Meditating with the Monkeys

I woke at 5 and captured this recording of the monkey’s morning ritual to share with you.

Howler monkeys can be heard throughout the day here, but tend to more active right before dawn and at dusk.  I’ve also noticed that they’ll hoot and holler if they hear a sudden loud noise, like the large trucks that rattle down the road throughout the day.

According to Australian Geographic, Howler Monkeys are the 9th loudest animal on Earth, and their calls can be heard up to 5 km (about 3 miles) away.  They, along with White Faced Capuchin Monkeys (Lolo), are the most common monkeys found in Costa Rica.

Baby Mantled Howler Monkey living at the Jaguar Rescue Center
Baby Mantled Howler Monkey living at the Jaguar Rescue Center
Image courtesy of Desktop Wallpapers
Howler Monkey, Image courtesy of Desktop Wallpapers

It’s exciting to wake up in this environment, and it brings me joy to be able to live in such a place.  I feel blessed to live not only in this physical space of happiness, but also to be conscious of living within such a peaceful mental space.  I find it a good practice to remind myself of the happiness I have and of the life I’ve created.

The challenge, I find as I sit down to meditate, is then the practice of Pratyahara, or the withdrawing of the senses.  Pratyahara is one of the 8 limbs of yoga which Patanjali outlines in The Yoga Sutras.  Patanjali says of this practice:

“When the mental organs of senses and actions (indriyas) cease to be engaged with the corresponding objects in their mental realm, and assimilate or turn back into the mind-field from which they arose, this is called pratyahara, and is the fifth step.

–Sutra 2.54

As we drop into our meditation practice, we begin to draw our attention away from the messages from the external world.  We begin by closing our eyes, an easy way to stop visual stimulation.  As our attention becomes ever more focused on our breath, we are able to stop noticing the sensations we feel on our skin and the sounds that we hear.  Today’s practice was a challenge not only because of the Howlers, but also because I heard what sounded like a humongous scary wasp rapidly making it’s way towards my right ear.  I opened my eyes and ducked my head just as it seemed the large scary bug would hit me………and I saw nothing.  The sound faded into the distance as I re-closed my eyes and recommitted myself to the practice at hand.

It’s fitting that actual monkeys are part of today’s distraction.  The yogis call the ever present chatter of our thoughts the Monkey Mind.  The Monkey Mind, like the monkeys in the forest, provides entertainment and amusement, but does not deserve our full and undivided attention.

I like to use my mudra, along with my breath, to draw my focus back in meditation.  I most often use a version of Gyan Mudra when I meditate.  Gyan Mudra is the mudra of connection.

2 Versions of Gyan Mudra
2 Versions of Gyan Mudra

In this mudra, the thumb represents the ego, the individual, while the connecting finger represents the universal, that ever-pulsing oneness that we often forget we are a part of (but not apart from!)  As we join the thumb to the forefinger in either version of this mudra, we are reminded of our Oneness.  Our inhale and exhale, the beating of our heart, join with the natural rhythm and pulse of the universe as we withdraw our awareness from our monkey minds and slip into a higher consciousness.

Spirit Voyage says of Gyan Mudra:

“Stimulating the root chakra, it eases tension and depression.  It relates to expansion and knowledge.  It is extremely calming and brings the practitioner spiritual openness and ease in meditation.  Also known as Vaayu-Vardhak in traditional ayurveda, this mudra boosts the air element (Vaayu), thus stimulating the brain, empowering the mind, nervous system and pituitary gland.  It’s many benefits also include stimulating the endrocrine system and through the air element it dries out joints and cartilage which might otherwise be full of fluid, causing pain and joint stiffness.

In Kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, he said that the Jupiter Finger relates to the element of Ether (Akaash)…Should Gyan Mudra be seen as relating to the Ether Tattva instead of Air, the benefits would include the sense of hearing.  No matter which element this finger represents, the end result of expansion,  calm, elevation and receptivity to knowledge stay the same.

Yogi Bhajan taught it with many variations.  If the palms face down, one is grounding and rooting oneself to the earth.  If the palms point out, you are connecting yourself to celestial knowledge.    In this position, one of the most common in yoga and meditation, the mudra practitioner becomes detached from worldly affairs.”

So as my monkey mind interrupts my peaceful meditation, I’ll gently increase the pressure between my forefinger and thumb, thus bringing extra awareness to my intention as I sit in the quiet morning.  As I move throughout my day, I find myself uniting forefinger and thumb again, reminding me of the universal connection that is every present, and gently diverting my attention back to love.

One last thing – as I meditate, I like to use the Insight Timer to time my meditation sessions.  The app offers the sound of different singing bowls to charge your awareness, and includes the very cool feature of telling you how many other people are also using the map world wide.  As long as you have an internet connection, you can plug in too.  It’s a sweet sensation to realize that I’m uniting my  energy with, often about 150 other people all meditating at the same time.  I’ll often think of the many other people also sitting in silent meditation yet with no fancy app, and send a sweet prayer of thanks for each of their energies.

Sat Nam!!

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