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"Monkey Mind" and Infidelity

By Laurie Israel, Esq.
Brookline, Massachusetts
©Copyright 2007

There is a time in everyone's marriage when one spouse or the other is attracted to another person. After all, although we're married, our interest in other humans is never completely shut off. Therefore, in the course of a marriage, it should not be at all surprising that we might find someone else, other than our spouse, attractive. One of the challenges of marriage is identifying these attractions and addressing them in a constructive way.

There is a Buddhist concept called "monkey mind". This is the well-known phenomenon of our mind moving from one thing to another, like a monkey going from tree to tree, grabbing a banana, taking a bite, dropping it, and moving to the next tree. In meditation practice, we sit passively while we watch our "monkey mind" going from one thought to another. Even when not attempting to meditate, if when we stop to notice, we see that our minds are constantly going from one thing to the next. We live in a multi-tasking world and operate in a multi-tasking society. No wonder we are so actively engaged in monkey mind madness.

Even in our most primary affectionate relationships, we are unable to concentrate on the person we are with and are filled with other thoughts. You can find a variety of thoughts rushing through the mind, including criticisms, aversion, and distrust. Our thoughts build assumptions that are often wrong when tested. Our communications are thoughtless, overactive, and needlessly confrontational.

People in a marriage are often highly surprised by a strong attraction to a new person. The attraction starts building. Thoughts of it often become obsessive. The monkey-mind begins to work overtime. The object of the desire becomes perfect; the spouse's imperfections and flaws become brutally apparent. . Our "monkey mind" exclaims into our ear, "If only I could be with the new beloved everything would be all right." The mind runs and runs on thoughts and fantasies of life with the (new) beloved. It is a construction entirely tailored out of the cloth of the mind. Beware - it is not real. It is a chimera built out of smoke and mirrors. The new beloved becomes the old beloved before long. The chase is over, and you've just traded one spouse for another.

However, like thousands of fools throughout the ages before us, we fall under the sway of the manufactured desire. We are feeding our own monkeys, and the monkey-mind thoughts grow and take on a life of their own. We are powerless before them.

If the person is lucky, the object of his or her desire does not reciprocate that interest. Eventually, the fires of the monkey-mind ardor die out and the person will find the way back to his or her spouse. After the monkey-mind has let go, a new look at the spouse will reveal what brought you together in the first place. You love your spouse's aging skin, his or her devotion to work and to you. You adore your spouse's lovely sense of humor and kind eyes. How did you ever fall prey to the monkey-mind?

How to deal with a strong attraction to a person not one's spouse? There are several Buddhist teachings that provide help coping with the psychic mania and falsehood of monkey-mind, or in other monkey terminology, how to get the monkey off your back.

One is to ignore the monkey and concentrate on something else. This is not easily done because the fantasy pleasures of consummating with one's fantasy lover are so strong. Ignoring very strong feelings is nearly impossible.

But if you look at these feelings, and think about what they really are - feelings, thoughts - constructs of the mind, and not manifestations of reality -- you may be able to disengage the fantasy. Could it be that the attraction to the other person is a way of getting away from an uncomfortable period with one's spouse, a way of pleasure-seeking when the home fires are not burning so brightly? Perhaps focusing on the problem at home will be a productive way to put one's attention back on the primary actual and existing relationship. Perhaps one can find a new focus, a new learning, a new technique to apply at home.

Beware of the monkey. The monkey leads us down the path of dreamworld unreality, and consummation of desires. Desires always lead to new desires. They spring up like mushrooms.

The monkey leads us down the path of planning and scheming to make the desire a reality and to have the affair. The monkey will make us say "yes" when we know we should say "no". Know that the monkey is never satisfied, and will move on once it has a bite of the banana. To state it directly and bluntly, the new affair will lose its allure as soon as it is consummated. The spouse will not forgive. The spouse will not trust again. There is no way of returning. You are on a road to nowhere.

Let your thoughts of infidelity unfurl. Do not be afraid. Identify what your thoughts are doing. Voice them to yourself. Observe them. Note that our western lifestyle promotes the monkey-mind encouraging us never to be satisfied with what we already have, to continually strive for "more" and "better". Note how the monkey-mind weaves a web of thoughts and emotions that entrap. Be aware that thoughts have a life of their own. Know that thoughts (and nothing else) have a potential to destroy a perfectly good marriage.

Whenever the monkey-mind of infidelity reappears, remember that the monkey-mind represents illusion because what is contemplated by the monkey mind does not exist, except in the mind. Know that the monkey-mind is at its strongest sway (and we are at our weakest) when chattering of physical desire. Beware of the half-eaten bananas strewn upon the floor of the jungle. Beware of the litter of infidelity.

Practice watchful vigilance over your monkey-mind. Quietly watch it. Analyze your thoughts and feelings when under its sway Each time you do that, you will stop the monkey-mind in its tracks. You have captured the monkey by observing what the monkey-mind does. If you observe and do not act impulsively, you can work through the thoughts and desires in a safe place. When you do this, you are ready to return to your marriage. You will be surprised at all the good you see in the marriage and the spouse that the monkey-mind was persuading you to throw away.

Laurie Israel is founder and managing partner of Israel, Van Kooy & Days, LLC, a law firm located in Brookline, Massachusetts. She combines a family law practice with estate planning, tax, mediation and collaborative law. Laurie is currently on the board of directors of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation and former board member of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council. Her writings include articles on mediation to stay married (marital mediation), collaborative practice, marriage, divorce, and pre- and post-nuptial agreements. She is a frequent presenter at professional conferences. Her websites are: www.ivkdlaw.com, www.mediationtostaymarried.com , www.laurieisraelthink.com and www.yourfamilymatterslawblog.com.

She can be contacted by phone at (617)277-3774 or


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