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It is estimated that over 90 percent of the thoughts we have on a daily basis are repeats that we’ve already had.
That’s quite a bit of useless noise!
Think of the lack of space that leaves for new thinking when we’re constantly replaying the same old ideas.
Like the proverbial student’s teacup that is already filled and the master cannot pour any more tea without it overflowing, our minds also keep us filled to the brim. It’s only when we stop repeating the same thoughts that we allow the space for new ones to come in.
Imagine for a moment if someone was yelling continuously while someone else was trying to speak. Sometimes, children will do this when they say, “La la la, I’m not listening to you!” Although immature, it is an effective method to drown out what anyone else is saying.
In the same way, if our minds are continuously chattering to us, we are unlikely to hear anything else but those same repeated thoughts.
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” ~ Ram Dass
Inspiration comes not from hearing the same thing again and again, but when we hear something novel. It may come as some sage advice from a person we are listening to, but we have to be able to hear them. If not, the message will be lost or ignored.
This is one of the reasons it’s been said, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” We could be sitting at a sermon from a Buddha or a Christ, but if we were distracted and not quiet, we’d miss the message entirely. What a wasted opportunity that would be!
If we’re willing to listen though, anyone or anything can be our teacher, and it doesn’t have to be some idolized religious messiah sent to bring a message of liberation.
Oftentimes, the message doesn’t come from someone outside ourselves but is a sudden flash of insight that cuts between our mental chatter. Whether external or internal, in order for the message to be clear, we must be willing to hear.
Before going to bed, I like to turn on a fan to create some ambient noise in my room. The steady stream of noise helps to block out other noises during the night.
I currently live near some train tracks intersecting a road, and when the train goes by, it blows its horn. Loudly. At all times of the day and night. Although my fan doesn’t block this out entirely, it does muffle the noise to a large degree, and I usually don’t wake up.
Because I don’t want to hear anything that could disrupt my sleep (especially the damn train), I intentionally do not create a quiet environment. If, on the other hand, I was sleeping in some unsafe location—the jungle perhaps, where I would need to be aware of any approaching predators, and I wanted to hear anything creeping up on me, I would want as silent of an environment as I could create.
Noise blocks out other noise, while quiet allows us to hear more. This applies equally to our sense of hearing externally as well as internally with our minds.
A way to create noise within is to repeat a mantra or prayer repeatedly. This works particularly well for those of us with busy minds who need something to do, like myself. If we just try to become still inside, usually the mind will start running even more since now we’re trying to stop it. This is analogous to trying to fight fire with fire; using the mind to think ourselves out of thinking just exacerbates the problem.
After repeating a prayer or mantra for a while, however, we find that much like the fan in my bedroom, it starts to help us focus our thoughts so they don’t drift aimlessly, since there is only one thing we are focusing on. This can bring us into a deep level of meditation, being singularly focused, as opposed to the daily norm where our monkey mind swings from tree to tree, never stopping.
For many people, they are so caught up in the mind that they don’t even realize it’s running constantly in the background. At one point, I was trying to explain this to my dad, and when I mentioned there is a voice in our head, he looked at me as if I was crazy. He is so identified with that voice that it’s impossible to take a step back and recognize it.
Once we realize the background noise of our mind is dictating over 90 percent of our thoughts, we can then choose to intentionally cultivate silence to hear something new.
I enjoy listening to music, but when a song gets stuck in my head, it’s torture. I’d much prefer the capability to turn on or off the song, whether that’s playing externally on speakers or internally in my mind.
After we’ve had the realization there is a steady stream of background noise keeping us from hearing, the next step is committing to cultivate quiet.
Once we witness firsthand the peace of mind this brings, we’ll never want to go back to a life of constant unconscious chatter.