Hey, isn’t that Jim over there? I’m sure he saw me, why didn’t he say hello? I bet he’s mad at me, because of what I said at the party. Whatever. I don’t really care about Jim anyways. But…is he really mad at me?
In case you haven’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops. It even often takes both sides! If you are now saying, What is this guy talking about, I don’t have a voice in my head, that dialogue is exactly what I am talking about! Don’t believe me? Read on…
Before you check your mental sanity after struggling to understand the scenario above, let’s explore this further. Because the following explanation can offer tremendous insight into understanding ourselves: we all have two minds, let’s call them the Observing Mind (OM) and the Thinking Mind (TM).
Your OM is a silent observer, it processes everything you do and see without mental commentary. It is your internal camera, without any filters, viewing life as it unfolds before you as is. This place of centered awareness is the seat of the witness, the seat of Self. It is objective, without judgment, sees things clearly in your mental landscape without all your biases and opinions coloring your experiences.
Your TM is anything but silent, commenting on anything and everything, often with melodrama, unfiltered and totally out of control. It is like sitting next to someone in a movie theater who never, ever stops talking. It is subjective with all your biases and opinions spewing out thoughts one after another nonstop. It nags, complains, provokes and syncs up with your ego to always make you feel special and better than others. But the paradox is it can also turn on you, becoming an inner bully by beating you down with nasty inner dialogue. TM knows no boundaries. If you documented the thousands of thoughts that flow through TM daily and had to read them to a jury of your peers, you would cringe with embarrassment.
OM is the adult in the room and TM is the wild, drunk teenager at a party.
Let’s examine how the two minds interact concurrently when you’re in line at the post office. OM surveys the room and calmly calculates nine people ahead of you with two cashiers equals approximately ten minutes waiting time. OM feels the warm air and noise level, all a bit uncomfortable, but not passing any judgment. OM simply takes in all the sensory experiences without the mental commentary, recognizing what is before us and categorizing as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
TM is going ballistic with nonstop internal chatter, cursing the post office for always being so damn slow. Why don’t they have any A/C on a hot summer day and what’s with that stupid hat that lady is wearing? And the fat slob over in the corner talking so loud on his cellphone, somebody tell him to shut up! This post office is a disaster and a complete waste of my valuable time! TM just keeps mouthing off, verbally abusing everyone and everything in its path, often including ourselves in the mix.
We all experience some version of this scenario in our mind(s),whether we are at the DMV, Starbucks or security at the airport. It is the human condition. But our greatest challenge is how do we not allow TM to be like a kite in a strong wind, dragging OM along for the ride. TM can powerfully sweep us up, overwhelming us as our thought patterns essentially become dominated by TM while OM remains dormant as the silent observer. We start cursing the long line, the lady with the stupid hat and the loud guy on his mobile at the post office. We become these thoughts, owning them, and now feel agitated and annoyed as we feed on these negative emotions.
As we observe these two entities unfold and do battle, then our logical question is how do I control my TM? We wonder, if I can just take charge of my TM, all these angry, anxious, mean thoughts will go away! Ahhh, elusive inner peace, I can feel you so tantalizing close now, just tell me the magic formula. Sadly, the tragic answer is you cannot stop your TM. Such is the dilemma of our uniquely human experience. TM is a waterfall, a constant stream of thoughts; OM is the observer tucked away in a cave at the bottom of the waterfall. Put another way, TM is the constant waves on the surface that come crashing onshore; OM is the vast, deep ocean beneath, quiet and still.
But perhaps the greatest harm comes when TM sweeps up your emotions as this is the manifestation of the majority of our suffering. Not the negative emotions themselves, but from identifying with the negative emotions by fusing with TM, believing we are that emotion and therefore allowing it to define us. For example, there is a vast difference between saying I am sad versus I am having a sad thought. This subtle shift defuses your TM from OM as you are no longer immersed in TM. Said another way, you no longer think of yourself as a sad person but rather just observing you are a person having a sad thought at this moment. With practice, you’ll notice patterns and discover all thoughts are fleeting so even this sad thought will disappear. This new perspective is enormously empowering, as you don’t now own the label of sad person (or angry person, broken person, lazy person) and therefore don’t start dwelling and feeding on this negative charge. It allows you to see yourself as a normal, healthy person who simply is having a temporary sad thought. Powerful indeed.
When you are immersed in TM, unaware of being swept by the current of your thoughts, you are practicing mindlessness, unconscious in a spiritual sense. When you are present with OM in awareness, not allowing yourself to get tangled up in TM, you are practicing mindfulness, conscious in a spiritual sense. TM thrives in the past or fantasizing in the future; OM lives in the NOW. By putting space, a separation, between TM and OM we can now manage our thought processes. The majority of us live our days, even our whole lives, in TM. OM offers us an awakening and is our natural state for optimal health and well-being, leading us on the path to enlightenment.
This is no easy task as separating your OM from your TM takes practice and commitment. Meditation and Mindfulness are valuable disciplines to manage this as it can anchor you into OM by creating present moment awareness. An effective tool such as focusing on your breath works because it grounds your OM while your TM is churning in chaos. OM is flying the kite standing on terra firma as TM is swirling above in the storm. Once you can start differentiating between your two minds in your internal daily life, you can take control of the thoughts and emotions that TM inundates you with and objectively decide which are helpful vs hurtful to your mental health. You will still have nonstop mental commentary and still produce negative thoughts and emotions, but now you can choose whether you want to identify with it and how it will affect you.