I have used that concept coaching youth soccer, telling boys and girls to develop the “soccer voice” in their head. It can be the competitive edge for them in the game; a game physically played on a field, but in reality played between their ear lobes.
In 2014, ABC News celebrity, Dan Harris, wrote a best seller 10% Happier, a story of overcoming an “anxiety voice” in his head that led to a nationally televised on-air panic attack. Unnerved by the incident, Harris expressed his dismay by originally calling his book The Voice in My Head is an … well, I can’t write that reference in this piece, so I will settle for Idiot.
Harris writes that the voice in our head can be a “total pill,” and that most of us are so caught up in a non-stop internal conversation with it that we often are not really aware that we have a voice in our head. The “voice” is our internal narrator, reprising the most intimate moments of our lives. The “voice” is not all bad, but while sometimes funny, creative, sensitive and insightful, left unattended it can be, as Harris describes it, a malevolent puppeteer.
Like bad morning radio, it comes on when we wake and it is our conflicted companion until it releases us to sleep. The mindless voice can be a toxic mélange of emotions, fears, anxieties, and subtle paranoias which drive our addictions, erratic actions, and damage our relationships. It lurks in the failed darkness of a past which we cannot change, and is exploitative of uncertainties for a future which we have yet to see, and it obscures the “now” of our life, the present in which we must live. Fortunately, like bad morning radio, we can choose to change the channel.
Eckhart Tolle has written that, “the voice in my head is not who I am. Who am I? I am the one who sees that.” The key to changing the channel is the deep realization that the present moment is all that we have. In his book “The Power of Now,” Tolle argues for living in the present; it is a call to mindfulness and a thought process of awakening. As Harris notes, the brain is no fool. Show it that abiding in the calm of the present is better than clinging to the pain of the past, the anxiety of the future, and it will seek that mindfulness. Give your brain enough mindfulness, and it will create an upward moving, self-reinforcing spiral of positive thought that will insulate you from the “negative voice,” and lead you to peace and enlightenment.
The voice in my head, like sin and temptation, is always with me, always waiting to malevolently rail against me over some perceived failure or future threat. I find my comfort in the reminder of Jesus in Luke, that once you set your hand to the plow you shouldn’t look back, and I find my mindfulness through the focus of prayer, the Word, meditation, and a “late life value” of learning to walk softly.
Wrapped in my faith, I try to live the words of the 20th century Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhit Hăhn, “walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet. The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
Ted Furlow is Director of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of San Bernardino.