That Annoying Voice

The mind is a wonderful tool for thinking, but it has a dark side. There is an aspect of the mind that is not useful but pretends to be useful.  I don’t know what the technical name for this aspect is, but it’s related to ego. It is the aspect of our mind that has a running commentary going in our heads as we go about our daily business.  Much of the time, this voice seems like our own thoughts and our own voice, and we often express these thoughts verbally, for example, “I love her so much!”  Or, “Man, is it hot today!”  Other times, though, this voice is like the voice of a parent or other authority outside ourselves, for example, “You’ll never be good enough.”  Or, “You need to get more fiber in your diet.”  We tend to take this voice seriously; we rarely question it. Western Christianity in particular is guilty of elevating rational thought to the exclusion of all else, so we tend to believe our thoughts, whether they are true or helpful or not.  

I am coming to believe that the voice in our head is not a reliable guide for me, even though I tend to accept what it says.  In Buddhism, there is a heavy suspicion related to this inner voice; it is seen as the cause of all human suffering. It fights change, it tends to cling to fear and appearances, and as such it reflects something less than the true self.  Thoughts we hold inside bring us a lot of negative experiences: fear, guilt, anger, jealousy, shame, sadness, resentment, envy, hopelessness, worthlessness, and depression. Without these thoughts, might we not live in deeper harmony with ourselves and others?? 

Buddhists stress the importance of emptying the mind in meditation to clear this illusion of mind away.  Christianity, for its part, stresses prayer as the path to leaving sin behind.  Either way, the basic message is the same: we have to move out of the ego self (the seat of sin in the soul) and into the Eternal Present where God lives and moves.  

Jesus himself tells us that “the one who has held adulterous thoughts in his heart has already committed the sin” of adultery, and this, to me, means that there is no sin that is not founded wholly on thoughts and that inner voice. The voice has no substance, and yet it feeds the false self, the sinful self, the self that is rebellious against God’s view of ourselves and others.  For example, we say things like: “I’m a woman, I don’t have a degree, I don’t like traveling, I’m middle-aged, I only like blue shirts , I’m married, my father deserted me when I was young, I want to be a writer, I’m not smart enough,” and so on. These things create a false image of who God is creating us to be, and are therefore unworthy of us. Who we really are has nothing to do with any of these ideas, feelings about yourself, or stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.  

Our true self, the self that was liberated by Christ through his suffering and resurrection needs to be free of destructive stories, thoughts and images. We have to move out of our limiting thoughts about ourselves into the experiences we are having right now, minus the thoughts and intellectual constructs we’ve used to frame our existence. In classical terms, we need to locate the source of our sinfulness and assert new thoughts and patterns of living. We tend to become entranced by our thoughts and overlook reality as it really is.  Our selfish side, the ego, doesn’t want us to stop paying attention to these thoughts, however, so it works overtime to keep us engaged in the process of hiding from our true selves. Finding space to assess ourselves honestly will allow us the opportunity to let the false self slip away, leaving only the true essence of who God made us to be. 

This begins by stepping consciously into the present moment.  What else are we experiencing besides reading this article?  What sounds and sensations?  What intuitions and insights?  The more we bring our focus into the present moment and onto our actual experience (as opposed to focusing on our thoughts), the more we experience the joy and contentment of the spiritual being that we are. If we can join God in the Eternal Present, we find more than enough peace, joy and contentment. Minus our sinful, habitual thoughts, we are beautiful and amazing–just as God made us to be!

My prayer for you this week is that you pay closer attention to the limiting thoughts (sinful structures) that you hold in your mind.  Once you identify the reality of these thoughts and how great a disservice they do to the authentic you, you will be able to release them to God and be born anew.  This is the idea behind St. Paul’s admonition that we “rejoice always in the Lord”, knowing that the ego self is put aside in favor of a deep attentiveness to the Present. 



About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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