Some of you may remember Alison Parrott. She was abducted, raped and murdered in Toronto in 1986. She had become quite a good little runner and was to leave the day following her abduction to compete internationally. However, she was lured from her home by a man posing as a photographer for the upcoming competition. Alison was just eleven years old.
This week I was fortunate enough to participate in an intimate forum with her mother, Lesley , who bravely shared with us her journey through the darkest times of grief, self-loathing and fear. But she also spoke about resiliency and how she found a way to not only survive, but thrive, after Alison’s death.
There are so many things she said that struck me, but one in particular was a message I needed to be reminded of this week. She spoke of taming our “monkey mind”. This expression was new to me but I’ve since discovered that it was Buddha who described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering–endlessly clamouring for attention. Hence, we have the term.
In Lesley’s case, the ‘monkey mind’ she most needed to tame was that of recreating Alison’s death and the terrifying things she must have suffered. I could certainly relate as I have recreated Stefanie’s last agonizing moments over and over until every cell in my body aches.
What she shared next was pivotal. She said that whatever images we create in our minds, whatever details we use to fill in the blanks are not reality. I have, as most people do, a fantastic imagination and can recreate the vilest images. But they aren’t real. The emotion associated with them is, but the only reality is what we are living right here and right now. Lesley suggested that if we pay attention to the feelings rather than the images we create in our minds, we will fare much better.
Allowing ourselves to acknowledge and experience the waves of pain will eventually soothe the waters and the swells will not be as intense.
I have learned to turn those thoughts off purely out of self-preservation and the only way I know how to do it is by sheer force of will. Once there, it’s very hard to stop thinking about it.
Recently, during a presentation from Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit, there was a clip from a CCTV camera of a stabbing. This wasn’t TV or fiction. It was real, raw and wretched. I felt terribly sick, and it took everything I had to maintain my composure. I was, of course, battling those demons once again.
These relapses will happen, but it takes a conscious effort—a decision to not allow these thoughts to consume us.
This is not exclusive to violence. Many times we assign meaning to the actions of others and interpret them through our own lenses, creating a false reality, and then we suffer needlessly as a result. How many times do we replay a conversation with someone and then later think about it so much that it takes on a life of its own—one that was never real at all?
We need to let go of our “monkey minds” and allow ourselves some peace. Life can exist only in this very moment. This is our only true reality.
We must stop wishing for a different yesterday and stop projecting into the future. It takes effort at first, and at times, reverting back to our ‘monkey minds’ is inevitable. But each time we find ourselves listening to the chatter, we need to gently remind ourselves to come back to the present and just be.