Friday, November 22, 2013

Thoughts on Interior Dialogue

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. - Mark Twain

I am in the process of introducing a young fellow to meditating. I am also learning more about meditation myself and in a book I am reading, Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird, this quote opens a chapter. I was showing this guy the book and that was the first thing he read. He immediately looks at me and says, “I have no idea what’s going on.” I, without the context of this being a Mark Twain quote, try to explain about what Laird calls inner videos. Laird describes a process most of us live through on the daily where we play a scenario back through our head of what happened. Then we add our commentary on things…then we add the motivation of the other person…then we add our response…then we add and we add and we add until there is this entire imaginary commentary on an event that maybe occurred over the course of three minutes, but we just mulled over for about 73 hours.

Fast forward to lunch with a buddy this week. We are talking about some things I am currently dealing with, and no…I’m not going to share them. These are some inner-James issues that reflect the videos I just talked about. So, no…no one REALLY hurt me, no one intentionally was jerky, but because I allowed some of these inner videos to play in my head, I allowed this space of pain…so, no need to drag someone’s name through the mud here. But…as I was saying, we were talking about some of my struggles and he related back to a similar situation and said something I found quite profound: “Sometimes I lose track of which conversations I really had with (said person) and which ones I had in my head.” That is a pretty great discovery. We sometimes get so caught up in our mind that we forget and confuse reality from the fiction we have written.

I was surprised by how positive being your own hero is on the web.
And the problems grow from there. For instance, how many times have we sat by a phone waiting for someone to call and apologize for an offense that person never knew they committed? Think about it. How many times have you avoided a person and they simply asked where you have been, because they were so preoccupied with, you know, living their life that they never noticed you were intentionally avoiding them. The problem is explained well by my pastor Jon who frequently reminds people, “Everyone is the hero of their own story,” or as your mom or dad probably told you more than once: “You are not the center of the universe.”

But truth be told, as much as we acknowledge that with our mindgrapes, we don’t let the truth submerge to the heart. And so our emotions are screaming, “Why haven’t they noticed?” whenever someone has wronged us. It is much easier for someone to admit their wrongdoing when they know they have done something wrong. That may be the most obvious statement in the world, yet we live in such a way that we expect people to read our minds. We expect people to figure out what is wrong.

It reminds me of a typical fight we see played out on movie or tv screens:

Husband: Is something wrong?
Wife: No.
Husband: Are you sure? You seem upset.
Wife: You’re quite observant…NOW!
Husband: What did I do wrong?
Wife: Well if I have to tell you then you really don’t deserve to know.
Husband: Was it the trash? Did I forget a kid at a school? Really I don’t know.
Wife: Well I’m not telling you. Figure it out.

This isn’t a diatribe against women…really there are plenty of irrational people no matter their gender (and since this is 2013…their non-gender?). But it is quite telling of how many of us live our lives. In this scenario the wife has built up this entire story of how her husband has wronged her. It may have started as something as simple as the husband saying he would pick up something from the store and he forgot. It may be that he forgot an anniversary. But whatever the starting point, what has happened to this woman is the downward spiral of inner dialogues that the husband was never privy to. He doesn’t know what he did, he doesn’t know the conversations that have taken place for hours upon hours inside his wife’s mind…but she expects him to. (And just to reiterate…plenty of crazies across all genders!)

And so that brings us to the turn. What is to be learned from this? There is no reality in the inner dialogues that we have. Nothing is solved. They actually make things worse…but we continue to have them. These conversations are pure fiction in a biographical world. I have recently made this critique of myself: I have just enough understanding of psychology and counseling to be helpful in a pinch, but not enough to really help myself in the day-to-day. I know when I am being irrational. But at times I can’t stop myself going down that road. I want to, but I just get overwhelmed. I feel like my irrational thoughts are a Mac Truck running down the highway of my soul. It seems like to stop them would wreck me. And what that means is…I’m scared to stop them. The truth is…they don’t hold that kind of power. I just allow them to.

We have within us, Christians or not, the power to prevent and stop inner dialogues or videos. Some of it is actually quite simple. For example, “I am really quite miffed at so and so. Instead of lingering on it I could work out, hang out with a friend, cook dinner, go out to dinner, watch a movie, read a book, mow the lawn, rake the leaves, shovel the snow, paint my toe nails, paint my dog’s toe nails, stalk the cat, stare at my gold fish. I really have a lot of options here.” As a Christian we have a lot more options too. We just have to learn that the fictions we write about our actual life are not an open reality for others to access. We cannot expect and demand for other people to understand all the chaos going on inside us.

So…let’s try to stop that Mac truck. Let’s never let it build up momentum. Let’s actually live our lives in such a way that the videos don’t taint reality. There is not a single one of us who can answer for conversations they never knew they had…so why should we demand it of them.

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