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The Monkey in My Garden (by Paul W. Smith)

There are lots of wonderful things about having kids. One of the less profound is that you can spend an afternoon at the zoo without guilt or condemnation. I have always loved zoos, and one of my all-time favorites is the one in Santa Barbara, California. The SB Zoo is nowhere near the largest, nor does it have the most exotic animals. I like it for the surprise ocean views, and for their collection of my two favorites, the monkeys and the pigs.

I love watching the monkeys play and laughing at just how human-like their mannerisms appear (or vice versa). As for the pigs, I am still working that one out with my therapist.

We humans have an interesting relationship with the monkeys; our language is filled with references to their behavior. If you are not taking things seriously, then people will accuse you of “monkeying around”. A “monkey on your back” is a very burdensome thing that you are carrying around, often an addiction of some kind. Every now and then, someone totally messes things up, throwing a “monkey wrench” into the process (in all fairness, the real monkey wrench is actually named after its alleged inventor, Charles Moncky).

There is yet another monkey allusion that I have wrestled with throughout my life; it is familiar to anyone who has spent time at the monkey exhibit. It plagues me whenever a life-changing event pops up. It keeps me awake when an important decision weighs in. It sometimes strikes with random, reckless abandon. My tormentor goes by the name “Monkey Mind.”

This term which represents the chronic monkey on my back is a Buddhist notion, born of a state of restless indecisiveness. I suspect that I am not alone in this. Life is messy, and the emulsion of hope and fear in which we all swim can suddenly and inexplicably feel overwhelming.

I care about all this for two very good reasons; first of all, I don’t like the feeling of lying in bed, tossing and turning, while my brain runs open-loop and refuses to shut down. My computer has CTRL-ALT-DEL to put an end to this sort of nonsense, but my head does not.

The second and equally important reason I dislike Monkey Mind is that it keeps me from accomplishing anything worthwhile when I am awake. Much like the tachycardia which reduces the pumping efficiency of the heart, my racing mind is unable to focus on any one topic long enough to resolve it. Cutting down on the caffeine or meditating have been suggested, but surely there is a better way.

Doctors and patients alike are anxiously awaiting the DSM-5 , scheduled for release next spring, which will be updated to reflect the latest research on anxiety disorders. It will include lists of questions, the answers to which will help psychiatrists classify a patient’s particular mental malfunction, and invoke the appropriate therapeutic intervention. As our lives quicken in pace and grow ever more complex, so does this diagnostic manual increase in size. Without reading all 1000 or so pages, I feel safe in assuming that Monkey Mind is not listed.

I don’t need the horsepower of the American Psychiatric Association to figure this one out. The difference between Monkey Mind and creative brainstorming is completely transparent. One is a casual stroll through a variety store, with thoughtful consideration of the items which are added or removed from my shopping cart. The other is like running through a mine field with snow shoes, always expecting the next explosion to be the last. Even Mr. Rogers could tell the difference.

Fred McFeely Rogers (1928-2003) was a Presbyterian minister, author, educator and television host whose best-known program, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, enjoyed a 33-year run on PBS. Mr. Rogers predicted the influence that TV would have on children, and set out to make a positive change. He is remembered for his soft-spoken, unpolished approach, and yet he tackled such thorny issues as death, divorce and war.

Recognized by two Congressional resolutions, his trademark sweater hangs in the Smithsonian Institution, identified as a “Treasure of American History.” When Mr. Rogers was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom in 2002, then President Bush said "Fred Rogers has proven that television can soothe the soul, nurture the spirit and teach the very young".

Those who think of Mr. Rogers as foolish and cliché would do well to read up on how the mind works. He encouraged creativity, imagination and make-believe. He offered simple solutions to difficult problems; solutions that even a child could grasp and use. He viewed the mind as a garden, one where great thoughts could grow and bear fruit. To plant something new, all you have to do is think


There have been many times in my life where the best solution to a problem was completely obscured by the adrenaline-fueled din. I am slowly learning that calm, deliberate action begins with recognizing and chasing the monkey out of my garden. Mr. Rogers was right all along.

Now if I can just figure out the deal with the pigs…

Author Profile - Paul W. Smith - leader, educator, technologist, writer -

has a lifelong interest in the countless ways that technology changes the course of our journey through life. In addition to being a regular contributor to LoveMyTool, he maintains the website Technology for the Journey and occasionally writes for Blogcritics. Paul has over 40 years of experience in research and advanced development for companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders. His other passion is teaching - he is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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