It’s what the Buddhists call monkey mind, because it’s all over the place. One minute, the monkey is jumping into the tree, the next it’s hurtling itself to the ground. One minute it’s eating a banana, and next the banana has been thrown down. The monkey is everywhere, unable to settle down.
That’s my mind, leaping from one thing to another. With no work coming in right now, I agonize over how best to use my time. I start one project, then decide I should work on something else. I go on the Internet and then change my mind and start going through the stacks of papers on my desk. Or maybe I should check my email, always a dependable distraction.
I’ve been coming to the cabin for the past two weeks with no editing projects that need to be done. That should be a welcome endeavor, leaving me with more time to enjoy the beautiful fall weather, the last of the aspens changing. Ideally, my mind should be as placid as the pond near the cabin, with the golden aspen reflected (above) in its calm surface. But my monkey mind won’t let me relax. It’s full of “shoulds.” I should be writing, changing the sheets, washing the dishes, reading, walking, visiting the neighbors, not visiting the neighbors.
Finally, my monkey mind settled on a project. Every year, I need to re-stain the back (right) and front decks at the cabin. I have the same argument with the man at the paint store: isn’t there some way to prolong the duration between paintings? “Not unless you paint all five sides,” he says enigmatically. My neighbors blame the high-altitude sun for the decks’ early deterioration.
For all my complaining, once I settle down into the job, I enjoy it. There’s a meditative quality to painting, where I can legally empty my mind of extraneous thoughts, get caught in the back and forth swipe of the paint brush on the deck. Soon I start noticing the rush of the wind through the tall pine trees above my head, the crunchiness of the pine needless underfoot as I walk around the deck and the strong smell of pine mixed with decaying plants.
For some reason, a colony of small ants is constantly criss-crossing the deck, and so I have to work hard to brush them off so they don’t get caught in the paint and die. It’s a constant effort, and sometimes I fail. I also have to be alert to things falling from the sky. In the ponderosas above me, the chickarees are busily tearing off the pine cones and needles, so I’m constantly being dive-bombed by pine missiles. In our own ways, we’re both preparing for winter.
Somehow, the painting process works. I feel my monkey mind slowing down, concentrating on the task at hand, as well as this fine, unnaturally warm fall day. And when my mind starts to wander again, there’s the sure-fire wake-up call: a pine cone crashing down inches from my head and the chickaree’s loud angry call to tell me I’m in the way of its urgent endeavors.