In my recent attempts to understand myself and the patterns of my thoughts and emotions, I stumbled upon a book by Michael Singer called The Untethered Soul. There is a chapter that talks about the person inside your head. You know, the voice inside your head; the endless chatter that goes on in the mind day in and day out. It is this endless stream of thought as we go through our day that we identify with so instinctively. “I don’t have enough time to do everything I want today.” “I wonder what will happen today at work.” “I shouldn’t eat that, I am always eating things that aren’t good for me” “That person doesn’t seem to be in a good mood, was it something I did?”
We all know about the inner voice in our heads seemingly hawking and dictating over our every move, narrating our day, criticizing and worrying about every possible event. I have heard monks refer to this inner voice as the “monkey mind” and that’s pretty much a spot-on description. It’s like having a hyperactive monkey rattling inside your head, potentially sucking the joy out of every moment with their neurotic chatter and incessant worry.
The problem for me and for so many of us is we grew up believing this voice to be us. I remember reading the philosophical quote from Rene Descartes “I think, therefore I am” and really identifying with it. We think we are our thoughts and we identify heavily with the stream of thoughts dancing around in our heads, but that is not us. By that logic, when we cease thinking, do we cease to be? Of course not. Ceasing our thoughts through meditation, we actually get down to the meat and bones of what we are. We are an awareness. We are consciousness. We are a happening. Sensory experience, thoughts, and emotions are layered on this awareness but they are only secondary to our true nature.
The thing about attaching to our thoughts is that our thoughts are mostly irrational, inaccurate drivel most of the time. The voice inside our head lies to us, constantly. The voice inside our heads has no qualifications for predicting the future and yet how often do we listen to it? I can’t tell you how many times I obsessively worried over something, went through the scenario in my head multiple times only for it never to have occurred at all. How many of you have done this? It’s constant it seems in this environment of high-pressure and high-stress.
This voice, these neurotic thoughts are not us. They are only part of a mental program of the brain to tether down our awareness, make sense of it, give it a narrative, and try to predict a possible future. You can see how a mechanism like this helped our ancestors survive but it does little to reveal who we actually are as beings.
The book I mentioned above has a useful exercise it discusses in one of the chapters where you learn to externalize and personify the voice inside your head. You imagine another person with you having these thoughts and you simply watch what they do. Externalizing your thought patterns is a great way to create some distance between yourself and the thoughts. It allows you to look at them more objectively. Just observe. What is this person saying? Does this person appear stable? Is this person trustworthy when it comes to advice and predictions?
By personifying your inner voice, you can really get to know and understanding its patterns. You can perceive the dynamic aspect of its nature and how it reacts to certain situations, people, and events. You don’t have to try to shut them up. You don’t have to judge them. You just have to watch. It’s just an endless spouting of non-sensical thoughts most of the time. This is the “roommate inside your head” as the book calls it. It’s okay that they are like that and they aren’t going anywhere. Make friends with them. Find peace between yourself and them by detaching from them and putting a stop to lingering on their every word.
After some time, you will learn their tendencies and you can begin to predict what they will think. It’s okay. They will think what they want but the point of the practice is that you will no longer identify with these neurotic thoughts. You will be a quiet observer of them, not reacting and investing emotionally to the thoughts, but simply watching them from a distance. This can help solidify your identity as an awareness, as beyond your thoughts, emotions, and worries.
You are simply a happening. You are a gentle stream of awareness observing everything around you, along with everything else. Your mind is a multitude of experiences and we can easily get caught up in the thoughts we produce in every moment by fixating our attention on them. This practice is about sitting firmly in the driver’s seat and simply focusing our attention to our awareness, to our true nature. A natural peace will fall over you as you slowly learn to create a grounding solace in your mind based on your true nature. You will find that love and serenity abound there and that you will be masterfully resilient to anything that happens in the external world. That is my hope for me with starting this practice and that is my hope for each of you. ❤