Monkey Mind

I am reading Rilke’s Book of Hours:  Love Poems to God, translated by Anita
Barrows and Joanna Macy.  These poems were for private use, like a Medieval breviary from which the title is taken.

According to Barrows and Macy, Rilke received.. “inner dictations, words that came to him mornings and evenings and that struck him with their force and persistence.”  This poem struck me:

If only for once it were still.

If the not quite right
and the why this

could be muted, and the neighbor’s laughter,

and the static my senses make –

if all of it didn’t keep me from coming awake.

Then in one vast thousandfold thought

I could think you up to where thinking ends.

I could possess you,

even for the brevity of a smile,

to offer you

to all that lives,

in gladness.

The italicized words “not quite right” and “why this” remind me of Monkey Mind, which I learned about from Natalie Goldberg, a writer, teacher and artist.  Monkey Mind is a Buddhist term meaning restless, inconstant. Goldberg considers writing and painting a Zen practice:  it settles the mind.   Perhaps writing the poems in The Book of Hours was Rilke’s form of Zen practice, circa 1899-1903.

Many of Rilke’s poems describe or refer to “things” as inherently wise.   He says:

I want to utter you.
I want to portray you

not with lapis or gold, but with colors made of apple bark.

I want, then, simply

to say the names of things.

For you are the ground.

The ages to you are only season.

In her book, Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World, Goldberg says, “Everything is speaking if we listen.  A rock just talks slower.  It takes a hundred years for it to say one syllable.”

Here is my somewhat  humorous take on Monkey Mind, with thanks to Natalie:

MONKEY MIND

MONKEY MIND,

GO AWAY!

TAKE THIS AND

THAT AND ALSO

THAT AND
THAT.

EVERYTHING

TO GET DONE,
TO

START, TO TRY,

TO FLY…

JUST STOP.

AND BE.

LOOK.  TELL ME

WHAT YOU
SEE.

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