The Chattering Mind

–Mary Oliver

A hummingbird just flitted past my window, and for one microsecond, he turned his head toward me then zoomed away like a Blue Angel jet splitting a Diamond formation.

 A moment in time.

A moment ago, I read this line by Ruth Ozeski, “A book must start somewhere.” So, I wondered what brave word would volunteer to write this, and at that moment the hummingbird appeared. Was that a message? I am here, begin with me? I am little but if I fly close to you my sound is like a Blue Angel’s jet you used in reference. I make my presence known.

 A moment in time.

 Let’s say you are walking down the street and your internal voice is #chattering to you.  “Oh look at that  the roses are in bud. That one is going to be pink. I love roses. They look so crappy, thought, when they wilt. We have to keep them pruned and clip off the wilting buds. Don’t you hate it when you get stuck by a thorn. Why do roses have thorns? Oh, a Kitty is running across the street. Funny how their feet look like wheels as they pussy foot across the street.  Oh, I forgot to call Fred.  He’s going to be so mad at me. Well, I will call him when I get back from my walk. Oh, he’ll be at lunch. I’ll call after lunch. Will I remember or be engrossed in computer work? I don’t know. There’s my neighbor coming toward me. What’s her name? I can’t remember, and how many times have I asked her. This is so embarrassing.”

If you had a friend who kept up that barrage of talking, you would soon tell her to take a hike, but our mind does it all the time, and we listen intently.

Mediators talk of the chattering mind, but what about the chattering mind that occurs all the time–every minute, every second?

 “In case you don’t know it,” writes Michael A. Singer in his book, The Unthethered Soul, “you have a mental dialogue that goes on inside your head that never stops.”

 If you step back to listen, you will notice that the voice will take both sides of the conversation.

I’m hungry, guess I should stop and eat. No, I want to finish what I am doing. What do I want to eat? I had eggs yesterday. I don’t want eggs today. I don’t want cereal either. Well, I’ll settle for coffee for a while, until I need to get up to go to the bathroom. “

 See, it just chatters.

 That’s its job.

You know the old cartoon of a person with an angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other? Each of these entities are whispering in their host’s ear.

That cartoonist was probably depicting the idea that God spoke on one side, while the devil tempted on the other.

People got the idea that something was wrong with them that they have unwanted thoughts, especially if they were negative. Yet the voice is just throwing out possibilities. And sometimes it throws up terrible pictures, or past trauma, or injuries, or jealousy, or hatred. It apparently has no governor until you put one on it.

People with OCD Obsessive Compulsory Disorder are quite possibly frightened by a negative internal voice, and find ways of comforting themselves, like continually washing their hands, (Hey aren’t we told to wash, wash, wash, like we are dirty or something? There are germs out there, and they are going to get you.) Martha Beck said whenever she is in a high place a voice tells her to jump. Her psychiatrist said that if she is with someone when that happens to tell the other person. On day while walking with a monk along a pathway on a bluff, she nervously confessed that her internal voice told her to jump.

“That happens to everybody,” he said.

That rather takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?

Van Goth cut off his ear trying to stop hearing his internal voice. The television and the Internet are great distractors, fill the head with noise so we don’t hear the voice.  

Manifesting gurus tell us to focus on what we want, “I want a new car. Oh, but you can’t afford a new car. Have you seen the prices these days? You don’t need a new car, the old one is good enough. Besides, what do you need a new one for anyway? You don’t deserve a new car. If you’d taken better care of the old one, it would be in better shape.”

Pretty soon you are beaten down, and think you are a rotten person for even thinking you wanted a new car in the first place.

What if, say people who teach meditation, “You just observe the thoughts and let them glide through.”

 That voice isn’t you. You are outside it. It is the voice’s job to talk.

 That voice is not different, says Singer, than placing three objects in front of you. Let’s say its a flowerpot, a book and a rock. “Which one is you?”

 “None,” you say. “I‘m not a rock or a flower pot, or a book. I’m just observing them.”

 So it is with that voice. It’s just either narrating your life, such as in the walk, or throwing out things to consider. (Should I marry that person, or not marry him? Remember what happened before, you shouldn’t have married that one.”

It often gives you both sides, the angel and the devil sitting on your shoulder. 

The fact that multiple spiritual traditions have both feared our inner voice and noted its value speaks to the ambivalent attitudes to our internal conversations that still persist today.

The teacher Abraham says to reach for a higher thought. It’s incremental, you can’t pop from despair to exhilaration in one fell swoop. (Maybe.) If you hold that thought for 17 seconds (I don’t know where the 17 seconds came from) if you do, another higher thought will join it. And it’s the same with the lower thought.

 I just completed Ozeski’s book A Tale for the Time Being where I was amazed at her description of a meditation practice she called Zazen. As I read the 16 year old protagonist’s description of what was going on with her as she sat in zazen, I thought that was the best description of meditation I have ever read or heard, and I found it in a novel. (At first the girl’s internal voice just wouldn’t shut up.)

After I finished the book, I found that Ruth Ozeski is a Buddhist Priest.

 I don’t know why I bought that book, it’s a tough read in parts. Man’s inhumanity to man is immense. (The girl is a tough talking Japanese bullied to the extreme.)

And yet, I thought, yes, there is extreme cruelty in the world, but there are also noble beings.

In the book the protagonist spends a summer with her Grandmother, a 100 year old Buddhist Monk, who tells her that zazan probably won’t cure her of her syndromes and tendencies, but it would teach her not to be so obsessed with them.

Now scientists are saying that chattering voice is a release valve.

And spiritual leaders such as The Dalali Lama and Archbishop TuTu both agree that we are Masterpieces in process. And that rather than think we ought to be happy, we ought to live in joy. Laugh at life, and at the voice. 

Carl Jung, the great psychologist, and a friend of his who was a Pueblo Indian chief named Mountain Lake, became close enough friends that Jung said to Lake one day, “So what do you people think about white folks really?”


Mountain Lake said, “To be honest, we think you’re completely
insane. You’re always staring. You always want something. Why
are you obsessed with it? By the way, you say you think with your
heads.”

Jung was like, “Yeah. Where do you say you think?”

Mountain Lake indicated his whole body. “With everything. We think
with everything. We’re part of everything.”

I had to laugh this morning when I found the quote I was wanting and thought I should look it up. And then I opened Martha Beck’s email and there it was.

“Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

–Mary Oliver

Google: Tools for Providing Chatter Support

  • Address people’s emotional and cognitive needs. When people come to others for help with their chatter, they generally have two needs they’re trying to fulfill: They’re searching for care and support, on the one hand (emotional needs), and concrete advice about how to move forward and gain closure, on the other (cognitive needs). Addressing both of these needs is vital to your ability to calm other people’s chatter. Concretely, this involves not only empathically validating what people are going through but also broadening their perspective, providing hope, and normalizing their experience. This can be done in person, or via texting, social media, and other forms of digital communication.
  • Tell your kids to pretend they’re a superhero. This strategy, popularized in the media as “the Batman effect,” is a distancing strategy that is particularly useful for children grappling with intense emotions. Ask them to pretend they’re a superhero or cartoon character they admire, and then nudge them to refer to themselves using that character’s name when they’re confronting a difficult situation. Doing so helps them distance.

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