You have a voice inside your head that never stops talking. This self-talk comments on everything, judges everyone, tells you what you like and dislike, and even criticizes yourself. This voice carries on nonstop conversations, often taking both sides simply to continue the conversation such as harmless dialogue like Maybe I’ll have a drink tonight; no, I shouldn’t drink alone. Ryan’s a really nice guy; actually Ryan can be quite a jerk sometimes. I should give Carrie a call; why bother, she never calls me. It doesn’t really care where you land, just so long as you keep chatting about it. It can go off into an amazing fantasy, playing out a full narrative in detail on how you’re going to finally confront your sister and make a huge scene as you tell her off on the phone, leaving her breathless as you hang up on her. Of course, this will never happen but you replay the scene in dramatic fashion over and over again gaining some weird sense of satisfaction. This voice just keeps talking and thinking, it’s what creates doubts, fears and suffering, often to our detriment. It is estimated that we churn out 50,000 thoughts per day, with the ability to hold up to six thoughts concurrently in our mind. We are inundated with thought with no respite, is this not some form of insanity?
I’m sure most of you are shaking your head in disbelief or denial and/or have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s because you are immersed in your thoughts, you’ve become your thoughts, controlled by your mind. You have totally identified with your mind so that every thought it spews out, you are living this reality. Your inner world is at the mercy of all these thoughts, all these conversations you are holding in your head. It can become quite tiresome as you actually expend a lot of energy navigating through all these thoughts. You argue with yourself: I think I will go to Tom’s party; I’m not going, I hate Tom’s friends. I need a coffee; I really should quit coffee. I hate my job; just be grateful you have a job. You are like a tiny boat thrown about on the stormy seas, at the whim of the weather in your mind. This inward battle goes on incessantly as your mind literally never shuts up. It even narrates everything you see: Look at that dog, is that a Labradoodle? And the owner looks like my classmate from college. Wow, she put on weight, she looks terrible. And what’s with the crazy outfit? Is all this inner dialogue necessary? Is it not just exhausting?
Then one day you become aware of a thought you actually disagree with, or even embarrassed by. You’re in a hurry at the supermarket and a drunk old man ahead of you in line is fumbling with his money and you think That stupid old drunk, I hope he passes out on the side of the road. But as a person of compassion, you quickly catch yourself and dispute your own thought. How can this be? Nobody heard you in line or even suggested to you that this was an evil thought so…who told you it was wrong to say? And, equally importantly, who heard it? Who observed this and realized this is not who you genuinely are or what you should be thinking? Surely, it must be you as the thought arose in your head, right? If so, then who told you this wasn’t you, who hears what you just heard? There is a voice inside your head but it isn’t you. This should naturally prompt you to ask, who am I?
Once you become aware of this voice inside your head, you then must wonder who is it that is aware of this voice. Essentially, you have two minds, two distinct aspects of your inner being. The silent observer of all these thoughts is the Observing Mind (OM). And the voice, the nonstop chatter that never shuts up, is the Thinking Mind (TM). Let’s investigate the difference between these two minds.
Your OM 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. It is always centered, at the seat of awareness. It is the witness, observing all this mind’s activity, objectively and without judgment. It sees things clearly in your mental landscape without all your biases and opinions coloring your experiences. Your OM is YOU, your true inner being, observing the world and all your experiences without a filter.
Your TM is anything but silent, commenting on anything and everything, often with melodrama, unfiltered and totally out of control. It is how you view your experiences with all the labels, judgments, biases, opinions and commentary. 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. Yes, your TM tells you not are not good enough, not smart enough, too fat, not worthy of love. 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. The important thing to know is you are not your thoughts and, therefore, not your TM. Put another way, OM is the adult in the room and TM is the wild, drunk teenager at a party.
Once you realize the dynamics between your OM and TM, you want to “wake up”, to go beyond thought. You want the calm, peace and serenity OM offers you versus the chaos TM is dictating to you. Buddha, which literally means “the awakened one”, sought precisely that on his quest for enlightenment. This simply means you are not immersed in your TM; you have created space and separation from thought. The thoughts still arise but you now have the ability to observe them, as you are no longer identified with your mind. You break the spell and now are the witness, your OM, the seat of awareness and your true being. Think of this constant voice in your head like a river. You were swimming in this river, immersed in thought, identifying with this thinking, and allowing the currents to carry you in any direction. But as you awaken, become enlightened, you are now seated at the river bank, observing the river below but not immersed in it. It is an immensely powerful gift to purge yourself from this stream of constant thinking.
Your natural state of being is to be in OM. Here, you are centered and fully present in the moment. You are above thought, it is a heightened state of alertness and awareness, a greater state of consciousness. It is the doorway to the depths of your being. You are not dwelling in the past or fantasizing about future activity, just simply living the moment in the NOW. There is silence, and stillness, here that is so glorious that it will take your breath away and fill your heart with joy. It is a wonderful inner journey to experience.
But as you strive to wake up, you will discover it is not an easy process. Sages and Yogis have strived for centuries for enlightenment. Your TM is resilient and sweeps you back into thought with great force. You may walk in nature and be so in awe in nature that you can see the stillness of the trees and feel the soft breeze on your skin that you momentarily wake up. You are in the NOW. Your TM stopped as the glory of nature literally took your breath away. But, within seconds, you are back to thinking. But the magical thing is every time you noticed you drifted off and return to the present moment, you are in the NOW. As you fight this epic battle – waking up then drifting off, waking up then drifting off again – you discover your present moment respites last a little longer and the time period you drift off lasts a little less. At first, you may wake up just two or three times a day, for only seconds at a time, and otherwise are completely immersed in thought. You essentially are living your entire day spiritually unconscious. But as you wake up more frequently, with intention, you continue to break the chain of thought. The momentum of the energy dissipates. This is immensely powerful, as many of our thought patterns are on a repeat loop and by waking up you break this pattern, many of which can be harmful, even destructive. With practice and perseverance, you begin to wake up several times each day. It’s like getting out of the proverbial river and sitting on the river bank. Every time I do, I smile to myself, acknowledging I am in the NOW. It becomes a spiritual game, constantly trying to wake up and you are rewarded exponentially by by being free of thought and inner peace. You literally rise above thought, beyond thought. The frequency increases and you find yourself on the river bank more often; more importantly, you discover you want to be out of the river. It is a journey I’ve been on for a few years now and half my day is now on the river bank, living in the present moment, the NOW.
But it is a daunting process; it is not reactive but rather requires being proactive and with intention to wake up. Your TM is tenacious, constantly swirling with thought. But these thoughts are simply energy, whirling in your mind like puffy clouds in the sky. They come and go, the majority are both random and repetitive: I need to text Lisa, what should I make for lunch, I can’t believe Jim said that yesterday, I wonder what Mary is doing , when are they going to finish that construction, why won’t that guy wear his mask. It’s just nonstop chatter, the voice never shuts up and often takes both sides. But with an emotional attachment like anger or anxiety, the energy frequency is higher and the voice becomes extremely active.I can’t believe he just said that on the phone, the nerve! And I’m always so nice to him, I’m never speaking to him again! You can really lose yourself in this intensity, creating a feedback loop that can ruin your entire day as you constantly replay the phone conversation in your mind. Your mind can go off into some fantasy as you imagine calling him back and really going off on him. You play the scenario out over and over again in your mind, gaining some satisfaction but at an immense cost. You’ve worked yourself up into a frenzy and clearly not living in the present moment, dwelling on the phone call that took place hours ago. The ego loves to feed on this pain, making us feel morally superior. We’ve all been there but deep down recognize this is not healthy behavior. So what to do?
The first critical step is awareness, to observe this mental activity. If you can actually create some space or separation from this thinking and not be immersed IN it, you have already made tremendous progress. Because now your OM is witnessing your TM going off and you are observing this emotional thinking. Just by this simple acknowledgement, you have dissipated some of its energy because you are not living IN it but rather now watching it. It’s a huge paradigm shift and diffuses the importance of this thought. You may still be mad as hell at him, but your viewpoint has shifted, as if you’re watching someone else throwing a tantrum. You are on the river bank watching the emotional current flow down the river.
The second step is get centered enough in the present moment so that you can release this energy and therefore, ultimately, this negative emotion. Easier said than done, especially when your mind is swirling with energy. You’re still reliving the phone conversation, how can you possibly get calm with all this rage floating around your head? The key technique is to anchor yourself. You literally have these thoughts with immense energy floating above you, whirling with intensity, and you need to ground yourself, to stabilize, in order to still the energy. There are three doorways to anchor yourself and thereby be in the present moment. The most common way is to focus on your breathing, to bring your mind’s attention as you simply breathe, in through your nose and out through your mouth. The second method is through our sensations: feel the breeze, listen carefully to your surroundings, touch and hold something near you, smell the air. These sensory perceptions serve as a portal to center you. The third technique is to come into your body, focusing on different areas of your body, starting with your neck and shoulders and slowly moving down. Focus your attention on your hands and you should feel the energy flow to them, giving a tingling sensation. Check in with your body, feel any tension that’s captured there and breathe into it. All three of these methods divert your mind’s attention, your consciousness, inward and bring you to the present moment. If you focus your mind with intention in any of these three ways, your emotional thoughts lose their grip on you and the energy dissipates. If the thought is powerful, it will continue to return but you’ll notice each time you’re swept back up in the thought, it doesn’t have quite the intensity. Just continue to take deep breaths and follow one of these techniques and watch how the disturbance continues to fade. A mantra I use that you may find helpful is to say Not me, Not mine as you observe the thought as this enforces the reality that you are not your thoughts and easier to purge it completely. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to be still. These relaxation techniques allow you to release, to let go of the thought. Just relax and release.
With a particularly strong negative emotion, I have had success with the following: First, try to still yourself by taking deep breaths, feeling the breathing sensation flow through your body. Hold the thought or emotion in awareness and just feel it. It may create tightness that manifested somewhere in your body, that’s okay. Don’t try to fix it, analyze it, resolve it or change it, just feel it. Breathe into it and allow it to be there, focusing your mind’s attention there but not thinking about the issue. Just feel the energy. Again, don’t try to think it out, because then your TM has taken over. Just feel the emotion and the reaction it’s created in your body. Breathe into the tightness in your body, breathe into the energy that you feel and let it go. Simply release this energy by breathing it out.
As you continue on your spiritual journey, you discover you wake up with greater frequency and allow yourself to observe your thoughts. You then are empowered to manage these thoughts and emotions through these techniques and you will find you created a new relationship with yourself. You no longer are pulled in so many directions, including a downward spiral, as you realize you hold the power to break free from thought. They lose their gravitas and you see them for simply what they are: your thoughts. They no longer hold a vice grip on you because you are not immersed in them, absorbed in them, ruled by them. You become more centered and better equipped to deal with all the adversity we all face in our daily life. You begin to see thought patterns that you’ve created, the repetition of so many thoughts and how you had habitually reacted to them. You notice triggers, especially emotional triggers, and can proactively dissipate them before they manifest. You break all these chains of thought and create new, healthier reactions to these patterns. It is a gradual process, but immensely freeing as you are cleansing your inner space. You discover that so many of the small things in life that used to irritate you, annoy you to no end, become trivial as you simply let go of the thought. You are spending more time on the river bank, observing the flow of the river but not immersed in it.
The mind is an amazing instrument. It helps us plan, create, solve problems and function in so many remarkable ways. But it can also be our own worst enemy. The constant stream of thoughts our TM creates can be harmful, even devastating, and rob us of our precious energy and wellbeing. When we are spiritually unconscious, we are fully immersed in thought. As such, this becomes our reality because we don’t have the ability to separate from thought, and therefore identify with our mind. But we are not our thoughts. As we start to wake up, we empower ourselves and don’t cling or attach to these thoughts. Our OM can now observe these thoughts, the incessant chatter, and choose to put some space and separation between them. We are no longer identified with the mind as it offers us this awakening. It is our natural state for optimal health and wellbeing, leading us on the path to enlightenment. It is immensely liberating and the greatest gift you can offer yourself..