unpolished thoughts 12/23/2018
I am learning a new kind of communication.
It’s a way of speaking to myself intentionally that feels a bit odd as I first explore it, but already resonates with new possibilities.
The idea comes from Sarah Peyton’s book, Your Resonant Self, which I have just received as a gift.
The small amount of what I have read so far is enough for me to recommend the book, but I won’t refer to it here again because I just want to talk about my experience.
I am speaking to myself differently today.
The difference begins with the acknowledgement that I speak to myself all day every day.
Rather than supposing that it’s just me living here in my mind, I acknowledge that there’s someone else here too. That someone else is also me!
In other words, it’s a dialogue in here, not just a monologue.
The dialogue reveals itself more clearly when I recognize my constantly shifting attention as being a voice. So, for example, if I become aware of a child’s voice outside my window (as I did just now), I can respond to my attention as if a voice had just spoken, saying, “Hey, listen – do you hear that?”
Of course, when I’m engaged in a purposeful activity, that child’s voice might not pull much on my attention. Somewhere inside me I experience the voice (just as right now I experience the ongoing rush of traffic on the street below my apartment window), but I don’t find myself traveling towards the voice, away from my focus.
But what if I am sitting in meditation, with the idea of only paying attention to my breath?
How do I respond then when the voice of my attention says, “Hey, listen – do you hear that?”
The new insight is that I have an infinite number of possibilities for responding. The fact that I have the intention to keep my attention on my breath and in this moment my attention has gone elsewhere is not the starting point.
Instead, I begin with my relationship to my attention – not in this single moment, but in general. How do I feel about my attention and what it does for me?
It doesn’t require much contemplation to see that my attention is always doing a beautiful thing for me. It is the very mechanism of my connection to the environment. It is constantly collecting the information I need to orient myself, to make decisions, and to inspire my imagination for creative work.
If I assume that it is always “looking out for me”, so to speak, it’s possible to imagine that when my attention strays from the place I had asked it to be, it still has the best of intentions.
So let’s suppose that my attention was embodied as a friend of mine, sitting here talking with me.
As we talk about my breath, suddenly a child’s voice is heard outside the window. My friend turns his head to the window. Maybe he even walks over to the window and looks out.
I want to continue the conversation about my breath. So what will I say to my friend?
I might say something like:
“My dear friend, thank you for noticing that voice. She reminds us that we aren’t alone in this world. I can understand your interest in connecting to her. Still, let’s continue our conversation. We can celebrate her breath too as we come back to experience ours. Please join me here again.”
That sure is a lot of words to speak in the middle of a meditation. But in this moment I am opening myself to the possibility that my previous idea of meditation might not be the only way to understand the practice.
To compare, what might I have said previously?
I’m not sure what the words would have been, but I know the tone would have been different. Something like:
“Not now! I’m meditating! Get back here! Listen to the breath!”
In both cases, I can imagine my friend returning from the window to sit with me again, but his experience would be quite different depending how I spoke. His willingness to stay with me might also be quite different.
In the deeper places I have sometimes gone in meditation, it’s true, there are altogether less words. Breathing and thinking become closer to being the same thing.
However, until arriving to that place, why shouldn’t I acknowledge that there are words? Then I can choose my words just as I would in conversation with a dear friend. If this is the case, a natural question arises.
Why shouldn’t I speak to myself as if I am my own dearest friend?
My previous idea of meditation was not about a dialogue.
I understood there to be thoughts, manifesting as words, but the practice was just to watch them go by. In that sense, it was still two actors, my mental voice and my attention, but the roles were reversed. The primary character was supposed to be the wordless one.
In fact, last night, as I explored this new meditation for the first time, I ended up in a very deep, wordless state. But the way I got there felt like almost non-stop talking.
I almost said non-stop “chatter.”
But it wasn’t chatter – it was intentional dialogue. I deliberately spoke with my attention, continually coaxing it back to the breath while acknowledging the good intention of its efforts when it went elsewhere. And when my attention stayed with me, I spoke to it then as well.
“Ah, thank you for being here with me and with this breath. Doesn’t the air feel delicious as it it fills up our insides. Mmmmm, and what a joy it is to allow it to flow out again gently. There it goes!”
I admit, there is a part of me that feels silly as I write out these words or think of saying them to myself. It feels like the part of me that is also always asking, “Am I doing this right?!”
At the same time, throughout the whole of me, I can feel the relaxation that comes from being spoken to this way. After all, I am not only the speaker in this dialogue, I am also the listener.
Meditation is a perfect place to initiate this kind of intentional communication because the dialogue with our attention is literally the heart of the activity.
Still, our internal dialogue is with us in every waking moment.
I’m curious to see what will change over time if I spend at least 15 minutes each morning speaking gently to myself this way.
Could I make that into a permanent habit?