Isn’t it interesting that we have the phrase ‘inner dialogue’ and not ‘inner monologue’? You’d assume it would be the latter- that the voice in your head is a soloist. But there’s an audience, too. As the inner voice speaks, we also listen… and respond.
The Buddhists have a phrase, ‘monkey mind’ which refers to the incessant chatter of the inner dialogue, the voice that says “Do this. Do that. Get this. Avoid that”. The aim of meditation is not to have this voice shut up for good (although that does sometimes fortuitously happen, albeit briefly); the aim is to simply get the voice to quiet or tone down.
How, if possible, can this be accomplished? The answer is NOT by attempting to suppress, repress, or ignore the inner voice (for that just leads to more anxiety about it coming back, and sometimes causes the voice to become louder), but rather by listening to what the voice has to say, taking note of it, and moving on without confirming or denying anything it has to say. This is harder to do than it sounds, because my (our) tendency is to engage the inner critic, taking its claims seriously.
But arguing against the voice just makes it even louder and harder to escape. That’s a debate you can never win, because the opponent is yourself!
One solution I’ve come across is to simply change the tone of the argument. Here’s an example dialogue:
“You really screwed that up”
“Yeah, I guess so”
“You’re not taking my claims seriously”
“Oh no” (in a sarcastic tone) “I’m so sorry”
And if that doesn’t work, just hum or do something with your body, to get out of your head. And, ultimately, there is no once-and-for all solution, because the inner dialogue, monkey chatter, and distress are all symptoms of that thing called life.
Photos are of Lake Michigan at Berger Park, in Chicago.