The Mind as Elephant Trunk

Those wandering minds!

Those wandering minds!

In a recent post on compulsive ideation, I mentioned my fondness for the variety of ways that meditation masters describe our untrained monkey minds.  Here’s another installment on the same theme, and the first such I remember coming across—over twenty years ago now. It remains one of my favorites. The image is a gentle, humorous way to call my wandering mind back to attention in the present. I first read it in Eknath Easwaran’s very fine book, Meditation.

There is a Hindu story comparing the mind to the trunk of an elephant – restless, inquisitive, always straying. In our villages in India, elephants are sometimes taken in religious processions through the streets to the temple. The streets are crooked and narrow, lined on either side with fruit and vegetable stalls. Along comes the elephant with his restless trunk, and in one sinuous motion, he grabs a whole bunch of bananas. He opens his cavernous mouth, and tosses the bananas in – stalk and all. From the next stall he picks up a coconut and tosses it in after the bananas. No threats or promises can make this restless trunk settle down. But the wise elephant trainer will give that trunk a short bamboo stick to hold. Then the elephant will walk along proudly, holding the bamboo stick in front like a drum major with a baton. He doesn’t steal bananas and coconuts now, because his trunk has something to hold onto.

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