Puppy Mind

Thoughts buzzing about inside my head, like a honey bee that flies back and forth between fragrant flowers.  Before I started doing yoga, I didn’t think this was normal.  But I know that I don’t have ADD.  Why should my mind not be able to stay focused on one thing?  Where are all these thoughts coming from?  Why can’t I stop this endless stream?

Yoga has taught me that I’m OK.  I’m not losing it.

That’s what the mind does.  It brings up thoughts which then leads me to create “mind stories” (a great phrase from Mary Jaksch at Goodlife Zen, by the way!).  Suddenly, I’ve wandered off into a whole other direction.

There are many analogies used to describe the mind as it churns out thoughts.  “Wild elephant mind”.  “Raging river mind”.  Those yogis knew how to paint a mental image.

“Monkey mind” is the most common phrase that I’ve heard applied to this whirling dervish of thoughts floating in and out of my consciousness.  It makes me think of monkeys, jumping and swinging around as they play.  It also reminds me of a character in Chinese mythology, the Monkey King God who is powerful but likes to make mischief.

Stephen Cope prefers to use the phrase “puppy mind” and, being a small animal vet, I like that one the most!  Most puppies can’t stay still.  They play and chew and bite and grab things with their mouth.  Puppies are always ready to move onto the next interesting thing.

In his books, Stephen uses another great metaphor, “tying the puppy to the post”.  What he means is that if you keep a puppy on a leash and tie the leash to a fixed object, then the puppy will have less tendency to wander off.  The puppy is thought and the post is the breath or a mantra.  Concentrating on one thing helps to calm the mind.  In other words, the puppy stops pulling on the leash and learns to settles down.

To calm the mind without stopping the flow of thoughts, I rely on meditation.  My sitting practice allows me to find the stillness and peace between the mind’s stories.  One way to do this is by concentrating on the natural breath.  Just watching it.  Feeling how the breath moves into the nostrils.  Noticing how the breath exits over the upper lip.  I found this difficult to do at first because I couldn’t detect the breath, especially as I exhaled.  It took practice.

When I went for a weekend retreat at Kripalu, Stephen Cope suggested concentrating on the belly as it moves in and out during breathing.  This is not as subtle as the breath in the nostrils but it can be helpful for beginners or for those of us that are a little more distracted than usual.

Nowadays, I worry less about having all those thoughts running through my brain.  Let those puppies play!  That’s how it’s supposed to be.  But I make sure that I have my morning meditation, shortly after I wake up, because sitting for 15 minutes helps me find the calmness to carry me through my day.

  • A great comment from someone who is back-packing through China but has only limited Internet access…

    “Hi D3,

    I can’t post to your blog from here, but back in university, my friend used to liken the influx of thoughts like that of a bingo ball machine, where the numbered balls spit out to be called one by one. Definitely a lot of great visuals out there!

    Keep your journey up! Sounds like you’re discovering great things about yourself.

    Love lots,
    ~geezlife”