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When You Talk To Yourself, Who Answers

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By Noelle Sterne

When you talk to yourself, what do you hear? Who’s really talking? We hear many internal voices, and most of the time they’re far from friendly: “Hey, stupid, use the big bowl for all that pasta!” “The Phillips screwdriver, idiot!” “You want to do that? You must be kidding! You’re too old, tired, fat, lazy.”

Voices like these seem to whirl around endlessly. Psychologists call them the superego, inner judge, censor, internalized parent, and many other fancy names. A friend dubbed them “the bad priests.”

As you no doubt already know, these harsh, negative voices are insistent, tenacious, and stubborn. They easily dominate our minds. The more we try to ignore or quiet them, the more they clamor for attention. The East Indians name this part of the mind a “drunken monkey,” always chattering and condemning.

You may not believe it yet, but you can ignore that unruly creature, shut it out, starve it, and listen to something else instead that’s much more on your side. You reasonably ask, “Who the heck would that be?”

Beneath the frenzied surface of our endless judgments, daily trivia, catalogues of chores, and swirling wisps of past regrets and future fears, this alternate Voice lives quiet, untouched, inviolate. It is our Inner Guide.

In our sophisticated know-it-all or know-where-to-get-it-all culture, unlike our learning about manners and the pursuit of money and ever more information, we have little valued this Voice or recognized its importance. Despite our culture’s increasing and encouraging openness about spiritual matters, most of us find the concept of the Voice strange and slightly suspect. We need strong intent, determination, and some courage to recognize it.

The Voice has many names: inner knowing, intuition, right brain, soul, higher power, inner self, true voice, Jesus, Holy Spirit, God, your heart, your gut. Over the centuries, many have acknowledged and developed it—artists, scientists, great leaders, enlightened beings, philosophers and countless people like you and me. Most of the time, though, the Voice has been talked of or written about largely by mystics, and it’s existence has been reserved for saints or schizophrenics.

With the current exciting reawakening of spiritual consciousness, the Voice has again become respectable. It’s being rediscovered as a quality we all have and can develop. Spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson describes our Inner Voice beautifully:

We are graced with a greater capacity for direct contact with our own higher power than most of us are in the habit of using. When we stay close to the wisdom of our own knowing, seeking solutions to our problems in the sanctuary of the heart and not in the vanity of the mind, then we can pretty much trust in the unfolding, mysterious wisdom of life.

(“Meditation,” O, The Oprah Magazine, October 2000, p. 119)

As we lose our society’s embarrassment about drawing on resources other than the material and palpable, we gain the strength to acknowledge the value and virtue of our Inner Voice. It’s resurfacing (have you noticed?) not only in inspirational writings like Williamson’s, but even in the popular media with celebrities’ testimonies (Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Warren Bennis, Henry Winkler . . . ), a testament to our hunger for spiritual content. 

And more—Inner listening is recommended in everything from diet advice (“Hear your body’s cravings for broccoli”) to clothes (“That purple shirt is crying out to you”) to dating (“Your stomach does flip-flops when you study his eyebrows, and it’s not indigestion”) to daily living (“Do you know when the phone will ring before it does?”) to major decision-making (“Something’s prodding you to take that job offer”).

All this acknowledgment doesn’t mean the Inner Voice is easy to find or listen to. We may read about it or hear dramatic accounts of how other people discovered or followed theirs. 

Here’s Elizabeth Gilbert’s description in Eat, Pray, Love the first time she heard her Voice—in the middle of the night as she sobbed on the bathroom floor about her unbearable marriage (pp. 15-16). In agony, she repeated many times, “Please tell me what to do.” Then she heard a voice unlike any she’d heard before, “perfectly wise, calm and compassionate” and with utter affection. What it said in a reassuring tone was completely reasonable: “Go back to bed, Liz.” She obeyed and eventually took the steps she had to.

Why Bother?

Why should you care about finding your Inner Voice? Why is it so important? Like a kid pushed to violin lessons, you may be whining, “Aw, do I have to?”

No, you don’t. But . . . if you don’t cultivate your Voice, you’ll never get to trust yourself—or your life. You’ll often make wrong decisions or take misguided actions that don’t turn out well. And you will be ignoring a resource we all have that many people have attested as infallible and is one of our greatest gifts.

If you’re no longer fighting the idea, let me help you locate your Inner Voice, separate it from all the others, and then foster it.

What It’s Not

Of the many voices that drown out our Inner Voice, the most insidious is the Inner Judge. This is the master negator and torpedoer, the ultimate disapproving and demeaning parent, the ever-demanding, never-sated god to which we’ve all sacrificed too much psychic energy and too many years.

I’m sure you know it well. Every time you do something good, solve something, or get a great idea, this is the voice that instantly trumpets, “Ridiculous! Who do you think you are? It will never work. Are you crazy? Don’t you know all the things that will go wrong? Let me count the ways.”

How, then, to turn off this endless doom-saying loop? I’ve learned, through much mind-gnashing, that to try to suppress it is almost impossible. It’s as stubborn as weeds. If you try to grind it into the ground, it will spring up again the minute you lift your foot. If you try to reason it to sleep, it will stay awake forever, cackle, and stare at you with hollow glee.

Replace

The better line of attack is to replace that ominous voice with more productive messages. The replacement principle can be triggered with many techniques. Here are several powerful ones.

Talk Back

Shout that monkey down. Give it some of its own medicine. Tell it, with all the force you can muster, “Shut up! You’re wrong! I am not crazy! I’ve never been saner, and you’re not gonna stop me!” Even if you don’t quite believe your own retorts, shout them anyway. Bellow as if you believe.

Do Affirmations

As you may know, affirmations are wonderful, elevating replacements that quiet the Inner Judge. A version of verbal prayer, they have been used for centuries. Many books contain excellent affirmations. Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life is one of my favorites. At the end of every chapter, she prints a meditation that sends you to the skies. Although specific to the subject, each begins with this: “In the infinity of life where I am, all is perfect, whole and complete.” You can also create your own affirmation for any event, circumstance, person, or quality you want to feel better about. 

Follow only one rule: Always decree your affirmations in the present tense. Here are some encompassing ones to spark your own:

·†I am worthy of all good in my life.

·†I deserve to love and be loved.

·†I forgive myself and I am forgiven.

·†I lack nothing. All I need is here now.

·†I hear my true Voice now.

·†I am guided to the right words, decisions and actions in this situation.

Pray

It’s okay. Praying doesn’t commit you to going to church every Sunday or joining committees. Prayer has also made it into the mainstream media. A while ago, an article in a supermarket magazine recommended prayer for stress and recounted the stories of people who prayed for guidance in conquering, among other things, marital discord, fears, and even to-do lists (Diane Benson Harrington, “Pray Away Stress: A Soothing Strategy,” Family Circle, January 20, 2004, pp. 30, 32-33). Current magazines and Internet features report almost daily on prayer as a force in solving problems, in how-to articles, pleas from celebrities and regular people for relatives, and summaries of studies with 4,256 people in the Republic of WeArePraying.

If you think you don’t know how to pray, it doesn’t have to be elaborate. Choose a verse or hymn from childhood, a psalm, or even a Christmas carol, and repeat it to yourself. Or try a contemporary prayer, like one from Marianne Williamson’s Illuminata or Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul. I often use this statement from A Course in Miracles: “Let every voice but God’s be still in me” (Workbook, p. 411).

Silently or aloud, as you say a sentence like this or passage of your choice, focus on what it means. Let it saturate your attention. Keep repeating it and feel yourself lifting and lightening, yielding to the Higher Power. That’s prayer.

Meditate

Although it’s close to prayer, meditation doesn’t need to have a religious connotation or mysterious quality. You don’t have to join an East Indian monastery or never lose your temper. Like prayer, meditation is now routinely written about and advised in magazines and online articles along with diets, relationships, kid-raising, and certainly stress. If you still don’t get it, look at Stephan Bodian’s Meditation for Dummies.

Meditation is basically simple: In a quiet place with no distractions, get comfortable.Take a few deep breaths and choose your word or sentence.The important thing is that it grabs you or has special meaning. It doesn’t have to be an esoteric mantra or right according to any authority. It only has to be right for you. Repeat it steadily, without pressing or hurry.

Here are some examples:

·†Peace

·†One

·†Love

·†Ahhhh

·†Joy

·†I am whole

·†I have all I need

·†I like myself

·†My world is established in Divine Order

·†God is with me

·†“In quiet I receive God’s Word today” (A Course in Miracles, Workbook, p. 220)

A Warning

When you meditate, your Inner Judge, that old drunken monkey outraged at your audacity, will do its utmost to get your attention. It will likely succeed more than a few times, with all manner of ridicule, condemnation and barrages of random thoughts, scenes, lists and worries.

Recognize its antics and just keep coming back to your chosen meditative words. Like a good parent to yourself, be patient, steadfast and forgiving, gently shepherding your child-mind to the sidewalk out of traffic. You’re steering your mind out of negativity to determination, self-confidence and the good you deserve.

Emmet Fox in The Golden Key counsels wisely. Every time a negative thought comes up, he says, “Stop thinking about the difficulty, whatever it is, and think about God instead” (p. 2).

Cultivate

Cultivating your Voice takes desire and practice. Expect to hear it and make room for it. With one of the methods above, you can schedule special undisturbed times for practice. And you can give your Voice a chance in any situation. As you’re getting dressed, having lunch, or driving, consciously tone down the automatic background noises we’re so accustomed to. This may mean resisting the instant flip of the stereo or news the moment you get up, or tearing your eyes away from the TV in the lunchroom, or flipping off your iPhone earbuds the minute you start the ignition.

Making room for your Voice may mean not grabbing the latest People magazine in the dentist’s office and devouring as much juicy pseudo-news as possible before your name is called. On the ATM line, not grousing to the person next to you while you wait a full 30 minutes for your turn. Not showing off your baseball stats while you wait in the car wash. But instead, repeating your word(s) and listening.

Test

Go ahead. Test your Inner Voice. Find an undistracted spot, mentally and physically. Quiet down. Stop reasoning and figuring. Ask something simple: What should I cook for dinner tonight? Who should I phone next? Should I do this task or that? 

If twenty-six things are whirling in your head, you’re not quite ready. Let them stream until they run out. Ask again. As your mind echoes the question you’ve asked, it may come up with some “good reasons” for choosing one over the others. Somehow these don’t convince you, and the whirling continues. Ask again. 

If there’s no clear-cut answer, just wait. Take a breath. Ask again.

Then you’ll hear it. Or maybe feel it, or see the image of it in your mind’s eye. You’ll know. The answer will feel right and perfect. And you’ll act. 

Your Voice, Your Companion

Your Voice has been given to you to be developed and used for anything you want or need to know. In all the ways that the Inner Judge condemns you, the Inner Voice—in reverse—helps you see the past more wholesomely, gain insights into present events, and take actions that will benefit you in the future.

Your Voice is with you always, waiting for your hello. As you continue to ask, listen, and “converse” with It, you’ll know without doubt and with great peace Who Answers when you talk to yourself.

© 2022 Noelle Sterne

Adapted from Noelle Sterne, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011).

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