Tuesday 12 July 2016

The voice in my head is an asshole*

*This is the title Dan Harris, a TV-news journalist and author of the book 10% happier, wanted to initially use for said book. In the end he chose "10% happier", because that's what he has become since he started meditating daily.  

I like the first title better. Because we all know that voice he is talking about, don't we?
It's the voice that will ruin a perfectly nice evening by reminding you that tomorrow is Monday, and you have another week of work ahead of you.
It's the voice that keeps you awake at night, listing gleefully everything that's wrong with your life: How you should be more successful, richer, slimmer, happier, taking better care of yourself, taking better care of your family, donate to charities, follow the news, know how the stock market works.

The douchey voice is shouting inside your head that the kids don't love you, that your parents don't approve of you, that you are weird.

It's the voice that will make you worry all.the.damn.time. The voice is hell-bent to ruin everything fun for you:
Should you really go out for dinner? Can you afford it?  
Are you sure you want to eat that? Didn't you gain some weight?
Shouldn't you clean the house/fold laundry/mow the lawn/work instead of reading your book in the middle of the day?
Should you really watch Netflix right now? I thought you want to be a writer? Writers write, don't watch TV mindlessly. 

And on and on it goes.
The voice is cunning. It has a knack for sniffing out your weaknesses, and then getting to work on it mercilessly.
Are you secretly afraid that you are slower in learning new procedures than your coworkers? The voice will have a field day with that. You still haven't gotten it? Are you sure you are cut out to do your job? 

Are you jealous of your friend's dedication to her workout routine? The voice will happily confirm your worst fears: You are lazy. You are undisciplined. You could have that body, too, if only you would show some willpower. 

The voice loves our insecurities. It feasts on it, sucking every drop out of us. Relishing its power.
If we let it, it will ru(i)n our life, making it as miserable as it possibly can.

But here is the good news: We can learn to control our inner bad voice.
Basically, our inner voice is fear talking. And while fear is a great wing man (warning us not to drive too fast on a narrow, winding road, for example), it's a poor leader.*

*(That's not my insight, by the way: I learned this lesson from the incomparable Elizabeth Gilbert, in her mind-blowing book Big Magic.)

What Dan's book has taught me is that our inner narrator focuses overwhelmingly on the past and the future. It continually tries to remind you of past slights, grievances, and beef you had with other people. It's also fond of reminding you how you messed up today, how you shouldn't have had the chocolate bar, how you made the wrong choice five years ago. All things in the past, that you can't change any more.

Worrying about the future is the other speciality of the voice: I, for example, have to fight the urge to worry about my job. There really is no need to worry, because it's one of the safest jobs out there, protected by union laws, the high demand of a growing population, and the improbability that we will be replaced by robots any time soon. Yet, when the voice has nothing else to do, it will focus on job security.
What if they get rid of your line?
What if they take shifts away from you?
What if you get sick?
What if, what if, what if?? 

It's a real buzzkill, that voice. Also, not very original, when you think about it - just harping on about the same stuff over and over.
I'm learning that you don't have to react to it right away. You can acknowledge it - "Hi there anxiety/fear/sadness, it's you again" - but you don't have to react. Observe it for a while. Note that it's there. Take your time deciding how to respond. Are you following it down the rabbit hole? Or will you try to ignore it?

I haven't figured out yet how to stop the voice. But I have learned to recognize it, which is the first step. The second step is to take a break from it; a mini-vacation from your own buzzing mind, if you will.
My approach is three-fold: Movement, fresh air, and another voice I can focus on.
When I want to silence my mind, I need to go outside. I grab the dog, my old-fashioned portable CD player with a story, and go.
The act of moving my body, the wind in my hair, and the sun (or rain) on my face is balm for my soul. I can literally breathe more freely, and feel myself calm down. Add to that the pleasure of getting lost in another story, and the asshole in my head doesn't stand a chance.

The other tool is yoga. If possible, I'll head outside and roll out my mat.

Focusing on my breath, on my body, and nature, calms my mind down immensely. The voice gets quieter and quieter, until it shuts up. I try to focus my attention inward, on the feeling of my muscles stretching, my spine bending, of finding and keeping the ever-elusive balance, if even for seconds.

Peace washes over me. Often, a dog tongue literally washes me. I feel grateful for my healthy body, healthy(ish) mind, for the love and abundance in my life.

It's a work in progress. I'm far from being done learning how to deal with the asshole in my head, and intensely motivated to add more tools to my belt. 10% happier has inspired me to give meditation a chance, and today I meditated for 5 minutes.
It was boring, hard, and the longest 5 minutes of my life, but apparently that's normal. 

See you again tomorrow, monkey mind!


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