We’re a lot like baby otters, us humans. We’re not born knowing how to do everything we need to thrive. Part of thriving requires us to understand and manage the incessant, often self-destructive conversation inside our heads. Virtually all of us do it. Welcome to the human race!
That mind chatter it can imprison us, making us feel helpless when we are not, keep us stuck in perpetual rumination, questioning ourselves and our actions over and over, plunge us into self-destructive habits and false ideas about what will really make us happy.
Managing our mind chatter is the key for many of us to live our dreams, connect with the essence of who we are, and to create the best lives we can possibly have. Scores of great sages from spiritual leaders to social scientists and psychologists have addressed the issue. Here’s Carlos Castenada on the topic:
“We talk to ourselves incessantly about our world. In fact we maintain our world with our internal talk. And whenever we finish talking to ourselves about ourselves and our world, the world is always as it should be. We renew it, we rekindle it with life, we uphold it with our internal talk. Not only that, but we also choose our paths as we talk to ourselves. Thus we repeat the same choices over and over until the day we die, because we keep on repeating the same internal talk over and over until the day we die. A warrior is aware of this and strives to stop his internal talk.”
Got that? As long as the inner conversation remains the same, we repeat the same choices over and over because we repeat the same internal talk over and over. We have to change the tunes we sing to ourselves in order to hear the music that inspires our souls to live as large and joyfully as we possibly can.
But before we dive into the how-to do it, let’s set the stage, the ground of being for the journey. Before we consider some specifics about how to quiet the mind, let’s go over a few ground rules for the journey:
Practice makes perfect. They don’t call these techniques practices for nothing. We must practice them.
It’s experiential. If you only read cookbooks, you’ll stay hungry. If you only read self-help books, you’ll stay stuck. Attending workshops and classes, and buying an expensive library of self-help books does not substitute for actually doing these practices. The feeling you get from the experience is what teaches you what you need to learn.
It’s not about the pose. As my yoga teacher says, “It’s not about the pose, it’s about your reaction to the pose.” Most of us will fail at this over and over. Your failures are as great as your successes. Accepting this with a light attitude is part of the process of managing your thoughts. When you can accept your failures as gracefully as your successes, well, you are a warrior!
Be nice. Okay, so you beat yourself up in your mind. Don’t compound it by beating yourself up for beating yourself up.
Get a guide if you’re lost. Hiring a coach or therapist or other helper who is experienced at thought management is not evidence of failure or incompetence. It’s evidence that you are serious about wanting to change.
Cast a wide net. It may take several approaches to succeed. It does for me. Maybe for you, too. Sound like too much trouble? That’s just more mind chatter. Wouldn’t it be worth the extra effort, if it meant you could live joyfully?
Play. Allow yourself to have fun as you experiment. This shouldn’t hurt. Approach it all with curiosity and a commitment to find the pleasure in your practices.
And, as always, a sense of humor gets extra credit.
Stay tuned. I’ll continue with specific approaches and techniques in subsequent posts.