Having ‘Monkey Mind’ keeping columnist from living in present

The first time I encountered a Sudoku it appeared to be a puzzle using numbers, so I didn’t bother trying to learn how to solve it. I usually avoid things with numbers because I am really bad at math. (Please, don’t judge me.) Later on I learned that the puzzles do not involve arithmetic or computation or any of that other stuff about which I am inept.

Sudokus, I learned, are really about patterns. When it comes to discerning patterns, I am at least somewhat ept, so I decided to give Sudokus a try. Now I am hooked.

Doing Sudokus has taught me some things. I have learned there are different ways to think about solutions and specific approaches to solving certain problems. I can’t always complete the hardest ones, but when I get stuck, I often put it away for a time and then come back to it. Sometimes I see a move so obvious that I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before. Some connection that was there the whole time. This experience is possibly the most useful lesson I get from Sudokus: Life is all about paying attention to what is right in front of me right now.

Seems like I’ve had this problem my whole life. Something will be going on around me, and I miss it; I am oblivious to what is happening. I wrote a song once with the lyric, “I couldn’t see the changes ’til the changes were already here.” Maybe subconsciously, I knew what the issue was.

I think part of my problem — most of it, maybe — is I am not focused on the moment I am in. My mind is either somewhere in the past or anticipating the future. And since I can’t be in two places at once, when I am in the past or present I am not in the now. Practitioners of Zen meditation call this having a “Monkey Mind.” They compare the noise in our minds to a jungle canopy full of hyped-up monkeys jumping and leaping from branch to branch and chattering nonstop. When the mind is never quiet, you can’t slow down and concentrate on the present moment.

Intellectually, I realize that when I am not paying attention, I am missing the experience of beauty and wonder that is life. I guess you could say when I am somewhere besides the present, I am only partly alive. As I say, I understand this with my logical brain, but I don’t always live it experientially. I look at a sunset and get lost in the experience and forget myself for the moment, but the next moment I shift into thinking about what comes next on my agenda and suddenly I am out of the experience. Monkey Mind.

It happens with people, too, maybe even more than with nature. I find myself wandering off mentally when I should be attending to the person I am with. It is sadly true that sometimes the people I am wandering away from are the ones I love the most.

New Years resolutions are traditionally professed during these waning days of the holiday season. And so I wish to resolve, hope and to pray to be more focused and attentive to the people and places and experiences in my life. I resolve to really try to be there in 2018.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.