Monkey Mind. In Buddhist philosophy, it describes a mental state in which our brains race around in a furious frenzy of restless thought. Zen masters place it rather prominently on the ‘naughty list,’ and encourage us to abolish our tree-swingin’ monkey minds through meditation — adopting instead the disposition of a deer in the forest.
I don’t know. I’ve observed both in nature, and I feel rather confident in my assessment that it’s the monkeys who are having a heck of a lot more fun.
Besides, if I were to develop the mind of a deer, how would I manage to write the ULTRAsomething site? This sucker’s very existence relies on me thinking about crap most people never even thought about thinking about. I don’t just have a Monkey Mind — I have a Barrel Full O’ Monkeys Mind.
New Age adherents have suggested my unwillingness to reject monkey mind is a sign of my inferiority, and that I am therefor beneath them on some cosmic human evolutionary scale. Which probably explains why I don’t have any new age friends. Personally, I believe all creatures in the forest are important, and all have evolved to fill a specific need. I don’t subscribe to the idea that a squirrel should try to become a better woodpecker, nor the wolf a better bear. I do believe, however, that the monkey should try to become a better monkey, and I’ve spent many years making sure my monkey mind moves in a forward direction, and not a circular one.
Fact is, I’m rather proud of my monkey mind and its profound inability to blindly and willingly accept convention or ‘common wisdom.’ Being the antithesis of a deer is sorta my raison d’être.
The only time ol’ Mr. Monkey lets me down is when it’s time to fall asleep. Apparently, the average monkey doesn’t require as much shut eye as the average human — a situation that makes for a logy human and a dulled monkey mind. In such instances, the mind of a deer would indeed be preferable — though I’d more likely opt for the mind of a sloth.
I’ve spent the bulk of my life actively searching for a slam-dunk passageway to sleep. You name it, I’ve tried it. And I’ve likely tried it numerous times, since I’ve had tens of thousands of nights to experiment. For me, the best solution has always been to envelop myself in music — the louder the better.
But it can’t be just any music — it has to have a certain indefinable ‘something.’ It needs to be music that I can crawl inside of and let swaddle me. It needs to have numerous competing and conflicting threads (melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, timbral) that ebb and flow, and that I can follow in my subconscious. It needs to be both unfathomably dense and ingeniously simple.
The closest I’ve ever come to finding the perfect monkey sedative is Dawn Upshaw’s recording of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3. I discovered its somniferous qualities soon after purchasing it way back in 1992. It served me reasonably well for several years — until I got married to a woman whose quest for a deer’s mind thwarted my inner-monkey’s need for music at bedtime.
Flash forward a couple of decades and I’m single again — with a renewed quest for the right tunes to help drag me into slumber. The Górecki symphony remains one of my go-to standards, but it suffers the same fate as most tunes — it takes a long time to work. Most of my musical sedatives, if they do succeed, require one full album play to make me drowsy, and a second to seal the deal. Which means, best case, I’m looking at about a 90 minute process.
If only there was a way to hasten the task.
A couple of months ago, I was improvising on my modular synth when I suddenly started to feel quite drowsy. To help me remember what I’d been playing, I punched the RECORD button to capture a segment of my experiments. After about 8 minutes, I got so sleepy I had to stop.
The next day, I tried listening to the recording. I fell asleep.
I tried again the following week. I fell asleep.
On a third attempt, I pumped myself full of caffeine and told my monkey mind that it must stay alert throughout the entire song. It was a struggle, but the caffeinated monkey prevailed. I decided to take advantage of my vibratory state — quickly mixing and mastering the improvisation, then posting it to my Bandcamp site.
Since then, I’ve used this track to fall asleep nearly every night. But what’s truly remarkable is that I often fall asleep within a single listen — 8 minutes (or less) and I’m out cold. During the day, should the pressures of life grow too great, a single listen is also all that’s required to sooth my jagged nerves and set me back on course.
Because of this, I gave it the only name I could: “Mantra.” It’s either the most miraculous song I ever wrote or the most boring. Or maybe it’s both.
I have, at last, evolved.
©2018 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS & MUSIC:
First things first: This article contains no actual photos. Unless you believe it’s somehow significant that the word “photo” accounts for the first two syllables in the word “Photoshop.” Otherwise, you best consider it an illustration, since no camera of any sort was utilized in its creation. I figured I could prowl the streets in search of an image with just the right mood, or I could just build one in 3 minutes.
Second things second: Describing the song is basically the purpose of the article. Sure I could detail which modules I used specifically and what modulation techniques I employed. But that would prove tedious to all but 11 people in the known universe… plus it would require that I actually remembered. Which I don’t.
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