Monkey Brain and Geese Chatter

Here is the first of a new series called Friday Fascinations, where I write about what has been a fascination for me this week – the things that keep glimmering in my mind. The two things that are taking up space in my head this week are 1) the adolescent mind – and music – lots and lots of questions and worry, I guess, over all the music that’s out there talking about how very unhappy our adolescents are, and 2) meditation and the “monkey brain,” the part of the brain that won’t stop chattering without lots and lots of practice in taming it.

I started out this week, timidly, doing my first little bits of meditation in a really long time. The first night, I only did 5 minutes, and truth be told, I was a mess the whole time. I actually paused my timer half-way through to go make sure my seven-year old was IN the shower, not just letting the water run.

Meditation runs counter to all I know about taking an idea and holding it in my hand and examining it from all angles. I like the mulling over and rumination parts of my brain that enjoy thinking about thoughts, and putting them through a sifter to see what’s left, and then looking more closely at that still. Philosophical meanderings and quests to contemplate questions for which there are no real answers are fun for me. Meditation says:

“Do not give rise to a single thought.” – Sixth Chinese Zen Patriarch.

and then,

“The holy fools want to drive us out of our minds, knowing that when we get there, the fresh air will do us good. Maybe we will begin to understand that we cannot understand and will relax a little. Only then will we begin to understand. – The Essential Crazy Wisdom, by Wes “Scoop” Nisker

Thursday, I tried again, this time with the kids at school. I lasted for 10 minutes, and the entire time, I had a cocktail party of ducks and geese in my head. They were also squawking “party-style” outside my window. It reminded me of a scene in the Robert Redford movie, “Sneakers,” after he’s been thrown in a trunk by the enemy, and roughed up a little and then let go. His blind partner asks him to describe what he heard. The scene unfolds as Redford remembers the sound of the road, which was on a bridge, and by remembering the sounds, the team is able to find the location of the bad guys. Towards the end, he says, “And then, we went through, what sounded like, a cocktail party.”

It was a reservoir with a huge flock of geese squawking away, and it does, I concur, sound like a party. My geese are party animals, and they make noise all night long.

In a way, I’ve gotten used to the noise they make, and it’s almost white noise now, but it reminded me of my own brain’s battle with constant chatter. One of the books I’ve been reading goes so far as to say that we may not even understand the concept of “free will” very well – if we cannot even stop our brains, and if simply “being” takes such enormous practice, we may not be as in control of our own faculties as we think.

“Our greatest bondage may be to the illusion that we are free.” – a Taoist master in The Essential Crazy Wisdom.

And, I guess that’s as good a segue to the adolescent dilemma as I can muster right now. The freedom to choose who they are, the freedom to think their own thoughts and make their own mistakes – seems like something we as a culture are afraid to give them. And they are straining at the control put on them, and they are pulling away, and they are wanting to do damage to themselves on the outside to match the damage they feel consuming them on the inside, and they are frustrated and ready to blow, and they are beyond frustrated and sliding into apathy and despondency. This is what the music tells us. These are the children and teenagers that are moments away from being put out into the world as adults. In their last days of childhood, they are being pushed into shapes that don’t fit them in last ditch efforts by parents to conform them to their own ideals. And we wonder why we have a violence problem in America.

I do not have answers to the problem on a whole, I can only do my very best with the teenagers (or almost teenagers) in my own world. So, we listen to the music, and it sits with me sadly, and we sing along to the boisterous ones, and head bang when appropriate – and when is head banging not appropriate? I mix it up a little. We don’t just listen to popular music. Yesterday, in the car, my phone was playing songs over the speakers, and it was in Shuffle Mode. All of a sudden, it was playing Rachmaninoff, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini – one of my all-time favorite symphonic works. It seems to me that this was the rock and roll, and head-banging rebellion of a long time ago, performed with ridiculous amounts of skill. It absolutely pounds, and screams, and then gets quiet and lovely, and then pounds again. My kids were getting into it with me. We listen to jazz, and blues, and Belly-dance Drum Beats and Irish Pub Bands. I love the age of Pandora – internet radio – when it is possible to listen to whatever our hearts desire.

I cannot get behind forbidding any form of music – because what is forbidden only ever seems more alluring. And I think the musicians today are poets and some of them scholars. There is depth to their lyrics and the angst fits the mood of so many teens. They are speaking to young people who need to hear that they are not alone. There is talent that shimmers from behind bad haircuts, and dark-lined eyes, and they are listening to the kids of today perhaps better than anyone.

And – OH – I just had a realization. The thing which is forbidden is only ever more alluring. In the process of trying to silence my mind, and be quiet, my mind pitches an all-out fit of idea-creation because I am trying so hard to get it to be still. Here is where I will veer off the path of meditation that seeks to empty the mind. That seems beyond my capacity, but meditation that allows for a thought to float up, and be noticed, and then waft away, and another thought to replace it and stand there basking in the glow of attention – that I can fully endorse and practice. I just found my meditation stance – still and breathing, but not squashing ideas for popping up and wanting to dance in the limelight; acknowledging them, supporting them, giving them a big smile, a wave and some applause and letting them flutter with their little tutus flouncing behind them, exiting stage-left with a flourish!

photo of sock monkeys from here

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