Can you say with 100% confidence that you’re always in control of your own behavior? Probably not. Sometimes it feels as if our brain gets hijacked by random tricksters. Amongst others, it’s our monkey mind screwing us over.
The Monkey Inside Our Head
Brain /breɪn/ noun, Cerebrum in Latin – an organ of soft nervous tissue contained in the skull of vertebrates, functioning as the coordinating center of sensation and intellectual and nervous activity.
It’s divided into 3 parts or regions.
- The basal ganglia, also called the reptilian brain is the most primitive part of our brain. It governs balance, territoriality, mating, feeding and other instinctual activities.
- Then we have the center part that comprises the „limbic system,” which consists of the septum, amygdalae, hypothalamus, hippocampal complex, and cingulate cortex. This the mammalian or monkey mind – the brain of emotions and social hierarchies.
- Finally, at the front, there’s the human brain, the cerebral cortex. This is where rational thinking is, especially at the pre-frontal cortex. It’s the most recent step in the evolution of the mammalian brain and gives the ability for language, abstraction, planning and perception.
The Hierarchy of Needs
The same correspondence can be seen in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
- At the bottom, there are yet again the physiological needs. The first and foremost purpose of any organism is to provide the body with food and shelter. It’s the conduct of the reptilian brain.
- In the middle, there are psychological desires, such as prestige and a sense of belongingness. As you remember, the limbic system governs our emotions and social interactions – the mind. This is as far as the chimpanzees have managed to climb with their group living.
- The next and final step of our current development is self-actualization: achieving one’s full potential, including creativity and fulfillment. Reaching this stage isn’t possible without covering the preceding ones.
Monkey Mind and Its Function
Did our early ancestors voluntarily create a zoo inside their head? Probably not. Every function is there for a purpose and the monkey mind also has its own.
The limbic system has many structures that are concerned with instinct and mood. It’s involved in motivation, emotions, learning, memory and influences the endocrine and autonomic nervous system to a certain extent.
Our monkey mind controls our most basic emotions, such as fear, pleasure, anger and drives hunger, sex, dominance and care of offspring.
The idea behind the monkey mind is to take care of our survival. It motivates us to follow certain emotions that are essential in an unforgiving environment.
- Fear is a defense mechanism that’s meant to keep us away from harm.
- Pleasure ought to make us repeat our actions in the future.
- And anger is another emotional response of fear.
Slaves to Our Emotions
Do you think you are the same as your thoughts and emotions?
What are they really? They’re the phenomena we experience with our consciousness and are derived from the perceptions between us and the environment.
Afflictive thoughts and negative emotions will lead to the re-creation of similar actions. It’s based on the law of causality, which states that nothing comes into existence without there being a reason or a cause for it.
You’ve probably been in situations where you’ve let your emotions get the best of you. “I don’t know what happened. It’s as if something took control of me.”
The reason for bursts of anger is that you’ve taken offence for something. An as*hole cut in front of you in traffic, your peers don’t understand you etc. But who is the one taking offence? Is it really your conscious self, or is it your lower ego – the monkey mind.
Monkey Mind in Buddhism
Mind monkey or monkey mind is a concept in Buddhism and Taoism as well. The term refers to “anxious, restless, confused, distracted, indecisive and uncontrollable” mental behavior.
The monkey mind is only concerned with its reputation and survival. It’s the ego solely protecting its own agendas.
According to the structure of the hierarchy of needs, the lower parts of the pyramid need to be covered first before you can reach the higher stages of development. You can’t begin to self-actualize if your physiological demands are unmet.
The monkey mind is literally like a chimpanzee playing drums inside your head. It will distract you from rationality and brings in chaos.
While you’re trying to focus on something, your monkey mind is seeking out other types of distractions whether through social media, brain fog or simply being utterly chaotic. Even your thoughts are hardwired to fight against you. “It’s not the right time. Better not make things too difficult. Let’s just relax and drift.”
Addicted to Pleasure
The limbic system is also connected with the nucleus accumbens (NAc), which influences sexual arousal and the “high” you get from certain drugs. These responses are controlled by dopamine and its projections.
In one 1954 study, Olds and Milner found that if you implant metal electrodes into the NAc and septal nuclei of rats, they would repeatedly press a lever that would activate this region[i]. They kept on doing it and forgot about eating and drinking as well. Eventually they died of exhaustion.
That’s quite profound. It means that the monkey mind can hijack one’s rationality and take full control over one’s behavior. That’s how addiction works as well. Dopamine receptors and other reward mechanisms are just so stimulating to our subconscious mind that it has the capacity to override the more conscious parts of the brain, if the person doesn’t have enough awareness or control.
How Your Monkey Mind is Screwing You Over
Fear and negative emotions are another expression of this. They’re based on lower vibrations and are decreasing the quality of our lives. Anger is also a response to outside stimuli, meaning that it’s your monkey mind that’s taking offence, not your conscious self.
The monkey mind also governs social processing, which is caused by group living. It creates mental hierarchies and can also turn out bad. “Oh, what do they think of me.” As social creatures, we want to fit in with our peers, to conform and to avoid any deviations from the norm.
Fitting in and co-operating with other people was essential for survival in the past. Nowadays, our mental software is still operating as if we’re in dire danger. Having like-minded individuals around is a great thing to have for an amazing life. However, when we’re trying to please everyone and get social recognition is where we’re taking a wrong turn. It’s the monkey mind seeking approval: “Look at me, give me your attention!”
Like Monkeys at the Zoo
Our monkey mind is almost that of primates living in groups. They’re concerned with primarily their hierarchical relationships. Are they worse than us because of that? Not necessarily, and I’m not attempting to create any comparisons in between species.
Instead, I’m trying to convey you the notion that our monkey mind doesn’t differ that much from chimps in terms of development. Unconsciously being controlled by it, our monkey mind is screwing us over.
Now, the takeaway would be to become more mindful of what goes on inside you and to recognize how being a social creature may bite you in the ass. Also, to learn how to take control of your thoughts and emotions.
Before you start arguing with someone or getting angry, imagine how your quarrel might actually look like 2 monkeys throwing shit at each other in the zoo. Be the more conscious person, be more human.
Taming the Monkey Mind
How to prevent this emotional hijacking from taking place? Is there a way to stop your monkey mind kicking into overdrive and screwing you over? Of course there is.
The reason why this lack of control happens in the first place is that the neocortical regions of the brain aren’t aware enough. Human consciousness and the prefrontal cortex are supposed to be at a higher stage of development, given that they’re associated with self-actualization.
If you don’t have enough self-governance and mastery, which are the utmost expressions of meta-awareness, you won’t be able to rise above your reptilian brain or your monkey mind.
The innate nature of our mind is stillness. Thoughts and emotions come into existence through the law of causality and grasping onto external stimuli. To experience this control, you would have to know how to recognize who you really are, wherein lies your conscious self.
Self-mastery and governance are the foundational building blocks to higher levels of consciousness and meta-awareness. It’s not that the primal parts of our brain are meant to be subjugated. Instead, they simply need to be trained and conditioned properly so that they would be in an alignment with the actualized part of ourselves.
The Body Mind Agoge is a discipline of self-mastery and education. It’s meant to empower your body and mind, making yourself more conscious and powerful as a person.
Read the book about how to become more conscious. Also, you’ll get a free guided meditation track that will teach you how to quite your monkey mind.