A.M. Wilhelm | Gedankenexperiment #1: Listening From Within
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Gedankenexperiment #1: Listening From Within

Voices swirl through my mind every moment of every day, taking the forms of advice, criticism, random comments, observations, etc. Occasionally, when I have a particularly effective yoga practice, they are corralled to the edges of my consciousness. And sometimes my attempt at meditation goes well and thoughts don’t crush into the empty space that separates inhale and exhale. But, on a normal day, the unrelenting stream of conversation roars through my brain like Niagara Falls.

I was certain there was nothing I could do to hush the insistent voices. Until an unsolicited part of me offered a suggestion. “Well, maybe, not nothing. Perhaps you can’t quiet them but you could try to figure out which are worth listening to and which aren’t.” And, so, Gedankenexperiment #1 began.

After a day or so of trying to identify where each of the mental chatterings originated, I came up with two broad categories–without and within. Those from without are the voices of others, taking a variety of tones and personalities. They say things like: you really should write 2,000 words today, or maybe you are having too much caffeine (not to mention, martinis). The comments from without are instructive at best and judgmental at worst.

The guidance that comes from within is different in nature. It asks gentle questions, and seems to want the best experience for me. And, blissfully, no judgment is offered. This internal guide might say: would it feel good to stay with your writing goal for the week? Or, just pay attention to how you feel when you have caffeine and/or martinis, and then you will know what you want to do.

As is obvious from the observations above, the subject matter these two voices address is often the same. Gedankenexperiment #1 was my decision to listen from within instead of without and see how it went.

Practical experiment #1:

I wake up. Voice says, “You should go to yoga.”
I answer, “I don’t want to, I’m tired, and my bed feels comfortable.”
Inner voice responds, “Would going to yoga make you feel more or less tired?”
I answer, with just a hint of reluctance, “Less.”

Result:

I went to yoga and felt great for the rest of the day. I also didn’t think going to yoga was a chore or that I was being “good.” It simply was the best choice for me that day. I was encouraged by this simple and refreshing approach to making decisions.

Practical experiment #2:

The jeans I just put on are unpleasantly constricting and I am meeting friends later tonight. A part of my brain says, “Everyone is going to notice that your jeans are tighter. All those extra sweets are starting to show. Maybe you should buy a new pair to wear tonight, preferably one that is slimming.”

My inner voice asks, “Do you really want another pair or are you just worried what others will think?”

I respond, “It would be nice to have a pair that looks good and isn’t squeezing my insides to oblivion.”

Result:

I bought a new pair that looked great and allowed me to eat dinner without getting a compression-induced stomachache. Tangentially, it was empowering to accept where I was at the moment and release my thoughts of imagined judgment.

Other such practical examples followed, too numerous to mention, all with similar beneficial results.

The lesson learned:

If I can’t put the voices of my rambling consciousness on mute, I can, at least, choose to direct my attention to the voice from within. Then I will be steered by unbiased guidance that serves me well.

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