Saturday, August 15, 2009

Adirondack Mountain Writers' Retreat - Time to turn off my monkey brain

The Adirondack Mountain Writers' Retreat, a break I've anticipated with immense pleasure, begins on Thursday. I'll have four days to visit with writers, soak up seminars and apply new techniques to the stalled old novel atrophying in my computer. It will be a joy to immerse myself in writing after the craziness of this summer. Tonight I should play with the neglected novel to warm up for the retreat and remind myself of the issues I'd like to address in my blocks of writing time.

But every time I start to pull up the file, my mind leaps to another topic, some must-do task that I convince myself should take priority. Frustration sends my mind racing to other times and places.

I remember running into Margaret, an old family friend, at a cocktail party. I hadn't seen her in decades, during which time I had attended college, married, held jobs and had children. For her the time had stood still. Just as I'd always known her, at age 92 she still sported closely cropped pure white hair, thick glasses, a ready smile that flashed over a slight overbite, and a spunky, irreverent attitude.

We exchanged pleasantries and chatted over canapes, and somehow the subject of yoga arose. "Meditation!" she snorted. "I don't have time for it. If I tried to sit still and meditate, I'd be mentally making lists: Prune the roses; weed the flower beds; pinch the suckers off the tomatoes; remember to buy milk--or some darned thing!" She gave a hearty laugh and I joined her, knowing that her self-description fit me perfectly, too. No meditation for either of us. Too busy.

Years later when I attended an Alzheimer's support group meeting, a yoga instructor invited attendees to try some relaxation techniques with her and to meditate. Uh-oh! There it was again. A voice in my head announced that this would be a useless endeavor, as my mind was busily engaged in rehashing a conversation I'd had earlier, rehearsing a talk I was to present later, assessing the group in attendance, wondering if I had dressed appropriately, thinking about finding my way out of the city after the program. The instructor's calm voice worked its way through my internal chatter. "Turn off your monkey brain."

Monkey brain? Wow, another perfect description of me--or of my fragmented attention, at least. Monkey brain--that compulsion to overwhelm myself with projects and concern myself about every detail, attacking the work with the precision of a scatter gun. That penchant for "multitasking" that I convince myself is so efficient, is just my old counterproductive friend, the monkey brain.

Somehow, at the instructor's urging, I suspended my disbelief in the power to change. I did it. I was amazed to discover that I could disengage from all that busy-ness, still the chatter and let the tension slip from my body. I remember well how refreshed I felt then, and how powerful.

This week it is time to experience the feeling again. I will enjoy the opportunity of the moment and focus on soaking up all that the retreat can offer to me as a writer. I believe I have a choice, and I choose to turn off my monkey brain. There will be time to handle all those nit-picky details next week--if the monkey persists in swinging into my tree.

Learn more about the Adirondack Mountain Writers' Retreat at There's room for two more participants.