It seems like every group has a name for it. Christians call it Satan (the Adversary), the Buddhists call it Mara. My tribe would probably name it conditioning or negative thinking.
I call it The Voice.
External events and the actions of others aside, it is the force inside that drains and causes suffering, that keeps us small and habitual, that keeps us stressed and afraid…and upon recognition, they disappear. In their wake, a measure of freedom. So, how do you become aware of this force then?
It’s been said that what hurts us the most in this life is not so much as what happens to us, but how we interpret what has happened to us, what we believe about the situation either present or past. Belief is a powerful thing, neither positive or negative of its own merit.
Unconscious beliefs, however, seem to be the place where all the boogeymen and demons live, and just like looking under the bed vanishes the boogeyman, so too does recognition of an unconscious belief.
Microcosm of a First-World Problem
Let’s take me in this very moment right now for instance. I am not comfortable right now. My breath is shallow and sluggish. My shoulders are creeping their way up to my ears, and a dull tightness is pressing down between my shoulder blades.
I know how to make myself calm. Breathing consciously and fully would be a good start, as would relaxing my shoulders. But belief about my circumstance at this very instant is what is cranking my torso muscles up and in, and with the strokes of my fingertips on this keyboard, I can play around with that belief.
The idea nagging me right now is this…”I must finish this blog post and it must be good, otherwise I’ll be a failure as a writer. If I’m a failure as a writer, then I’ve betrayed my calling….I have to finish this blog post soon, so I can work on my book before I have to go to sleep, and I must work on my book for at least an hour.”
I can ask myself, are these beliefs a reality? They’re not. This blog post can be unadulterated garbage and I will go on to make more blog posts. Life will go on, and I’m learning as I go. Do I have to work on my book for an hour? No, that’s ridiculous, who says?
AA taught me how to examine myself. They called it inventory. Byron Katie calls the spotting of negative beliefs or ideas the “inquiry process.” Anthony De Mello said that awareness brings the end of all suffering. I’m sitting on my girlfriend’s couch. I’m doing what I love (writing). True, my leg muscles do have a certain unsettled electricity in them, but my shoulders are relaxed.
So, I have a challenge for you…right now, look around you. Physically, look around you. Take a deep breath. Now, with pen and paper, or your keyboard, write down something that is causing you stress right now. Could be something small like my aforementioned mini-crisis on the couch, or it could be something absolutely devastating.
Write it down.
What is that demon inside you telling you about that sentence, or paragraph, or diatribe that you have just committed to ink? Play around with it. See what comes up, and let the experience take you somewhere. Maybe you can re-write your interpretation of it. More likely, though, it’s simple recognition gives you a sense of power. Try it, and comment below!