It’s taken me a long time but I believe I’ve finally learned an important lesson. Just because I think it, doesn’t make it true.
That judgment I may have about you, or about life, or about myself—it just may be inaccurate.
But this leads me to a fairly large quandary—if everything I think isn’t correct, if my self-chatter isn’t all genius and in the best interest of all those around me, how then, do I discern from what is true and what is false?
For, deep down I know through this invisible yet powerful thing I’m calling my self-chatter, that I cannot locate but seems constant no matter what—I know is either the medium to my freedom or to building and keeping me in a prison and the possible experiences of the good life.
The way to discern the true from the false, or the closer to true way to say it is- to discern the little bit true from the used to be true from the possibly true if I could live up to it and so on. The way to discern and get closest to what is true within ourselves is to listen. We have to listen to ourselves—hear what we have to say—think about it—and either agree or reject and think again.
This sounds easy enough, but considering that if we really listen to what we think about self-chatter, many of us can’t stand it. We consider our internal dialogue an enemy. We’d hit it right in the jaw if it wouldn’t hurt so much.
Meditation, to me, is a great method of getting to a point where we can really listen to ourselves. Unfortunately, a lot of people approach meditation with the wrong intentions. They don’t want to listen to the chatter in their heads, they want to shut it up.
I can tell you in my own life I don’t want to still my mind—that’s kind of like shutting down a computer to say it’s now in fine working order. I don’t want to stop my mind, I just want to think with clarity. I want to be able to trust my mind instead of feeling like I’m being abused by it.
If you’re trying to quiet your mind, good luck. I don’t even think death stops it, but, if you can learn to listen to yourself, you can help make it more likely that you live from a foundation of supportive beliefs about yourself instead of a field of landmines filled with self-criticism, deceit, and sabotage.
How many of us have experienced our self-chatter hold us back, or cause us to shut down, or to say something inconsiderate and blind to the compassion a situation calls for?
Listening to ourselves gives us a mind up, we might say on our self-chatter, but without it, it will seem to possess us more than it.
I personally don’t believe in bad listeners, I don’t think there’s such a thing. But I do believe in occupied listeners.
You’re talking in front of me but I’m listening to the clock in my head telling me I have got to get somewhere. ..or reminding me of what I don’t trust about you…or to the way that woman walks as she passes by…or what it is I really want to tell you.
The only way to truly listen is to come present to what’s being said. This is where a meditation practice helps.
Meditation is not the act of listening to our inner narrator. It is the practice of focusing on an object most commonly the breath, listening to it, so that we can have a true open connection with the present. With what is here and now.
It is when we do that I would argue that we are truly ready to begin to listen to ourselves.
A direct correlation exists between living a true story and being our truest self. An authentic way of living and being go together. Like a good story, they tell each other- the character is the tale and the tale is the character. If either of these is lost or misconstrued—the authenticity of the character or the story—they must be reconciled. This is the beginning of all great adventures, fiction and non-fiction. The character either doesn’t know who she is or has forgotten. The byproduct of this realization is success, heroism, and the truth. In our own lives, realizing and living our truth is the first step in living with a narrative for our life that harmonizes all aspects of self- physical, psychological, and emotional. Like any story, a narrative reveals itself over time, often without the characters knowledge. It is no different in our everyday lives. Yet, can it be possible to become aware of the overall narrative of our lives while we are living them? Can we know what our true story is about? Could there be such a thing as a spiritual narrative—that like the promise of a hero, follows, guides, and inspires us? Not that reveals every aspect of the plot, but that no matter what happens, confirms us with the knowing of what our story is about, means, and is for.
I believe a good question is just as important, if not more important than a good answer. If we think of the greatest accomplishments in science and technology over the past decades, we often see the solutions—a man on the moon, the theory of relativity, the internet, chocolate cookie dough ice cream—but what we often don’t get to learn about is the equally powerful question that led to the result.
Einstein for example, asked himself the following question as a child that led to his theory of relativity:
“What would the universe look like if I were riding on a beam traveling at the speed of light?”
Without that question, he would have never got to his ultimate answer.
Einstein also said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask…for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.”
Being such an “answer” based culture, it is wise in my opinion, that we perhaps focus less on the answers we are looking for in life, and clarify the questions we are asking in life.
The slightest shift of question can produce some of the most stunning results.
Ask not, “Why am I unhappy?”, but “How can I contribute to the happiness of others?” Ask not, “How can I make more money?” but, “How can I better utilize my talents?” Ask not, “Why doesn’t my partner love me the way I want to be loved?” Ask, “How can I best love my partner, right now?” Ask not, “How can I convince this person?” Ask, “How can I better listen to what this person has to say?”
A shift in question, a waffle of emphasis, the slightest opening in mind or heart can allow a creativity to enter our life that we can embrace with the excitement of embracing an old friend we haven’t seen in a long time.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reasoning for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of the mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity?” -Albert Einstein
The Power of Appreciation
From Santa Rosa Center for Spiritual Living
In the morning, just about as soon as I can I find a place where I can have some solitude, I engage in my daily spiritual practice. My tools are a cup of coffee and a book to read. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s cold or hot, or light or dark, just as quiet as possible.
I close my eyes and I meditate. I get in a position that’s comfortable for me. I don’t assume some “holy position.” I assume the comfortable position is the holy position and that’s why it’s comfortable.
What I like to do is focus my attention on listening—appreciating what I hear. Some focus on the breath, some like to stare at something like a candle flame, I just listen. Some mornings I’m immediately into it and feel connected with life but most mornings involve a forgiveness practice. I have to forgive when so much is coming to mind that is incomplete or that I am incomplete about from the day before. So I forgive myself, I forgive others, and if I can’t in that moment, I promise myself I’ll look at it later and try to move on. If I’ve learned anything about my challenges it is that they will wait.
If what is keeping me from being present is something going on later in the day I try to let it go for now, and make a mental note to address it later.
Meditation for me is really about appreciation. By appreciation, just being in the moment, I become enlightened by life, by the spirit, the newness of right now. Usually just five minutes or so of this is all that I need. If I do too much longer than that I get anxious.
Then I read little. Just a few paragraphs. My rules for the book I read is one, it has to be spiritual in that it addresses our relationship with the whole, and two, it has to be to the point. By that I mean the two paragraphs can’t be there to set up for what comes three pages later–the statements have to be complete in themselves. It’s got to be the kind of thing you can just flip to a spot and start reading.
Take something from the mystic Meister Eckhart for example-
“What is Truth? The truth is something so noble that if God could turn aside from it, I could keep the truth and let God go.”
Then I’ll just contemplate that for a bit. Then I pray…
I use the technique of affirmative prayer which is not to ask for anything but to know something. I establish my consciousness of the infinite and I know the purpose of my prayers relationship with it. It might go something like…
“I know that God is all. The sacred is everywhere. Divine Love, Divine Meaning, Divine Joy is at the heart or life and in the heart of my life right now. I know it is at the center of my meeting today, and I know it is present in my meetings and interactions. I also know this is true for all of those who have requested prayer from me. It is true of my loved one’s.” And so on.
That’s my everyday spiritual practice. I’ve been doing it just about like that for 15 years or so. I’ve absolutely come to believe it’s the most important thing I do each day. And in a more mystical sense I’ll claim it’s the only thing I really do. Because everything that I do from then on–every response, every choice, every creative idea, every confrontation… I can usually trace back to that consciousness I cultivated in my spiritual practice. Over time more and more what I do no longer seems as based on neurosis, esteem issues, judgment, calls for attention, self-inflated fantasies and so on but the best consciousness of wholeness that day that I can muster.
What I’m doing on a daily basis is seeing the piece of my life (whatever’s up) in relationship with the whole. Then I’m taking my awareness of the whole and applying it to the pieces of my life.
The practical benefits of that for me are—I’m more a person of wide perspective–I’m more compassionate and understanding–I’m more present and a better listener–I’m more at peace, happy and if I’m angry or bitter it isn’t for long. I’m more mindful. I feel alive, that I live with purpose, and that something genuinely sacred lives within me and is active in my life.