Monkey Mind

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It was difficult to say who was watching and who was being watched. His dark Asian eyes met her blue-green eyes. It was easy for him to drown inside those aquamarine pools. When people begin to speak the language of eyes, words become unnecessary.

The soul of a person, it is said, has a faithful interpreter: the eyes. You can deceive people with your words, even cheat them with your facial expression. But you can never really deceive with your eyes! Eyes communicate raw emotions. The slant and direction of one’s vision indicate what one is attached to. A smart shopkeeper knows instantly if his customer has been hooked to a washing machine by just looking at her eyes. The pupils of the eye dilate at the slightest hint of excitement. A great cricketer like Tendulkar reads the trajectory of a cricket ball by observing the eyes of a bowler. A world class corporate recruiter can make out if a candidate is inflating his bio-data by no more than an eye contact!

Just as the eyes are the window of the soul, they are also the doorway to attachment. It is not as if the eyes are attached to something. It is the mind behind the eyes that is attached to whatever catches its fancy. The adhesive is the emotional mind. Classical Indian wisdom describes this emotional mind as manas. This component of the mind or manas is more potent than any glue stick that the world has invented. A business man is attached to money, a scholar is attached to his knowledge, a politician is attached to power; a movie star is attached to the limelight, an alcoholic is attached to his whisky; a devotee is attached her deity. The emotional mind can stick to anything based on our personal likes or dislikes. One may like a handsome jaw, and dislike the mother-in-law. The same old car discarded and disliked as junk by someone may be liked and lapped up as vintage automobile by many others. So likes and dislikes are not always a function of the object of attachment—they are a function of manas or the emotion mind.

There is nothing wrong in sticking to someone or something, but staying stuck is the problem. Staying stuck converts healthy emotion into addiction. I know of parents who are addicted to their children. An addictive mother can smother a child’s growth with excessive attention. I also know capable executives who are addicted to success. One handsome executive was kissing his smart phone repeatedly when he received a text message! I asked him what the issue was. He said, “I just received a message about a fat bonus.” But, why kiss your phone? I inquired. He didn’t know what to say and quickly moved his lips away from the phone.

Just as it is the nature of the emotional mind to be attached, the nature of our intellectual mind is to discriminate and detach. Classical Indian wisdom calls our intellectual mind, buddhi. It is the job of our buddhi or the intellectual mind to be constantly vigilant about the excessive attachments of manas, the emotional mind. When the intellectual mind is underdeveloped or lowers its guard (as when somebody is drunk), the emotional mind starts creating havoc.

So here is my take on the algebra of attachment. Algebra teaches us that there are constants and variables. Our emotional mind has a tendency to be attached to the many variables and varieties that the world presents to us. The intellectual mind is a constant that observes the variable emotions like a security guard who keeps a vigilant watch over everyone who enters a building. Attachment is fine and pleasurable. There is nothing wrong with our tendency to be attached. Without attachment, life will become dry and meaningless. However, if our vigilance of detachment is not equal to the power of attachment, we will get stuck in the emotional glue of our likes and dislikes. Here is an ancient Indian story that illustrates the point:

This is how they catch monkeys in India: The monkey-catchers fill up a jar with nuts with a narrow opening at the mouth of the jar. When monkeys see the nuts inside the jar, they get attached to them. They squeeze their hand inside the jar and get hold of as many nuts as their hands can grasp. With a hand full with nuts, the monkey cannot detach the hand from the jar. With its hands stuck inside a heavy jar, the monkey is caught easily by the man who laid the trap.

The emotional mind is the monkey mind. It knows how to attach but not how to detach. The intellectual mind teaches you how to detach. It is this mind that is behind our human evolution. By all means eat all the nuts you can, but don’t be a nut or go nuts, like that monkey, and get caught.

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