Thursday, August 1, 2013

Monkey Brain



My post this week is going to take a direction I have not taken before. I'm going to write less about using a prayer practice and more about Monkey Brain and how it can absolutely gut prayer. 

I started taking Tai Chi lessons last week. I have had a few lessons in the past, but it was not an art I have every really studied.  I have been interested in learning most of my life, but I never found a class I liked. Until last week. I now find myself in that exhilarating and agonizing place of realizing fully that someone has been dropped into my life in this place, in this time, for a reason. Part of me is fascinated in this realization, and part of me is terrified- and what is worse, there is very simply no where to hide. My instructor (or "Sifu" in the trade) has me pegged. He had me pegged two minutes after we met. It feels like one of those dreams where you show up at school naked. But, I digress.

In case you have not noticed yet, prayer, for me, is a rhythmic thing. Just about any practice that has a steady rhythm to it will draw me into a deeply transcendent place. 

Except when it doesn't.

Meet Fred
And in that place, is Fred. You know that voice in your head? The one that rambles on and on, endlessly yammering and distracting you? Even criticizing, nagging, and being a general pain in the noggin'? In lots of different mental disciplines, that little voice is called Monkey Brain.  My Monkey Brain's name is Fred (and I apologize to all of the real "Freds" out there- no slight intended).

I was not in a productive place during my Tai Chi class tonight. Actually, Fred was in fabulous form and I spent most of the class fighting off anger, frustration, and tears. I could not clear the worries and frustrations of the day from my mind, nor could I leave them to God. Fred kept up a downright admirable volley of distracting commentary, and when that did not break my resolve to FOCUS ON THE TASK AT HAND, he got nasty. There was no worry, no insecurity, no fear that Fred did not lob at me tonight. I tried putting him the back room. I tried sticking him in the truck of the car. I tried tying him to the backyard fence.  

I think that just made Fred that much more determined to press me, and in the end, Fred won. Class ended with me in tears and I beat it out of there as fast as I could without looking like I was trying to achieve warp speed sans dilithium crystals. I cried all the way home, cried while I fed the cats, and cried in the shower, all with Fred chanting "you suck!"

Ok, this is not a bid for sympathy. There is no need to send cards or encouraging e-mail, (though Belgian chocolates are never out of line). Sometimes you get into that place you want to be, and sometimes you don't, and sometimes you miss the mark SO badly that you wonder why you ever try. The point is, my friends, to continue to turn back to whatever discipline you practice that creates that space where you encounter the Holy. The obstacles and "failures" are insignificant. Ignore them. They are just Monkey Brain distractions on steroids. It is in those times where Monkey Brain is the strongest and we are the weakest that God meets us. It is the reaching out, it is the invitation to engage, the desire for relationship that counts, regardless and in spite of everything else.

So, Fred, tonight when I am finished saying my prayers and I settle into bed to practice abdominal breathing, I am introducing you to a roll of duct tape.

Good night, Sifu. Tomorrow is another day.