This is the first of three writings based on my understanding of the first part of “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer. In this first part we discuss our Inner Voice and our Observer, two concepts that help us better understand what is happening in our head.
Who Is Inside My Head?
In case you haven’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops.Michael Singer — “The Untethered Soul
Inside our heads, we find our “Inner Voice” and the “Observer”. The inner voice chatters incessantly. The Observer at times notices the Inner Voice, and at other times gets drawn into the drama our Inner Voice is creating.
Our Inner Voice
Our Inner Voice is the somewhat neurotic and perhaps delusional chattering in our head that never shuts up. It has opinions on just about anything and is often critical and argumentative. At this moment, if you are thinking: “I do not have a voice in my head, I do not know what you are talking about.” That is the inner voice in your head speaking.
Observing, we notice our Inner Voice engages in conversations with itself, often taking both sides. It does not quiet down when it finds out it is wrong, it simply adjusts it viewpoint – It is impossible to silence our inner voice, any attempt seems to make that much more persistent. Its raison d’etre appears to just keep on talking.
It is this same voice that prevents us falling asleep at night articulating and arguing about all our worries and concerns. Even at times when it is soothing and nice, it is still more often than not, distracting us.
Our Inner Voice is attempting highlight pleasant things and feeling and play-down unpleasant things and feelings. It is trying to shield us from actual reality and support the subjective reality it is curating. As we practice awareness, we realise that interpreting, taking sides or differentiating what our Inner Voice is saying works against our awareness. However, simply listening – impartially with empathy and no judgement, works towards awareness.
Essentially, our Inner Voice is the articulation of thoughts in our conscious mind. We can understand it as a vocalising mechanism that is capable of making it appear as if someone is in our head talking.
Our “Observer” has the ability to listen impartially and empathetically to our Inner Voice. It also has the ability to be wrapped up and involved in the drama of our Inner Voice. As we practice awareness we get better at “centring” our Observer. That is, have our Observer focus on listening to our Inner Voice in a detached and kind way. As our awareness develops, we become better at focusing our Observer on just noticing our Inner Voice so that it does not get distracted and caught up in its drama.
Subjects and Objects
A Subject is an observer and an Object is that being observed.
A Subject is an entity that has associations with Objects. Objects are entities that are separate and not part of the Subject. By inference, if a subject is able to sense an object, that object cannot be part of the subject; it is separate from and outside of the subject.
It also follows that a subject cannot act on itself, it can only act on objects. That is, for example a fire cannot burn itself, or a light source cannot illuminate itself.
A Subject, our Observer in this context, is also our Unique Self Consciousness. That is, our awareness of a being.
It is our Observer (the subject) who senses our Inner Voice (the object) speaking. By inference, our Inner Voice is separate from our Observer because it can be sensed. And our Observer is our Unique Self Consciousness. Therefore our Inner Voice is not part of our Conscious Self. But rather, our Inner Voice is separate and is sensed from outside of our Conscious Self.
This is a very important concept to grasp. Please dwell on it for a while quietly aware that our Conscious Self is noticing our Inner Voice talking.
Subjective Reality and Actual Reality
Our we notice what is going on about us through our senses. Beneath our consciousness, our brain is filtering this information and making associations with past memories and feelings. This brain activity eventually emerges in our consciousness as our thoughts. Thatis our mind is curating our subjective reality without us being aware of it.
Our Subjective Reality may correlate to varying degrees with Actual Reality. But more than likely, our mind has transformed Actual Reality into what it wants us to consciously or unconsciously believe. Our mind tends to embellish things that support its beliefs, while downplaying the rest.
Subjective Reality is the sense our mind is attempting to make of what it perceives around us, based on our past experiences and feelings, while being guided by our evolved self preservation instincts. Our mind seeks to shield us from that which is unpleasant or feels wrong and expose us to that which is pleasant or feels right in our Subjective Reality.
Our thoughts are the expression of all this activity going on in the Subjective Reality of our mind. And our Inner Voice is simply a narration of these thoughts.
The Nature of Our Inner Voice
As we practice awareness, we realise our Subjective Reality is not Actual Reality. We realise that the vast majority of our thoughts have absolutely no impact on anything or anyone outside of us, they only impact us internally. We recognise that engaging with our Inner Voice is only going to make us feel better or worse about what has happened in the past, is going on in the present, and might transpire on in the future.
The real source of our problems do not stem from what is happening outside of ourself, but from the drama our Inner Voice creates. Our issues are not because of what is happening to us, but how we feel and respond to what happens to us.
The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.Jack Sparrow — “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
What Does Our Inner Voice Do?
Our Inner Voice is inclined to “helping” (more like enabling) us. It does this by filtering our experiences to fit with our past views (for example: I have always been like that), and future visions (I won’t be able to do that), thereby creating an illusion of control. For most of us, not being in control is uncomfortable.
It believes its purpose is to protect us from the “harsh stark realities of life”. It filters and tempers what we experience. And it attempts to make us feel more secure by creating the illusion that we can control the things outside of ourselves.
Our Inner Voice:-
- Releases energy and tension. Our inner voice becomes more chatty when our feelings are heightened – either positively or negatively.
- Helps us feel more comfortable with the world around us, the chatter creates an illusion of familiarity.
- Creates a sense of belonging – narrating what we experience lets us feel like we are an integral part of the world around us.
- Connects us with the world around us. A tree that in reality has nothing to do with us; however, when described, it becomes a tree that we saw, labelled and judged.
- Integrates our thoughts and feelings with what we are experiencing through our senses. This builds on the Subjective Reality view we have of the world around us.
- Shields us from our unpleasant feelings and re-live our pleasant feelings, It manipulates our experience of Actual Reality so that it fits together with everything else in our mind.
- Articulates and manipulates only that small fraction of what our senses notice which it sees as important to affirming our Subjective Reality.
- Empowers us, as if we are in control. If we cannot experience things external to us the way we’d like to, we can internally verbalise it, judge it, complain about it and then decide what to do about it. This gives us a sense of power or control over the situation. For example when the body experiences cold, we may state “I feel cold”(verbalise), give a shudder and say “brrr!” (judge), say “I feel freezing,” (complain) and say “I’ll make a hot cuppa soup.” (do something about it). This inner dialogue has made us feel better about the situation. In our minds there is always something we can do to control the experience.
Letting Go of Control
As our awareness develops we accept that we are mostly powerless to control things outside us. We come to terms with them being beyond our control and accept them as they are. We we have influence over our mind and can choose our attitude towards and how we deal with the situations we find ourselves in.
Our Inner Voice attempts to create the illusion that we are holding the world together, when in fact we are (perhaps just barely) trying to hold ourself together.
Harnessing Our Inner Voice
“Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there.”Paulo Coelho — “The Alchemist”
* * *
“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked, when they had made camp that day.
“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.”
“But my heart is agitated,” the boy said. “It has its dreams, it gets emotional, and it’s become passionate over a woman of the desert. It asks things of me, and it keeps me from sleeping many nights, when I’m thinking about her.”
“Well, that’s good. Your heart is alive. Keep listening to what it has to say.”
* * *
“Well, then, why should I listen to my heart?”
“Because you will never again be able to keep it quiet. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, repeating to you what you’re thinking about life and about the world.”
“You mean I should listen, even if it’s treasonous?”
“Treason is a blow that comes unexpectedly. If you know your heart well, it will never be able to do that to you. Because you’ll know its dreams and wishes, and will know how to deal with them.
“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow.”
Listen to Our Inner Voice
It is the inner voice that narrates our discomfort with Actual Reality, and it is our observer that notices this. We grow personally when we are able to transcend that part of us that is not okay with Actual Reality instead of creating defences against it.
Noticing our Inner Voice as our Observer:
- We come to realise that our Inner Voice will never be content. It will always have a problem with something.
- We come to appreciate how things outside ourself affect us.
To harness the power of our Inner Voice, we step back and listen to it from a kind and detached stance. Just be the Observer and notice the voice talking. Do not judge, interpret, differentiate or get hooked into what the voice is saying. Just simply listen with the intent to understand. By doing this we are able to separate ourself from our issues instead of getting lost in them. With this awareness, we get better at inserting those moments of consideration between experiencing a stimulus and responding to it. Our minds become calm and clear permitting us to effectively deal with our issues.
Transcending the Temptation to Control
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.Viktor E. Frankl — “Man’s Search for Meaning”
It is from this place as Observer that we can begin to learn about, understand and resolve the issues we have with with things outside of ourself.
When we are troubled by something, instead of asking “What can I do about this?”, rather ask “What part of me is troubled by this?” By asking “What can I do about this?” we fall into the trap of believing that the issue and corresponding solution is outside ourself. By asking “What part of me is troubled by this?” we look inward, and notice the emotional feeling triggered by the external experience.
For example noticing someone who looks like a past partner in the arms of someone else may trigger a pang of jealousy. Looking inward, we may notice that we are still hanging onto some thread of that past relationship.
We can then ask ourself: “Who notices this inner issue (thought)”. The answer is obvious: “I do”. It is the Observer (the subject) who notices the feeling (the object). That the Observer can notices the feeling, means that even though our feelings are inside us, they to are separate from our conscious self.
This is another important realisation, together with the earlier realisation that we are not our Inner Voice. While noticing our thoughts and feelings, please dwell on realising that they are not part of us, they are separate from us. Because our Observer notices our thoughts and feelings, they are outside of our Conscious Self, they are not us.
Relating to Our Inner Voice
As we listen to what our Inner Voice is saying, we notice that it has little relation to the reality outside of us. No matter how well meaning our Inner Voice is, we are better off not heeding its advise.
We can relate to our Inner Voice by personifying it as someone with whom we have a relationship and who is constantly in our space. As our awareness develops we notice how enmeshed we are with our Inner Voice. We can progressively take steps to create a healthy relationship with our Inner Voice.
- Notice and hear our Inner Voice. Do not ignore or suppress it. We can genuinely listen to our Inner Voice in a kind detached way with the intent to understand. Sincerely hear, acknowledge and affirm without agreeing to what our Inner Voice is saying.
- Be alert to and avoid immersing in its drama, much like we can lose ourself in a book or movie. We want to notice and understand our Inner Voice, not experience its drama.
- Hold our Inner Voice accountable for what it says and the lousy advise that it gives. Even if it is just our Inner Voice talking to itself, point out where it has been wrong in the past. By doing this we are leaving mental breadcrumbs in our mind to keep us alert to the folly of our Inner Voice.
- Strengthen our healthy boundaries with our Inner Voice. Let our Inner Voice know firmly and kindly when it appears to be enabling, enmeshing, or simply pushing up against our personal boundaries.
- Assure our Inner voice that we are perfectly capable and must deal with reality and our own feelings, no matter how tough or unpleasant. This is how we develop and grow.
Recognise that our Inner Voice’s has our best interests at heart. It wants to create (curate) an ideal environment in which we can thrive. However, our Inner Voice is mistaken in believing that it can control our external environment and shield us from the harsh stark external realities of life.
In developing our relationship with our Inner Voice, we can demonstrate to it the benefits of experiencing reality, as well as acknowledging and processing our resulting feelings.
It is from acknowledging our feelings with the same detached kindness that we listen to our Inner Voice, that we progressively understand and come to terms with our outside world, thoughts and feelings, as we develop our equanimity.