Who can relate?
I’m mindlessly scrolling through Instagram the other day and find myself narrating my experience out loud. I am casually giving a play by play of what everyone is doing on the “gram”. I hear myself doing this and think that I sound like a sportscaster giving the play by play of a football game. The only problem is, I don’t sound like an actual sportscaster, I sound like a sarcastic comedy skit of a sportscaster from a Saturday Night Live Episode.
To put it more bluntly; I sound like a jerk.
Maybe you can relate. It doesn’t have to be that you also give sarcastic play by plays of social media posts to your friends and family. It could be that you retell the story of a work meeting to your best friend in a sort of flippant tone. Or maybe you share a story with your partner that a friend told you about their life, but you tell it with an edge in your voice of skepticism and sarcasm.
I don’t think I am wrong in believing, if this happens to me, it happens to most people.
So, what is this thing that happens to us; us perfectly loving and good people, acting like jerks? It wasn’t that I didn’t like the people I was play by playing about. It wasn’t that I was in a bad mood. If you had asked me how I felt, or how I was doing, I would have said ‘wonderful, great, perfect’, or something of the sort. The loudest me, the most surface me, she was all good. And yet still, some part of me was acting in this childish and selfish way.
When it happened, I heard this jerk self and stopped what I was doing. The first thing I did was extend kindness to myself. Days of self denigration are long gone in my life. After bringing conscious, kind, awareness to what I was acting like, I began the process of reflection with the intention of generating insight.
This incident was not the first. Whenever I mindlessly scroll through social media, I often have this experience of turning into a jerk. So as to say, I have found myself acting this way before. What a funny thing to write, huh? I found myself! As if I could ever lose me, and, yet, somehow I do. This ‘self losing’ almost always ends in one part of me acting in a way that is totally out of alignment with another part of me.
This is where the practice of mindfulness and the training ground of meditation are so valuable. Mindfulness is the method of catching yourself as you are gearing up to leave you, or noticing after you have already left, or seeing you as you return to yourself. Meditation is the training ground for how to stick together, a space to practice not getting lost in the first place, and, over time, a space to reveal your true nature; your inner essence.
You see, when you practice mindfulness and train in meditation, eventually you realize that the mind doesn’t have just one voice, there are many layers of chatter going on simultaneously. Some are louder than others. Some are very musical. Some are more mature, others are like little babies. Yes, I am talking about the voices in your head. If you are questioning my sanity, then that is an indication you have not practiced mindfulness or meditation nearly enough.
About ten years ago, while sitting for meditation, my mind opened up and many voices become known to me at once. It was an overwhelming experience and a little frightening. I thought perhaps I was having delusions. As I type this it needs clarification; one of my voices wondered was I in a psychosis, another one of my voices assured me I was not. Instead of ending my meditation, I became insanely (no pun intended) curious about what it was that was happening in my mind.
If the example of my social media behavior is relatable to you, the reason that happens has to do with these many voices; these many sides of yourself. Just like a cube or a sphere does not just have one side, even though they are one whole complete object, so too, my friend, you are multi-dimensional. One dimension of you can walk away from yourself, this is usually the loudest. This inner you just wanders off inside of the vast landscape of your mind and when it does these other, more subtle, ‘you’s’ emerge.
In Buddhism, two voices are addressed and a warning is given. Do not just stop with feeling like you have achieved success by quieting the loud voice in your mind. You must look deeper and see that there is another more subtle voice chattering away. I believe this teaching directly touches on these many aspects of our one self. One reason it is so important to know this is that the more quiet voices (and for visual people it may be images, or for sensing people senses) are often in opposition with each other.
It may be the case that you have already noticed these many sides of yourself or this subtle inner voice before, and found yourself unsure what to do about it. The truth is, aside from paying attention to it, you don’t want to “do” anything about it necessarily. But you should definitely know it is there. It is something like when a little kid is acting naughty because you aren’t paying attention, but then all you do is begin to watch them, no interference, and they sort of coyly stop the behavior. The inner voices, the many sides of yourself, are a lot like this.
While you do not have to do anything to quiet them, that isn’t to say you shouldn’t educate yourself about them; the inner voices or many sides of you. As I have pointed out, if you do not watch them, if you do not educate yourself about them, they could very well be sabotaging you.
My experience has shown me that a lot of people admit they have a loud voice in their head, but not many people are tuning into that quieter voice very closely. The saying “if the dog barks it probably won’t bite, it’s the quiet dogs you have to look out for” applies here. You should know; an unwatched quiet inner voice bites.
Whether my story speaks to you yet or not is of no consequence to the work that must be done. If you want to live life in harmony, you should have a daily practice where you watch yourself closely and learn about yourself deeply.
As is the case with all of inner work, it is not simply enough to read about it or hear about someone else’s experience. The inner world must be directly experienced to generate real and authentic understanding. So I am inviting you to explore this for yourself. Throughout the day, notice the chatter of your mind in its most subtle way.
Ask yourself questions like:
When does it appear?
What is it telling you?
What are it’s motivations?
Where is it coming from?
This type of inner investigation becomes a practice in facing yourself honestly. No one wants to admit they are secretly bitchy or jealous or whatever, but basically everyone who has not trained in not being those things definitely is. These are all sides of the human experience. Like the sphere can be rotated many directions, or the cube can be turned upside down, you also can be looked at from many directions. And doing so, looking at yourself in these different ways, entertaining the idea you may have a jerk side who needs looking at, this will give you valuable insight about how to integrate these sides of yourself so they work in opposition as little as possible and work in unity to their maximum.
Remember, you do not have to change anything. Just observe. Be a fly on the wall, a subtle observer of your subtle motivations. Eventually you will be the person you say you are or want to be. Awareness is magic like that.
And if you are wondering about me and my story, let me just say that I do not spend much time doing anything mindlessly, including scrolling through social media. So that is one way that I control my subtle voice and out of alignment behavior. That is actually the primary way. But it was a slow process to get here. Years and years of facing myself honestly and in ways that were extremely uncomfortable while seated in meditation or practicing mindfulness.
If there is one thing I can tell you though, the benefit of facing yourself amidst discomfort FAR outweighs the discomfort. Over the years I have trained myself in enjoying seeing my flaws. Remember I said I do not self denigrate, so this means that a flaw doesn’t hurt my feelings. I have become an expert at simply being a fly on the wall of my own mind. I just sit and watch, and through that watching my life has been transformed.
Flies are not like bees, they pose no threat. This is an important differentiation to make. Be a fly on the wall of your mind and learn about what you do and why you do it, but don't sting yourself over what you find. I am certain you will uncover that this learning process leads to immense benefit for you and all the people you come in contact with. But as I said, don’t trust me, try it for yourself and see.
And one final note before I leave you here, be careful not to try and be a fly on the wall for SOMEONE ELSE'S mind. This will most certainly lead to suffering. Inner work is yours. It is very personal. It is not meant as a tool for superiority. Just remember that. Learn about yourself at your pace and let others learn at theirs. The best way you can help anyone is by being a model human being.
Until next time, live mindfully, be well.