Monkey Mind and Beginner Mind

Long before I got sober, in fact, long before I had alcohol use disorder, I fancied myself Buddhist because I meditated a few times, a week to relax and I had The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama. I knew about four noble truths and the eight-fold path. When I was first trying to get sober, Buddhism, especially the eight-fold path seemed like it might be a way for me to take ‘the steps’ to get and to stay sober. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was learning to be Buddhist rather than learning about Buddhism. These poems are part of several that I’ve written to explore Buddhism, AA and secular recovery. Conversations between Monkey Mind and Beginner Mind come up from time to time and I always listen!

Monkey Mind and Beginner Mind Talk About Emptiness

Monkey Mind woke hungry. Beginner Mind woke hungry too. “If I don’t eat soon, I’ll die, I surely will!” Monkey Mind cried.

Beginner Mind smiled and patted Monkey Mind gently on the shoulder. “You’ll be ok. We’ll find you some food,” Beginner Mind said quietly and smiled.

“Is this what emptiness means?” Monkey Mind asked, for this was a conversation they often had.

“No,” Beginner Mind answered. “Different kind of empty,” he added.

“I don’t get it. I don’t, these riddles of yours,” Monkey Mind said with great dismay.

“You’re getting closer, you are,” Beginner Mind encouraged. “How do you feel now?” Beginner Mind asked again.

“Still hungry. And you know, I think it’s becoming worse,” Monkey Mind said aloud with his voice rising to a fever pitch. “How about you?” Monkey Mind asked.

“Still hungry too,” Beginner Mind answered. Then he added, “But I’m ok for now and so are you.”

Monkey Mind hated it when Beginner Mind said that. “How do you know? How can you be sure?” Monkey Mind asked with furrowed brow and wrinkled forehead.

“Because I’ve been hungry before. Because I’ve been full before,” Beginner Mind said and smiled.

Monkey Mind, Beginner Mind
And a Bag O’Rocks (a riff on Drop the Rock)

Monkey Mind and Beginner Mind went for their usual morning walk. Both were unusually tired for the hour. Monkey Mind complained, “My back hurts.” Beginner Mind quietly and curiously agreed. They looked and they tried to find the source.

“There it is!” they said in unexpected unison. A bag of rocks it was, right there on their backs, tucked away out of sight unless they really looked. One pulled out a rock, heavy and jagged with a label—Spring 1964, Tennessee, Fear. More from Tennessee, most with Fear. There were some from Illinois with various dates and many others from several states and years. Most were from Wisconsin, and many of these Regret. Monkey Mind fretted and rubbed our hands. Beginner Mind raised a brow. They each began to talk at once. Monkey Mind scowled and growled. Beginner smiled and laughed. This was our usual way. Beginner Mind suggested that these rocks that they had carried for so very, very long were no longer useful, nor needed. Monkey Mind wasn’t sure and still frowned. Beginner Mind suggested that they drop one, just one, then another, another and more until the bag was empty. Even Monkey Mind agreed that this was better, much preferred. Then he stopped and whimpered, for up ahead more rocks. Beginner Mind smiled, laughed, gave Monkey Mind a hug and on they went.

From Passing It On: Lay Practictioners Share Dharma Wisdom, 2015, Insight Meditation Center, Redwood City, CA.


About the Author

Robert B. is sober alcoholic in Madison, WI participating in AA and AlAnon at Fitchburg Serenity Club. He has been sober since April 21, 2007. He also began writing and sharing poetry on Facebook during his first year sober as part of his recovery from alcohol dependency, acute anxiety and chronic depression. He has found that creativity expressed primarily through writing poetry and playing various stringed instruments helped him heal and thrive.

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