Have you heard the voices?
The voices of self-hate in the head I mean. The ones that judge and analyze, compare and shame. The ones that tell stories of great woe. The ones that cause suffering.
When they arise, I despair. I want there to be a formula that I can turn to in times of distress. I want someone else to tell me how to do it. Just tell me what to do I silently implore. I notice, however, that when someone does, I judge and scoff thinking I know better.
And so the conversation in the head goes on: one voice shameful and despairing, the other a righteously indignant know-it-all.
The voices are well-worn thought patterns that have been sculpted by my cultural surroundings, life experiences, gender, desires, aversions, beliefs. They can be triggered by words or events, and because they are very good at telling stories, they sound just like me.
But they are not.
How do I know?
Because when I am most alive—when life and creativity flow from me unbidden, when I am playing or writing or making love, when the stillness of a moment fills me up with wonder and awe—those voices are not there and yet I still am. And that “I” feels enlivened, pulsing with energy. That “I” participates fully in life without the help of the voices.
Not to say that our conditioned thoughts are not helpful. Sure they are. They help me remember names and places, pay bills, plan trips, and acquire skills, but they don’t rightfully belong in the arena of making me happy. And, when they cross over into the direct realm of causing suffering, it’s time to turn my attention elsewhere.
Just the other day I stepped into my own private darkroom while collapsing under the weight of self-inflicted suffering. I had taken something someone said the wrong way, and a whole minefield thought storm followed. But today? Well, today, I saw the thoughts still brewing, but instead of revisiting that well-trodden path of despair, I gathered painting tools around me in bright luminescent colors and invite friends to come over for a painting party.
Wow, I thought. Did it last a bit shorter this time? Did I let go of suffering a tad bit faster?
“No!” the voices in my head screamed. “You’re still all screwed up.”
I dipped my toe out of the persistent suffering mind for a moment, testing the waters.
Hmm. Nope. No suffering here: just my chair and my fingers typing, breath in my chest, blue sky out the window, and painting designs swirling in the background.
“Yeah, but . . . remember how you felt just yesterday? How you were all closed down, and there was a big weight on your chest? What, you think that’s not still lurking in the shadows?” the voices taunt.
I consider their mean words and realize I don’t have to listen to them. They are not me. As I ponder this moment of clarity, the words of my good friend, who had heard enough of outward bemoaning one day, drop in: Are you done yet? Can we go play now?
So, like the Titanic making a 180-degree course correction, I intentionally move my attention away from them—leaving the tip of their iceberg behind, knowing beneath that tip is a mammoth structure that will take me down.
As I pull my attention away, the voices warn me about repressing my feelings, but I’ve got that number. I remember feelings are physical sensations in the body—energy moving, not voices telling a story about what those sensations mean.
I spend a few moments tuning in to my body. I feel my feet against the floor, the tightness in my back from sitting too long. I close my eyes and draw my attention to where my right hand is. With my eyes closed, I can’t even be sure that my right hand exists, but I notice a pulsing aliveness there. I let a smile creep into my cheeks, just for the hell of it, and wonder at the warmth that spreads to my chest when I do so.
I enjoy being still for a moment and genuinely listening to life, listening to everything but the conditioned voices in my head. I hear a bird call, the wind rustling, the sound of my own heartbeat, my husband puttering in the kitchen. A playful thought drops in about hugging my husband and giving him a coy smile of invitation. And then, I return to the computer and write because writing, like meditation, affords me the opportunity to pay attention to all the details of what is.
My journey to happiness is a moment-by-moment choice to navigate away from suffering back to that which helps me pay attention to now.
And then it comes to me: I do have my very own formula for enlivenment: Listen. Play. Write.
What’s your formula?
Photo Credit: https://1164739/