by Daniel Malec
Romans 12:2 (NSRV): Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.
“Let the Monkey Run”
One of the fasts that I have chosen for Lent is a sleep fast. During the days of Lent, I have set my alarm 20 minutes earlier so that theoretically I have more time to listen to and for God. Before Lent, my alarm would usually go off with just enough time for me to roll out of bed, go to the bathroom, stumble over to our prayer and meditation space and rush through about 10 minutes of prayer time before having to get Oscar up and ready for school. These additional 20 minutes have felt like a lifetime to me.
So far, this attempt at “listening” to God has been quite a journey. If I’m not careful, I can find myself halfway through my prayer time deep in a rabbit hole of one sort or another. Left to its devices, my egoic mind can lead me on a constant meandering between the past and the future, adeptly avoiding the present moment and any chance I have of listening for God. All of a sudden, I might find myself deep into the minutia of planning our future outdoor kitchen; thinking through the measurements, choosing materials, or growing anxious at how challenging it will be to build. Or, I might be in the middle of some sort of harsh judgment about the words or actions of a neighbor or a friend.
Some practitioners of contemplative prayer and meditation call this the monkey that runs. Applied to Paul’s letter to the Romans, we might call this “conforming to this world.” In other words, allowing your egoic mind to lead you unchecked through a minefield of thoughts – from worry, to fear, to judgment, to anxiety, to resentment – is the way of the world. God invites us to a different way. As Jesus said, “do not worry about your life … but seek God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given as well” (Matthew 6:25-34).
In order to be able to listen for God and to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness, contemplatives would invite us to see the monkey, be aware of the monkey, but not to chase the monkey. As soon as we become aware of our egoic mind leading us into the past or the future, we can notice what is happening and then we can return to our breath and root ourselves once again in this present moment. After all, it is only in the present moment that we can encounter God. I believe this is what Paul meant when he said, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I have found mantras to be helpful with this process and so for the closing prayer, I invite you to try one. I invite you to repeat the words:
Lord Jesus, come.
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Notice your breath in, and your breath out. As you breathe in, repeat silently, or aloud, Lord Jesus. As you breathe out, repeat silently, or aloud, Come. When your mind wanders, or the monkey begins to run, don’t chase it, just notice it, acknowledge it is there, and then return to your breathing and the mantra. Continue with this process as long as you are able. Then, try again tomorrow. May we be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Lord Jesus, come.