October 15, 2016

What We Need to Know about the Voices in our Heads.

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“Two people have been living in you all your life. One is the ego, garrulous, demanding, hysterical, calculating; the other is the hidden spiritual being, whose still voice of wisdom you have only rarely heard or attended to.” ~ Sogyal Rinpoche


No, don’t press the send button. Yes, do press the send button. What did she mean when she said I looked different?

Have I gained weight, or is it my new casual look? Should I tell them I’m traveling in November for a 30-day trip to India, or should I wait until after dinner?

My inner chattering voice won’t go away this morning. I try to distract myself with a podcast, but the incessant inner voice keeps interrupting me. Will my article get published? Will it rain during my CrossFit session?

Right now you may be thinking, Why am I reading this? Will it help me in a way that none of the other million articles out there didn’t? But it’s true—I do hear this voice in my head. Let me just read a bit more and see what this is about.

We have an inner voice—there’s no doubt.

Buddhism calls it the internal “Chattering Monkey” and tells us that silencing this voice is the first step on the path to enlightenment (nirvana).

Where do these voices originate?

These voices emanate from thoughts we have stored in our subconscious mind since we were born; our minds create these thoughts to protect our fragile selves. Our environment—our parents, teachers, friends, society at large—conditions our minds from an early age.

The inner voice can sometimes be helpful. When we’re young and feel the effects of boiling water, we create and store a memory that tells us we can’t go near hot water, since we might get burnt. That’s why when we’re older and approach a hot kettle, an inner voice pops up to warn us of impending danger.

However, as our anxiety and fears grow over time, most of the voices become futile and develop into sabotaging, limiting beliefs. We start to give ourselves negative feedback, and a despotic voice orchestrates our lives and continuously puts us down.

When I was 10 years old, an art teacher humiliated me and my work in front of my classmates. I immediately created a voice in my head that, whenever I had a creative thought, told me I should avoid it, as I was worthless in that area. Every time I attempted to draw, doodle, or even view pieces of art, a voice would mockingly tell me to get serious. I avoided being creative for almost 35 years, only because I listened to that voice in my head.

In 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist who studies the brain had a massive stroke that caused her language and other left-hemisphere functions to gradually shut down. She described her experience and what she learned in her compelling, now-famous Ted Talk.

After her stroke, she entered a euphoric state of mind that, although she was less able to function, stopped the chattering voice and left her mind completely silent. She explained in detail what happened to her brain:

“Imagine what it would be like to be totally disconnected from your brain chatter that connects you to the external world. So here I am in this space and any stress related to my job—it was gone. And I felt lighter in my body. And imagine all of the relationships in the external world and the many stressors related to any of those—they were gone. I felt a sense of peacefulness. And imagine what it would feel like to lose 37 years of emotional baggage! I felt euphoria. Euphoria was beautiful.”

Then again, there is a need for this voice. She went on to describe in amazing detail how during her stroke, in all her confusion, she was able to follow her inner voice and find her business card, which had her office number, so that she could call a colleague for help.

Taylor’s inner voice saved her life.

So what do we do with our inner voices? Obviously, we can’t easily silence them. We must become aware of them and try to decipher which ones serve us and which ones don’t by developing certain practices:

1) Become aware that the voices are not ours.

We need to first be aware and accept that the voices in our heads are not ours. The voices won’t disappear, no matter what we do, unless we become enlightened gurus living in high mountain caves. The voices represent our many fears and desires, which grew on the back of our past conditioning and how people reacted to our actions.

I’ve accepted that my inner voice won’t express much love or joy toward me unless I’m conscious and intentional, and so I relegate most of the voices I hear to the background.

2) Labeling the voices.

When we give the voices names, it becomes easier to recognize that they don’t represent our true self. For example, when I’m idling away and avoiding a task, I label that voice “Procrastinating Mo.” When my voices tell me my writing isn’t as good as that of another writer I admire, I call that voice “Loser Mo.” Or when I’m getting anxious just before a long flight, that voice can be “Worrier Mo.”

Now, when I hear any of those named voices, I know they won’t serve me and quickly subdue them.

3) Meditation.

I’m no Meditation expert, but my practice has helped make me more peaceful, less stressed, and much more mindful. I use the breath technique, which is not too complicated, sitting still for 20 minutes first thing in the morning.

I’m not always successful, as thoughts do wander in, but completing my practice gives me a glimpse—if only for a few minutes—of that euphoric state of inner peace I want to achieve.

4) Mindfulness.

In this age of digital distraction, it is easy for us to lose focus and succumb to the numerous voices that run around in our minds. We are usually never present in the moment. We might be doing one thing, yet worrying about another thing entirely.

There is a certain beauty and simplicity in losing ourselves completely in what we’re doing. It is at this moment that our voices shut down and allow our inner self to connect with the world. For me, this could be a three-hour writing session, an early morning espresso where most people are asleep, or drinking in the beauty of a Mediterranean sunset.

5) Journaling.

This is an old tradition for a reason; it is one of the easiest ways to rid ourselves of too many thoughts—or, in this case, multiple and confusing voices. There is something cathartic about putting words on paper to clear our heads.

I’ve journaled consistently for about 30 minutes daily for the past seven years. It has given me the opportunity to monitor my thoughts and feelings and recognize how I sometimes become enslaved to the incessant voice in my head.

We have many voices in our heads, but we are one being. These voices belong to the egoic, material self and are completely separate from our being—the higher spiritual self.

We must learn to remove the noise of these voices, focus on the music that flows and allow our true selves to come out and dance.


Author: Mo Issa

Image: elephant journal on Instagram

Apprentice Editor: Thayne Ulschmid; Editor: Toby Israel


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