Recently, I have begun to notice something quite odd going on inside my head.
I suspect it has been happening for many years – perhaps all my years – but I never really noticed it until now.
I have author and life coach Martha Beck to thank for this, by the way. I am now working my way through book number four in her (thankfully) large library, each of which tackles the topic of living our “one wild and precious life” from a unique and related angle.
This is a good thing, since while I am otherwise occupied reading about one angle, I can already feel my queasy and discombobulated brain attempting to maneuver to slip out through another angle and go back to its comfortable old ways once more.
Its ways, I am finding, include lots of thinking. In fact, it would seem I have a presence I’m starting to call the “inner narrator” who thinks I need a verbal blow-by-blow of every. single. tortuous. moment. of. every. single. day. in order to grasp what is unfolding.
Here is an example. Let’s say my nose begins to itch, and then to drip.
My inner narrator says to me, “Hey your nose is itching. Now it is dripping.”
Just as I’m starting to reach for the tissue box beside my computer, my inner narrator advises, “You should go get a tissue and blow your nose.”
While I’m blowing, the inner narrator updates me with, “Blowing nose. Check.” Then I am advised to toss or keep the tissue, depending on flow strength and viscosity.
Each twitch of a muscle, every possible potential next step, is detailed in excruciating verbal detail. The effect is less like listening to a heavily personalized audio book and more like getting flattened when a mack truck full of words backs right over you.
Only I never even knew it was happening until Martha Beck entered my life.
The narrative is literally constant. I can’t go a second – a micro-second – without my brain, word-crack addict that it is – demanding words. “More,” it prompts me. “I’m done with the last set. I want more. I need more.” So I give it one. It looks at it for a nanosecond, flips it over and then says, “More.”
I now begin to grasp at a primal level why so many meditation teachers give their students mantras. So I give my mind a mantra. “So-ham.” (I think it means “I am that” or “I am everything” – I figure my mind will really like that idea.) Thankfully, it does, marveling over the concept of being Master of the Universe for a full – count ’em – five seconds before requesting, “More.”
I give it the mantra again. “So-ham.” Another five seconds passes. “More.”
And this is how my morning meditation, and the remainder of my day, passes. When night falls and I climb into bed, my mind requests, “More.” So I pull out one of Martha Beck’s books, which are full of mind-friendly exercises and contemplations and visualizations for stilling the mind and entering a state she calls “wordlessness.”
Wordlessness, by the way, has very recently been promoted right past meeting Sting and floating the Grand Canyon in a hot air balloon up to the tippy top position on my bucket list. It currently teeters there, precariously perched and desperately clinging to its number one spot, as my irked mind attempts yet again to knock it off and regain control.
The more I try to work with my word-addicted mind to attain a few precious seconds of silence, the more wordlessness sounds like a synonym for nirvana. I really had no IDEA how very marinated in words I have always been. I am drowning in them.
Here, you may be wondering whether I am starting to rethink my career choice of “author and freelance writer.” Nope. I’m realizing having this career actually helps me maintain some semblance of sanity, because all day long while I’m working on client orders or creative projects my mind leaves me alone. It has plenty of words – ever-new and intriguing combinations of words – to play with. It tumbles around with its playmates, playing “tag” and “hide n seek” and “King of the Hill” with its words, enjoying the heck out of itself and leaving me in peace already.
But then it is morning or evening again, time to practice “wordlessness,” and here we go.
Why do I persist? Well, because I truly do believe that not just any future hopes for sanity but also for health, happiness and the chance to actually LIVE my “one wild and precious life” currently depends on wordlessness.
My mind is not my enemy. I know that now. It is a very well-intentioned and highly conscientious concerned friend, and one that wants to keep me safe from anything and everything for right now and in every single moment yet to come. But our job descriptions don’t mesh well. While it is trying to keep me safe, which it does in cahoots with my ancient fight-or-flight limbic brain which prizes survival over bucket lists and breathing and absolutely everything else, I am sitting on my couch, wondering when my life is going to stop playing dead.
In order to live, in other (um) words, I must go beyond words. I must venture into that place where every single good creative contribution I have ever made to myself and this world comes from. I must learn how to stare at the ceiling, my socks or even my (very cute) parrot, Pearl, without a single noun, adjective or adverb floating across my mental terrain.
I must do this because it is the method Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, the very same) says she is using to write her new novel. I must do this because my newly appointed life coach, Martha Beck, says this is how I will begin to get unstuck in all the many areas of life where I am oh-so-stuck at the present moment.
I must do this because I can’t seem to do this. And that makes the whole goal of “wordlessness” irresistibly alluring.
To every aspect of me except my mind.
And so, onward.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever stopped, sat down, and just tuned in to what is going on inside your mind? Alternately, have you ever caught yourself just minding your own business, going about your day, only to notice a presence that seems one-part “mother knows best” and one-part “inner critic” has taken up residence inside your head, where it is endlessly issuing streams of what (it thinks) is very good advice? What does this feel like? Have you ever tried to get it to be quiet? How did that go? I’d love to hear your stories!