Sunday, November 14, 2010

Stopping the Mental Chatter

The picture of sunset and birds is a wonderful metaphor for the busy mind.
I know that so many people in Western Society feel like their heads are full of mental chatter. Ideas, thoughts, and emotions are fluttering around everywhere in a deafening cacophony of mental noise. They don't know how to make it stop. Before I talk about tools to slow the velocity of internal conversation loops, I want to point out what we're up against as well as outline different levels and severity of mental chatter.

Who Turned On the Stereo?
It wasn't always like standing next to the roaring engine of a Boeing 777 at a rock concert inside a dome. No. Just about all of us started out with a lot of open, quiet space between the ears. However, most of us began to fill up that space with thoughts. That's not bad. We're designed to think. It's healthy. It lets us get safely from one place to another and make choices to influence what we want in life.

But the mind-dominated Western Society doesn't leave us to develop in a quiet way. Instead, it uses schools to define, refine, and focus our intellects in certain ways. This works for some, and it's entirely problematic for others. For the ones who struggle with this, a division between their natural intellect and the one being indoctrinated into them can appear within their minds. This division leads to internal discussions such as, "I'm stupid" responded to internally by "This test is stupid." The response isn't their natural intellect, but a new defensive mental persona to defend the natural intellect, which is getting submersed between the internal conflict. It's a difficult thing because there is an internal desire for harmony in most of us, but for many people, harmonizing with public education is a disharmony with their natural intellect--their natural way of thinking. They kinda feel screwed either way they go.

Media: The 24-Hour Noise Cycle
I am not sure why I felt like picking on education today, but there you have it. There is also the huge amount of noise and messaging from media. The digital age has exploded the diversity of media and the messaging (overt and subliminal) that we absorb. We are inundated by music, radio, television, videos, Internet, texts, and more. It keeps all this mental noise in our heads constantly spinning, slightly erratic, and self-perpetuating.

You can take one iPod 30 second ad spot on TV, and you can pull out messages like "You need this to be cool, to be up-to-date, to be liked, to be okay." Other more subtle messages may involve body portrayal, "You should look like this person with the iPod." Advertising messaging compounds onto of other advertising messaging, and one of the underlying parts of this messaging is the continued message that you're not okay. That message gets absorbed into your heart, body, mind, and soul. For your mind, it can get activated in all the ways that it doesn't feel okay. So, it begins to talk inside about how to be okay or how to drown out the message that it's not okay.

Severity of Mental Noise and Personality Splits
What can go on between the ears ranges from a chattering chipmunk in an ongoing stream of consciousness to severe internal personality splits. The last can go so far as multiple personality disorders where the personas are so strong that they're vying for control of the person or show up in specific traumatic situations because the main persona can't handle the stress of it. This last is obviously something that you need to find a psychologist to work with on. Ideally, you'll find a psychologist with a spiritual emphasis (and they are springing up) because that type of split usually happens from a severe trauma, which most likely affected the whole system: body, mind, spirit, and heart. You can't heal a severe split like that with just focusing on the mind and mental techniques, although those techniques do help.

Most other people hear a range of different internal aspects. Some of those aspects take on the voices of parents or close friends. I don't think there's anything wrong with this. I do think it's important to bring your awareness to this and to understand what's going on. It's also important to own it, otherwise you're more reactive to a suggestion from your mother when you feel like she's been chattering away at you in your head your whole life. Sometimes mom is right and isn't trying to control your life at all. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the one trying to control your life is you.


Techniques for Unplugging the Mental Chatterbox
I would say one of the biggest techniques is to start by unplugging from as much media as possible. Stop watching TV, listening to music, and as many other things as possible. I know. A part of you is already screaming, "I CAN'T DO THAT!" Well, you can. And you probably need to spend time with that screaming part to find out why it needs that noise so much. Depending on how much is going on for you, you may even want to take a camping trip, vacation, or a spiritual retreat to break the cycle of external noise that you're exposed to. Most of what your mind does is to hit repeat, play. Repeat, play. It is a thing of patterns, and external media perpetuates those patterns in many ways.

Inspirations, to me, don't come from the mind. The mind implements inspirations in my life. When I'm really writing this blog, I'm just writing. I'm not thinking much at all. Subsequently, to begin to draw your attention to how much you're simply listening to the same conversation, the same song, over and over again in your mind will be very illuminating. To start to listen in, get away from as much external noise as possible. As you do this, inspiration may also begin to find its way back into your life.


What Are You Saying?
What are you saying? What are you telling yourself? You may find out that you don't like yourself very much. A lot of the internal noise and the external noise could be a defense mechanism to avoid that feeling. I would hazard a guess that it's like that for most people in this culture. Most people really aren't very happy. They don't feel okay, so they look for stimuli to tell them a different story or to hide the story that they hear telling them that "You're worthless," "You won't be any good until you have a family and kids," "You're ugly," "You're a loser," "You have nothing." It gets brutal in there. I know. Even listening to other stories that make you feel good are just bandages at this stage. You have to dig into the core story so that you can face it, heal it, feel good from within. Then the external stories, relationships, and experiences can come and go to make you feel good, but they won't be necessary. And if something goes bad in the outer world, it's much less devastating.


Meditation, Journaling, Talking to Spiritual Friends Help
Meditation, journaling, and talking about your internal chatter help. It brings it to light. The nasty stuff that we say about ourselves likes to hide the dark. We need to uncover it. I encourage you to have this courage. You're going to start to dredge up a lot of stuff, and this stuff will most likely be ingrained in multiple parts of your energy system. The issue of body-shame may have been hiding behind lots of exercising. Physically you may be handsome/beautiful. But the mental chatter has been going on and on about "I'm not running enough" or "Lifting enough." Delving into an issue playing out like this in the mind will bring you down into other issues of the body and why you don't feel good about your body. It's like a spider web, and you need to follow those threads. Because as you clear out the deeper issue, the reactive mental chatter will begin to slow and abate.

Finding the Off-Switch for the Mind
There is an off-switch for the mind. It's the present moment. Bringing your entire focus--a soft focus, mind you--into this moment can stop the chatter. But even if you feel like you touch this space, you'll notice that it evaporates quickly. Your mental programming has been taught your whole life to continue constantly. Breaking this cycle and stopping the inertia can take time for a lot of people, although it doesn't have to. Our culture has built us up a certain way, and stopping the mental chatter is re-writing our orientation towards our very culture. This is no small thing. But if you spend time with your mind and look at the stories that you're saying, you will begin to break down this internal cycle. Clearing internal issues and finding your way to deeper healing means that eventually the nervous, constant chatter in your head will subside and eventually come to a stop. After that, a brand new world will appear before you.

Next blog: The Healing Power of Silence: Finding Your Inner Knowing

This lovely sunset picture comes from Becky Stiller. Find more of her work on this Flickr link.
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