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Have you ever realised what a crazy monkey your brain is? Have you ever been still enough to realise what tricks it gets up to and what considerable energy it uses? Constantly commenting on this or that.

Putting interpretations on things, making judgements – good or bad, right or wrong, like or dislike, nice or nasty. This constant need to comment, to judge is the default operation of our minds. It gives us a way to make sense of the world, gives us an illusion of control.

However, when the mind has become still; when its fluctuations and disturbances have ceased and the waves of activity have become still like a windless still sea, its natural tendency is to observe. To remain a dispassionate observer – and to develop what Buddhists call ‘witness consciousness. This is a mind that, when something happens externally that might provoke a reaction of extreme pleasure or displeasure in someone else, says “We’ll wait and see”. It is a state of mind that is simply not interested in deciding ‘this or that’ but is content to ‘be’. Far from being a way to disconnect from the world, or dissociate ourselves from feelings; it is a way of living deeper, more embodied with our whole self and with far more energy and health. There is a lovely zen story to illustrate this state of mind.

There once was an old farmer, who lived in a remote region of the mainland, where the terrain is rough and the villagers manage to eek out a meagre existence only through hard work and the grace of God. One day someone left the gate open on the farmer’s pasture, and his only horse ran away. Now this was a very grave situation, indeed, as in these parts it is said that one horse is worth ten sons or the earnings of a lifetime. The villagers, hearing of this great loss, came to console the farmer. With pity in their eyes of those who are glad it did not happen to them, the villagers shook their heads and moaned in unison that the running off of a horse is a terrible thing. The farmer, who was very wise, accepted their consolations, and shaking his head, muttered calmly, “We’ll just wait and see.”

Within a week the horse had returned, bringing with it three wild ponies of such magnificence only heard of in the ancient fables. The villagers all came to witness and marvel at these wondrous creatures, and some brought gifts in the hope of incurring favour as now the farmer was a very rich man. With envy in their eyes, the villagers applauded the farmer for his good fortune. But the farmer appeared unmoved, and showing neither pride nor excitement, accepted their blessings, stating calmly, “We’ll just wait and see.”

Three days later, after the villagers had gone home, the farmer’s only son was out breaking in the new ponies. But their magnificence was matched by an unexpected strength, and the second pony threw and trampled the farmer’s son, leaving him near dead with two broken legs. There were tears in the old peasant’s eyes as he carried his child off the field. The son survived the critical period, and his bones were set, but as the villagers gathered to hear the news and lend support, the doctor could not pronounce if the son would ever walk again. With eyes like smug rodents whose faith in themselves is confirmed when ill fortune attends to a lucky man, the villagers shook their heads, lamenting what a tragedy had occurred for the farmer, who now had a cripple for a son. The old farmer thanked them for their concern and condolences, calmly saying, “We’ll just wait and see.”

The farmer’s son did begin to recuperate, but it took a long time. The farmer was now poorer than ever, as he had no son to accompany him in the fields, and no one wanted to buy the ponies because they were afraid. Yet, by the help of occasional gifts and his own labour, he managed to gather just enough to feed his family, always giving the best of whatever he had to his son to encourage his recuperation. During this time the other villager’s flourished as much as poor villagers can, and as those who are better off are wont to do, they were generous with their sympathy for the farmer for having a crippled child.

For no reason that had anything to do with the village, the king from his palace far off in the capital city declared war on a neighbouring country. That was how it came to be that in the spring, just as the old farmer’s son was taking his first steps, the government officials appeared with orders to conscript all the able-bodied young men into the army. The only son in the entire village who was not drafted was the old farmer’s.

“How lucky you are, old man! We are sending our children, our very seed off to war, probably to die,” one or another of the villagers yelled out as they bade farewell to their departing sons. Full of tears, their eyes showed no particular emotion toward the farmer, so overcome were they with their own grief.

The farmer watched the leave-taking, and his heart went out to the villagers as he was a kind and compassionate man. So, he answered softly, “We’ll just wait and see.”

One of the main ways in which we can start to regain some order and peace over the crazy monkey of the mind is through meditation. However even simple sitting is hard for many beginners as the mind is so busy. So a thought record diary can be a real help to at least make you aware of what the mind is up to.

This simple daily chart will allow you to monitor and track your ‘ticker-tape’ thoughts and is the first step in regaining control of the mind (the final aim being that you can ‘let go’ and let the ’embodied mind’ just ‘be’ – but there is some work to be done before that can happen. It’s a lovely process though! 

Click here to sign up to my next Personal Development workshop on Sunday 12 November.