Mind Over Monkey

January 26, 2022

1956, my birth year, was a Year of the Monkey on the Chinese Lunar calendar. I was reading predictions for the coming year for my “sign” and honestly, I’m in for a rough ride. Apparently this is not a big year for earning money (great. I’m retiring from church in May.) I also am prone to injury this year and should (and I quote) “stay out of forests.” As is my custom when reading such forecasts, I shrugged and muttered, “What do they know?” even as I frantically redoubled my efforts to sell my writing, and took extra care when passing trees.

I always loved monkeys—or rather, my mistaken idea of them. I’d ooh and ahh over adorable photos of tiny capuchin monkeys with those big sad eyes reminiscent of a Sarah MacLachlan commercial. I’d laugh at the antics of chimps on TV and in movies (mischievous but affectionate). As a child, I daydreamed about owning one, a precious little thing draped over my shoulders. But it remained a dream, along with my occasional fantasy of owning a horse (inspired completely by reading National Velvet). Pets of any kind were out of the question at Cunninghams’, at least until we were old enough to take on their care entirely (it was all Mom and Dad could do to keep three small HUMANS fed and watered).

I have since learned that most monkeys are biters with nasty tempers, and make very poor pets. I was so disillusioned!  I mean, I too have a temper (though I rarely bite), but I was hoping my spirit animal was, you know, otherwise sweet and lovely.

In meditation, which believe it or not I have attempted on many occasions, there is something called “monkey mind.” It refers to those pesky, random thoughts that rocket around inside your brain, distracting you from serenity and peace. My monkey mind is so bad that I can actually hear my mental diversions as high pitched shrieks, like the ones that make a trip through the primate house at the zoo such a uniquely painful experience.

This  week Thich Nhat Hanh, the wonderful Vietnamese Buddhist monk and writer, moved on from earth at age 95 (Thay was not much for talking about “birth” and “death”). He was a huge advocate for interfaith understanding (my favorite book of his, Living Buddha, Living Christ, lovingly and gracefully pointed to the similarities between these holy men he revered). He founded a monastery and retreat center, Plum Village, in France, that has long been on my bucket list to visit. The essence of Thay was (is) mindfulness, the art of truly being in the present moment, not stressing about past or future.

Our current state of affairs in this world makes living mindfully more of a challenge than ever. I mean, who wants to live in THIS moment, when the past seems comparatively rosy and the future possibly promising? But, in honor of Thay, I’m trying.

You hear that, monkey mind? Pipe down!




    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



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