Quieting the monkey brain

I attended a lecture on Transcendental Meditation (TM) with my father tonight.  He has been practicing this technique, which revolves around a given mantra, for nearly 40 years, going back to when the Beatles made it popular with the Western world.  Growing up, I remember him sitting silently in his chair with his eyes closed.  My friends and I would tip-toe past him as I’d casually explain, “My dad is meditating.”  I’m sure many friends found it odd.  But that was a normal sight in our household, my dad practicing TM.

Twenty-something years later, I’m grateful that my father emails me news on TM and invites me to events such as the one we attended tonight — even though I am not a practitioner.  Although my four siblings and I are trained in TM, I no longer practice it on a regular basis.  I stopped once I discovered yoga and found that it was a better path to “transcendence” for me.  To each their own.

At tonight’s lecture, it was refreshing to hear the keynote speaker, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, essentially say just that: “There are ten thousand doors to dharma.”  Here stood a fierce advocate for TM, armed with loads of scientific backup to its physical and mental benefits, telling people that it’s OK to explore other paths.  He said TM is just one path to taming the “monkey brain” — that inner restlessness that effects focus and creates unnecessary stress.  I loved this imagery, especially after witnessing these wild, hyperactive creatures first-hand in India, Tanzania and Costa Rica.

I also appreciated Dr. Rosenthal’s openness.  I was anticipating a lecture that would stress a need to train the world in TM, delivered with preacher-style enthusiasm.  But that’s not what I got.  It was a relief.  I also do my best to not impose yoga as the “only” or “best” solution to finding that inner oasis.  I have an aversion to people who are imperialistic in their convictions — even when I agree with them — and want to be careful not to transform into one of those people.  (Please, friends, tell me if I ever become that person.)

But back to this “monkey brain.”  Let’s be honest: It’s a terrible epidemic in America.  This is the era of texting and tweeting and 24-hour news and doing 15 things at once and everyone claiming ADD.  When friends come to me an express a desire to try yoga, I’m pretty upfront: “Give it a try, it works for me.  But it might not for you.  Please don’t let it stop you from finding your own style of yoga.”  Cooking, playing the guitar, painting — activities where you lose yourself in the moment can have a similar calming, centering effect.  Dr. Rosenthal & Co. might not have the same sort of scientific backup to support it, but who cares.

Quiet the monkey brain in a way that works for you.

I spotted this baby monkey while on safari in Tanzania in 2010. The little guy was wildly scampering about before nestling up to his momma. He stood still long enough for me to capture this photograph.

My intention


I invite you to play voyeur to my journey over the next year, as I immerse myself in the teachings of yoga, an ancient practice-philosophy that dates back thousands of years.

In just two weeks, I begin a yoga teacher training program at Moksha Yoga Center in Chicago.  This goal, however, has been 13 years in the making — although I certainly didn’t recognize it when I attended my first yoga class as a curious 19-year-old college student.

My intention is simple: participate in this program to deepen my practice and integrate its lessons into my life.  While the intention is “simple,” yes, nothing could be more complex to apply in reality.

As I plunge into this experience, I anticipate that a lot will bubble up.  All sorts of beautiful, scary, colorful, intense, wild, sad, confusing and wonderful things.

And I want to share that with you.  Some of it may resonate.  Some of it may not.  And that’s OK.  Read with an open mind.

Opening this window into my life and thoughts is a new challenge for me.  Close friends and family know how fiercely protective I am of my deepest thoughts, observations and revelations.  I’m not one of those people to bear my soul so freely.

But I am taking the plunge with a special purpose …

Some background: If there is one lesson that yoga has taught me repeatedly, it’s that each challenge is also a gift.  You just don’t immediately recognize it.  Each new asana I attempt reinforces this.  At first, the pose is impossible; but with time, sometimes years, I learn what it takes to get my mind and body prepared for that pose.  The moment I do the pose for the first time, it’s an homage to hours and hours of struggle and perseverance.  In that moment, I experience bliss.

This lesson is something that transcends the yoga mat: All challenges are an opportunity to grow stronger, become better human beings and ultimately experience bliss.  That person barking at me at work, that person who cut me off on the road, that short-tempered reservation agent who refused to help – all “gifts” that challenge me to rise into my best (and most patient) self.  Life has become easier (although not easy) with this small shift in perspective.

Which brings me back to this challenge: I plan to write to confront my fear of being judged.   I hold back emotions from those I love, often bottling them up.  I collect my deepest observations about the world in a private journal, for nobody else’s eyes to see.  And while vocal, I don’t always really-truly-100-percent speak my mind in public.  My intense privacy, in short, is controlled by fear.

I plan to confront this right here by opening myself up to you, dear reader.  I hope to grow stronger and become a better human being as a result.  Hopefully my words and observations inspire in you a kinship, even if I’ve never met you or have only met you in passing.   The anecdotes and musings that do strike a cord with you – consider that my gift.

And if my words inspire in you a shift in perspective, even just a little … that’s your gift to me.