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Quiet the Narrative

I took my son out target practicing today. Yes, just one of my sons. I have five, but two of us managed to sneak out unnoticed. It was an unexpected treat because I don’t get much one-on-one time with any of my kiddos. We went out South of town a little ways and found a spot off Cole Mountain Road. It was a great day to be out – there was little, if any wind and it was sunny but not too warm. It was so quiet… IMG_0215a-1 copy

It was completely calm and quiet except for the occasional gunshot that echoed through the area. If I paid attention I could actually hear insects buzzing, and flying and doing whatever else they do to make so many little noises. There was an occasional breeze that moved through the trees and almost sounded like ocean waves. It was very relaxing, even with the gunfire that was, by now, all around us. (There were only a handful of others out there, but the gunshots became pretty regular.)

After a while I started to notice that no matter how quiet I was the narrative in my head kept going. What is that, anyway? You know what I mean, that little voice that continually tells you all the obvious things going on all around you, “It’s getting warm, I’m thirsty, it’s really nice today, wow! That was loud. Wonder what kind of gun that guy is shooting” and on and on and on… I think it would be nice if, when we are young, we were taught to name that little voice; that self-talk that never seems to quit. Naming the voice might encourage us to pay more [conscious] attention to it. It also might drive us quite insane, too!

If you take some time to get quiet, one of the first things that happens is that your brain sort of ignites, making the voice seem louder and more relentless. When you are busy the voice is still there but you hardly notice it, get quiet and BAM! It’s like a loudspeaker in your head! In fact, the little narrative is a primary reason most people say they are not able to meditate. For many people shutting off the flood of thoughts seems an impossibility.

Here’s the thing though, the voice, while necessary, talks over and drowns out some of the best inspiration in the world. Somewhere under that voice is brilliance. (Which is really kind of funny because most of the time if our self-talk were broadcast for others to hear we would probably sound like idiots.) Take a few minutes to write down your self-talk. Anything that little voice says, write it down. It’s crazy! Or maybe you are crazy, after all, it is your voice, your narrative. Hmmmmm….

That’s another interesting point. While we all have that little guy yakking away in our heads, we are not delusional. There is a difference between the narrative that walks with us and “hearing voices.” The human brain is fascinating, isn’t it? But I’m getting long-winded here. What I really want to stress is the power of quieting the narrative.

If you can learn to calm that voice, to push it aside – gently or it will fight back – and focus on nothing, amazing things begin to happen. A clear and empty head is, contrary to what we typically think of empty-heads, quite productive. If you can master the voice and invite silence into your head that is when you begin to hear. But it’s not a voice you hear, it’s more of an awareness that is awakened. Wow! Don’t I sound all enlightened and stuff? Believe me, I’m far from enlightened. However, I have spent years finding silence and noticing this awakening. Although one of the rules of silence is to not set out to learn anything from it. If you are waiting for what comes very often nothing will.

Here is what I suggest: Give it a try. Find a place where you can discover some quiet. Hey! Don’t start with me about why you can’t. I have five children, a husband, 3 dogs, 2 cats, 2 rabbits, a hamster, a toad and 2 neighbors who hate us and I can find silence. Granted, I usually have to get in my car and drive away from all of that in order to find it, but I can find it. And yes, I managed to find it when my kiddos were younger, too, not just now that they are old enough to understand the look I get when I need a quiet place! thompson's flowers

So get out there and find a quiet spot. It doesn’t have to be in the mountains, on the beach or near a brook, although for some people the landscape can be helpful. You do not have to strike a pose and make “owmmmm” sounds. You simply have to sit quietly, breath slow and easy, and disallow the narrative to take over. That is the most difficult part because once you become quiet your mind becomes ultra productive. It can be tempting to follow one or two of those productive thoughts to see where it takes you. Keep in mind that the point is not to be productive, it is to be silent.

There is a power in silence that you will not find elsewhere. And I’m quite certain that those of you who know me are thinking, “Maybe so, but how would you know?” because I am typically quite a chatterbox and am skilled at shattering any silence. But seriously, answers come to you when you are quiet. Strength builds in your soul, and you connect with something… the universe, maybe… I’m sounding all Buddha-ish again, and I don’t mean to give that “New Wave” impression. Silence is much more than that, and it is so worth it.

Here are a few steps to try:

1. Find a quiet place.

2. Calm the narrative but don’t beat it over the head. Simply invite it to be quiet.

3. Be open to what comes but refrain from following any thought or idea that entices you.

4. Create a mantra. This is typically one word that you will repeat to yourself so the little voice has something to do besides bother you with mindless chatter. Use a word of your choice, something like peace, hope, love, silence or another word that calms you. When you notice the voice beginning to ramble again, find your mantra and slowly repeat it to yourself and allow nothing else to enter your thoughts.

5. Finally, give this a real shot. It is not something you can do in one or two attempts. It takes time – a lot of time – to become skilled at quieting your mind. When I first started I would sit quietly for 1-3 minutes and feel like it was a waste of time. Eventually I could do it for longer periods. At the end of six weeks I could sit in silence for more than an hour and I would actually crave that silence. Then I found that I could find that silent space in very noisy places like at a football game or in a mall. It was really cool. The silence became something I carried with me.

Give it a shot, a few minutes to begin with and build from there. Quiet the narrative and listen to the silence. Let me know how it goes!

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