out of my head, the way a breeze would blow all the papers off of the counter. Then I return to the breath with a clean slate. Also, I imagine my head like a living room with the windows open in summer… so that there is ventilation and the thoughts can blow in and drift out, and they don't all pile up and add to the clutter. I also find it helpful to have a mantra sometimes. My favorite is "Let Go, Let God" Relinquish control! Anyhow, even after so many years of yoga also find meditation difficult, and an hour is a long time. Next time, think of me sending you brainwaves of support. Glad to hear that you guys are swapping back and forth. Meditation is a great skill to work on, but it's also nice that you can go to some services where you feel more at ease. :)

  3. Ha! I’m pretty sure I’d be going over and over my grocery list at a Quaker service. I can’t quiet my mind during yoga, I doubt I’d be able to for anything else. I love the UU church though! I’m not religious, and I’ve never been a regular church goer, but I love the sermons. We tend to get off our lazy asses and go if the sermon topic sounds particularly interesting. Have you tried the different UU churches in town? We’ve been to the First Unitarian, but we have friends that are active at Wildflower, and we’ve been meaning to check them out.

  4. seriously hilarious Jo! omgosh. i also have a hard time meditating, and i agree with amey that a mantra helps a lot to focus and reduce thoughts. so hum is another that i like (it is the sound of your breathing and means “i am that”). i also think visualizations can help a lot. i know a tree meditation that is pretty cool. you picture yourself walking around and then you spot a tree you like. then you sit down at the base of the tree and lean your spine against the trunk of the tree. then you imagine your spine becoming the trunk of the tree sitting straight and sunk into the ground and reaching for the sky. then you imagine your roots going into the earth so deep and your branches going into the sky so far. then you alternate breathing in from your sky limbs and and breathing out, then breathing in from your earth roots and breathing out. for as long as you want. i like to imagine them going really far into the earth and really far into the sky. then when you are done, you become yourself again and thank the tree and that’s it!


  5. wow! i think it’s fascinating to see what a whirlwind of churches, religions and beliefs exist in the world (or in the US alone). i am not religious but i always think it’s fascinating. specially since there isn’t such a varriance in religions over here (Belgium).
    meditating is hard, i haven’t tried it in 10 years or so, but i also am someone who is constantly thinking. and I agree with Paul Dano – he’s just more handsome without the black hair!