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.
My kids had a swim coach who said, “Practice makes permanent.” I loved this. It doesn’t necessarily make perfect, it just reinforces whatever I am doing. At the time they were swimming I was blaming my husband for just about everything. I was getting practically perfect in every way doing that. Just like Mary Poppins only different.
I started at the sink doing dishes because that’s where my mind chatter was the loudest. Instead of answering all the questions in my head about how this life of mine was his fault, I began to ask why might I be grateful for him? My mind was happy to answer either question it turns out.
Love the bit about my reaction to a yoga pose. I’m going lite on myself tonight as I fall out of hand stands.
Love that–“my mind was happy to answer either question [your gratitude or your disapproval of him].”
And, going lite on yourself? Best way to levitate! Thanks for the comment, Rebecca!
I love Rebecca’s comment…”Practice makes permanent” not only feels more true than “Practice makes perfect”, but it feels kinder and more empowering.
Great piece, Terry!
In meditation, we come together and sit for a while; we allow our body to settle down, and maybe we’re able to enter more fully into the body. Sometimes people find out that they’re never really present in their body; that actually, they’re always in their head, or in some mental world. So you bring your attention back to your body, to your breath, and let it settle down. Maybe you discover your body is agitated, or feeling like it needs to defend itself. We live in a culture that encourages a non-stop fight-or-flight response, keeping people in chronic states of contraction and agitation. Maybe that’s why there’s so much stress-related illness in the world.
So simply by stopping and being present, we allow ourselves to return to homeostasis – the balancing of the nervous system, the healing of the body. We find out how to take care of ourselves; we find out what we need. Maybe we change our diet, or take a look at our habits. We’re learning and discovering all the time. For humans, life is always changing, so we’re always having to find our way. But when we open into this awakened realm, then we really find the true guide to life. There’s a sense of ease, a sense of being guided – profoundly – into the infinite unknown. Then we can truly notice life and all its amazing details; we can taste the fragrance of life. We can really enjoy life as it is.
In this endless now, each moment is new. And we like when things are new! Like washing the car when it’s been dirty – oh, that’s nice! Or opening a birthday present – you eagerly tear off the wrapping to enjoy the surprise. So life becomes one surprise after another. And we’re actually available for it. That’s the real gift of awakening. And then we find ourselves living from the heart. Not the needy, possessive heart, but the heart of vastness; the Big Heart.
~ Jon Bernie
“If you only read cookbooks, you’ll stay hungry” Wow, Terry, there are so many great aha moments in this piece! Thank you, I’ll be re reading this several times!
Thanks so much for this post Terry – LOVE! the otter video – a great reminder that what looks effortless (and so cute) takes practice, as does minding the mind chatter.