How is it possible that we can be having the most beautiful experience, and yet in less than an instant, our mind ruins the fun by voicing an unwanted opinion or projecting an unpleasant image right in our face?
For many of us, not even a minute can go by without our mind reminding us of an argument we had earlier in the day, the project due tomorrow that we haven't started, or how we'll never achieve our goals because we just don't have what it takes.
We occasionally have glimpses of freedom, but those are few and far between. For the most part, negativity runs the show, affecting our relationship with coworkers, our relationship with loved ones, and most importantly, our relationship with ourselves.
If you haven't noticed, the mind can be a serious party pooper.
Many common teachings agree with this, and go on to say that if the thoughts are so bad, we better make them good. Positive thinking, affirmations, and "how to get what you want" have become the norm in personal development and self-help.
But very few teachings question why we have this voice in our heads in the first place. Where does it come from? Why does it say what it says? Most importantly, what should our relationship be with this voice?
Perhaps with an understanding to these questions, we'd find the freedom we're looking for.
Where does the voice come from?
From a very young age, we begin to orient ourselves in the world by identifying with the people, objects, and situations around us. We go to our infant minds to make sense of the scary world in hopes to stay safe and protected. This orientation in relation to our surroundings gives us a feeling of security in a foreign world.
How do we know this? Try taking a toy away from a baby and watch its reaction. According to psychology, you're not just taking the toy away. You're taking with you that baby's identity. In other words, the baby used its mind to identify with the toy, thus making it feel secure.
Fast forward ten, twenty, thirty years, and we're still clinging to people, objects, and situations to reinforce our identity. To prove this once again, imagine if something you really valued - your job, your house, your significant other - was suddenly taken from you. Your mind would freak out and do everything in its power to restore the order it once knew.
That voice is your mind trying to hold onto what it knows and protect you from the unknown. The problem is, it's smarter today than when you were a baby, so it's able to do a lot more talking.
Why does it say what it says?
The voice we're all familiar with is our mind's attempt at getting the people, objects, and situations around us to be exactly as we need them to be in order for us to stay safe and protected. That's why it never shuts up. That's why it always ruins the party. The truth is, in the scheme of the unfolding of the universe and our minuscule place within, our mind has no clue what it's talking about.
Instead, it takes the very limited data set it has from the time we've been alive, goes to its memory bank, and says things like, "you were happy when you lived next to a beach, so you better move back. You were heartbroken when he left you, so stay away from men at all costs. You felt sad when she yelled at you, so don't let her come close ever again."
The voice you hear is the mind constantly trying to figure out how reality ought to unfold in order for you to be okay. But clearly, it doesn't know what it's talking about. Clearly, it gets in your way more than it helps you. Otherwise we wouldn't be discussing this topic.
Unlike when we were babies, we don't need this false sense of protection anymore. We're already okay. In fact, we're more than okay without this voice. The voice is the very thing keeping us from feeling peace, joy, and love.
What should our relationship be with this voice?
When you understand the nature of the negative voice in your head, and who you are in relation to it, you immediately feel a sense of liberation, even if it's subtle.
In my life, the more I understood where my negativity was coming from, the more freedom I felt in relation to the thoughts. All throughout writing this post, I've been witnessing the voice say things like:
I'm tired, I want to go lay down.
This is hard, I don't know what to write about.
I've written about this before.
This topic requires a book, how will I condense it into a short article?
I have to cook this week's lunch later, but I don't want to.
This article is crap!
I'm looking forward to Christmas.
...and on and on and on. But since I understand where it comes from, why it's saying these things, and who I am in relation to it, I simply let it talk without paying much attention. In other words, I'm able to carry out my higher purpose - writing this article - despite the voice talking.
Without this understanding, I'd give into everything it had to say. I'd probably be sleeping, feeling guilty about not writing anything, procrastinating on my cooking, and wishing Christmas would be here.
Most people who are caught in negative patterns aren't even aware. They go through life dousing their negativity on others. It's been so long since they've known anything different. It's just the way they are. That was me for a large part of my life.
Having compassion for the predicament we're in
The mind has a nature of its own. When left to its own device, it will be your master. Fortunately, the depths of your being span way, way deeper than any mind on this planet. You just happen to be living with your mind, and since it's so powerful, you haven't learned how to master it. That's okay, most of us haven't. It's a journey, so every step we take is an important one.
If you're so caught in negativity, don't worry about overcoming it entirely. Just start by becoming familiar with the voice.
Every time - and I mean every single time - the voice starts spitting out negativity, just notice it. Come up with a phrase to acknowledge that it's back. For me, I just say "oh, there it is again, back for some fun." You might try assigning a color to the different voices you hear. That will help reinforce the subject-object relationship you have with your thoughts.
While it probably won't go away immediately or make the experience any more comfortable, it will remind you that you are not the voice, and the voice is not you. Over time you'll detach yourself from the voice and just recognize it for what it is - a neurotic little thing that doesn't know what it's talking about. On the other side of that lies freedom.
In a sense, it's less about eliminating your negativity, and more about changing your relationship with it. It's about understanding who you are in relation to that voice in your head. Once you establish clear boundaries, you become less entangled from the mess. Over time, you drift apart. You move back into freedom, and the voice falls away into the abyss.
Live with substance!