Horse vs Monkey


Reading a book recently, called the ‘Chimp Paradox’, has got me thinking about the Chinese concept of the emotional mind and the wisdom mind.


The monkey, with its flighty, erratic nature represents the emotional mind; while the horse, with its calm and steady constitution represents the wisdom mind. The goal, achieved usually through mediation, is for the horse to grow in dominance and gain better control over the monkey. This self improvement technique allows an individual to remain centered and focused in all situations. Particularly helpful for the martial artist who finds himself caught in the heat of battle.

The book itself wasn’t really for me but it did bring up some interesting points: Firstly the author paints a very simplistic image of the human brain by dividing it into seven different sections: frontal lobe, temporal lobe, limbic system, parietal lobe, brain stem, occipital lobe and cerebellum. He then takes the frontal lobe and limbic system and asks us to simplify their functions: the frontal lobe works with logic and truth and represents the horse or human mind, the limbic system works with impressions and feelings and represents the monkey or chimp mind. Interestingly there is medical proof showing that thinking calmly and logically increases the blood supply to the frontal lobe and thinking irrationally and emotionally increases the blood flow to the limbic system.

So what wakes the monkey and increases the blood flow to the limbic system? Let’s take an example: Sarah is travelling to work in her car, as she does every morning, when someone cuts her up nearly causing an accident. If Sarah just dismissed the incident and wrote the person off as a very bad driver she would be using the horse mind and getting on with her day. However, Sarah’s monkey mind takes over causing her to increase her speed and drive only inches from the other car shouting and gesturing abuse at the driver. She keeps this up for the next couple of miles until the other driver pulls off waving her goodbye. When Sarah finally gets into work she’s still frustrated from her earlier encounter and continues thinking about it and discusses it with her colleagues. Even on her journey home that evening she is still annoyed and looking for a similar driver to take her aggression out on. It’s not until she is at home very tired and talking things over with her husband, who suggests that she should just forget about it as its not doing her any good, does she let it go and allow logic and the horse mind to take over.

From the example given I don’t want you to think of the emotional mind as a negative thing; it is neither good nor bad we just need to learn how to use it constructively. To gain this understanding we first need to know how the monkey interprets the world: the author tells us that it uses jungle instinct and this built in mechanism safe guards the perpetuation of the species and self survival. An aspect of this mind that we will all be familiar with, as it’s shared by all animals in the animal world, is the flight, fight or freeze instinct; in our example above Sarah chose fight! Other common aspects of the jungle instinct include the drive to attract a mate, have sex, establish territory, search for food, find shelter etc

The horse mind, on the other hand, is looking for self fulfillment and interprets the world through logic by establishing truths and facts. Among its many drives are happiness and success which are usually gained using ethics and morals.

One of our many goals here at YMAA Gorey is to manage the monkey by harnessing its strength and power when it’s working for us but neutralizing it when it is not. The horse is the key to this and can manage the monkey to eliminate unpredictable and irrational thinking such as unnecessary worrying, the habit of saying things in the heat of the moment, over eating, not exercising even though you really want to etc etc.

The list is endless and I’m still using the horse mind to remove my own obstacles that previously stopped me from achieving the things that now bring me happiness and success.