Cultivating quiet

There was a moment in college I still distinctly remember when I was hit with the full force of the thought that I would never be anyone other than myself. This was not an uplifting thought. Being 20 at the time, it felt like looking down an endless gray corridor, or serving a life sentence. What I really dreaded, but didn’t understand at the time, was being stuck with the voices in my head for till my dying breath. How tiresome they were.

Three in particular stand out. First, the Narrator, who provided a constant stream of chatter, writing and then re-writing my every waking moment, keeping me always at a safe distance from the Now. I had a few pen pals at the time, so much of the Narrator’s clever observations actually made it onto paper. I quite believed that this was simply my writer’s voice.

There was also the Storyteller, distinct from the Narrator, whose job was to give explanations for everything. It thought this was how it could stay on top of any situation. What it effectively did was drain the mystery out of life, and the magic along with it. I mistook it for the voice of my intellect.

Lastly, there was the Big Honking Voice that uttered critical judgments of myself and others. What I find really strange about this one is that it had escaped my notice for years and years because it spoke so softly and snidely, sliding little acerbic comments here and there that would erode the fiber of my being subtly over time. It wasn’t till I started trying to tone it down or ignore it that it got louder and louder, till it almost sounded like a duck quacking.

One thing that limited my sitting practice for years was the fear that these voices, my unwelcome constant companions, would overcome me. I didn’t want to be alone with them. What insufferable company they were.

At first it’s true, the voices do get louder. But they also get clearer. That is, they only get loud enough so you can begin to understand their motivations, their triggers, their kindest desires for you. Yes, even your critical voice has your best interest in mind.

Once you begin to see that, you can begin reintegrating their energies into your Brilliant System in a more harmonious way. I won’t state a method because there are many, many methods, and whatever is most effective for you will arise organically or grab your attention from an external source.

And eventually you will realize that you are cultivating a beautiful oasis of silence and stillness within yourself. These days I hear the Big Honking Voice very rarely. It honked at me a couple weeks ago while I was chopping vegetables. I actually put my knife down because it had been a couple years since I’d heard it get loud like that. I don’t recall exactly what it was complaining about, but the content itself was unimportant, as always. Yet the higher message was loud and clear: I had to make more time to sit.

This is the funny gift of the voices in my head. When I hear their presence, it reminds me that I need to cultivate more presence, more quiet. There is no more attempt to silence them or chastise them for being rude or annoying. There is simply gratitude for the nudge.

So go on. Cultivate some quiet and befriend all those voices. Ultimately what you will be doing is coming to peace with the fact that you will always and ever expansively be yourself from now till your last breath. And what a gift that is.

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