You, the person reading these words, is not the same you as your mind. By “mind,” I mean our internal monologue. Also referred to as the voice in our head, our personal narrative, and our inner critic.
Realizing you are not your mind is key to overcoming fear and self-doubt, and a cornerstone of mental strength. However, it can only be learned by experiencing it for yourself.
What makes this so hard to believe is that we refer to our mind as “I”. Even though doing so feels as natural as breathing, this association is harmful. For most of us (me included), our mind is often negative. It tells us stories about how our current situation is bad, or lets us know that we are unable to accomplish something, or details the reasons why our loved ones will look down on us.
Eckhart Tolle explains the mind in The Power of Now:
When someone goes to the doctor and says, “I hear a voice in my head,” he or she will most likely be sent to a psychiatrist. The fact is that, in a very similar way, virtually everyone hears a voice, or several voices, in their head all the time: the involuntary thought processes that you don’t realize you have the power to stop. Continuous monologues or dialogues.
You have probably come across “mad” people in the street incessantly talking or muttering to themselves. Well, that’s not much different from what you and all other “normal” people do, except that you don’t do it out loud. The voice comments, speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes, and so on. The voice isn’t necessarily relevant to the situation you find yourself in at the time; it may be reviving the recent or distant past or rehearsing or imagining possible future situations. Here it often imagines things going wrong and negative outcomes; this is called worry. Sometimes this soundtrack is accompanied by visual images or “mental movies.” Even if the voice is relevant to the situation at hand, it will interpret it in terms of the past. This is because the voice belongs to your conditioned mind, which is the result of all your past history as well as of the collective cultural mind-set you inherited. So you see and judge the present through the eyes of the past and get a totally distorted view of it. It is not uncommon for the voice to be a person’s own worst enemy. Many people live with a tormentor in their head that continuously attacks and punishes them and drains them of vital energy. It is the cause of untold misery and unhappiness, as well as of disease.
Identification With the the Mind Puts It In Charge
As long as you see the mind as the quintessential you, you are beholden to the limitations, worries, desires, condemnations, and perceived injustices it places upon you. Once you realize that you are not this voice, you are free to stop taking it seriously and start taking steps to make it serve you.
Seeing the Mind Means We Are Not the Mind
How to see this truth for yourself and dis-identify with the mind? One way is meditation!
When we focus on our thoughts, we can hear our inner voice, and see ourselves listening to it. We can say, there are the thoughts, and here I am listening to them.
You Are Not Your Arms
My arms and I disagree on things. When carrying something heavy, sometimes my arms will tell me I am doing something bad, and should stop. I see this message from my arms as input, rather than objective truth. Since I am in control of my arms, I carry my groceries all the way inside rather than dumping them in the driveway. My arms are an important part of me, but I know better than them. They are subordinate to my will, and it doesn’t bother me when they complain.
The same line of reasoning applies to our mind. Our inner voice gives us invaluable input, and it is up to us how to use it. Our minds are wonderful tools, but terrible masters. On some level we all know this: When we go to work even though we don’t feel like it, or say no to a sweets craving before dinner, we are subordinating our inner voice. But when our mind shouts loud enough, it’s hard to see past.
When Our Mind Causes Pain
Some thoughts burn us like white-hot fire. These are often the thoughts associated with rejection, fairness, future outcomes, and regret. While these thoughts will come, there are techniques to deal with them. I planned to detail several of these techniques here, but realized each one needs its own post. Being brief:
- Stoicism deals with painful thoughts by minimizing their occurrence in the first place.
- ACT deals with painful thoughts by not reacting to them.
- CBT deals with painful thoughts by talking back to them.
We can learn to use all three techniques together. They are easier said than done, but they are possible.
Listen to the Mind, and Decide For Yourself
Have you ever felt sad and had no idea why?
Our mind speaks to us even if we block it out. When we try to block it, we instead push it into our subconscious, where everything it says is taken as truth. This amounts to identification with it. By telling ourselves “My inner voice is saying nothing,” we imply that any thoughts we do have are 100% valid.
Instead of blocking out our thoughts, we must notice the thoughts, then decide how to respond. This keeps us in the driver’s seat.
Books Mentioned In This Article
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle