Do you ever feel like your mind has a life of its own? Your thoughts jump wildly from one idea to the next- leaping across topics with no discernible similarities- while you’re left hardly clinging to one thought before, poof!, it’s gone.
The Buddha likened this frantic state of mind to a group of naughty drunken monkeys, swinging wildly from branch to branch. They screech and chatter and fall from branches (remember, they’re not just wild monkeys, but drunken wild monkeys!)
This mind state, known as ksipta, is the lowest of the five levels of the mind. You can’t think straight, sit still, or listen clearly. Often you feel disturbed, worried, and troubled; it is the least desirable state of mind.
One of the goals of yoga is to cultivate a certain condition of our mind so that it is as useful as possible for our actions. This is a gradual and sometimes lifelong process, full of both progresses and frequent setbacks. Through yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises, you can focus and calm the mind and elevate it to a higher state.
The second level of the mind (mudha) is dull, heavy, and forgetful: hardly much more desirable than the first. Picture a stagnant water buffalo, standing for hours without movement. For a perhaps more relatable image: think of that 2:00 post-lunch slump at the office or the sluggish grumblings of an early Monday morning. This state sometimes arises in those that have just generally lost their spark in life and/or their willingness to learn.
The third level (viksipta) is the most common state of mind. The mind is now moving, but it alternates between certainty and uncertainty, between confidence and doubt. The mind can only focus for brief periods until it becomes distracted.
The fourth level (ekagrata) is undistracted and clear. The mind has the ability to focus and is fully present in the moment, a key component for meditation.
The highest level, once ekagrata is fully developed, is nirodha. The mind is highly mastered, and is linked completely and exclusively with the object of its attention. And here we come to the very definition of Yoga, as outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras:
“Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah”
“Yoga is the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind.“
Next time it seems your mind is going in 1,000 different directions, stop and take note. Try not to be critical of yourself, but simply become a curious observer of which thoughts are popping up in your head. With time and patience, you have the ability to cultivate clarity and focus within and can eventually kiss those darn drunken monkeys goodbye.