The voice in your head doesn’t particularly care about you. This is difficult for most people to accept. When you are too strongly tied up with the voice, when you identify with it too strongly, it can seem like the voice is who you are. It then seems absurd that it might be possible that the voice doesn’t necessarily have your best interests at heart. However, that’s how it is.
That is not to say that the voice is against you, either. It’s not really about being for or against. It’s not as though the voice has a real character, even if it seems that way sometimes. It doesn’t have a mission, it’s not out to prove you wrong. It’s just a voice. A voice which can sometimes seem so real, that it is almost audible. When you sit alone in a quiet room and listen to it, it’s pretty loud. It’s strong. It demands your attention, and usually gets it. But the fact is, it is not something that you actually have to worry about. The big secret? The voice doesn’t matter too much.
By way of illustration, take a moment now to listen to that voice, your inner monologue. Just listen to it for a while. Try not to judge it or make it say something else. Now notice the simple fact that you are outside of it. That, as long as you can be aware of it like this, you must be bigger than it. It’s a simple truth, but a revelatory and a powerful one, particularly if you have never really thought about it before.
If you are outside of something, able to observe it happening by itself, then by definition it is not you. If you are able to listen to the voice without reacting, and notice that you are listening to it, then you are not the voice, are you? You are that which is aware of the voice. Don’t overlook this for its apparent simplicity. Again, take a moment, and just notice how you are something other than the voice in your head.
Having succeeded here, it is likely that your next train of thought will be something along the lines of: ‘But then, what am I?’ It is a good sign to be asking that kind of question, but before we get into the possible answers, let’s just take a moment to see what is going on when that question is being asked. Essentially, there is a voice in the head, and then you are aware that you are outside of it, and then the voice asks ‘So what am I?’. But actually, the thing doing the asking is not that which is trying to be defined. There is a confusing interplay here, between two apparently distinct selves. The voice asks what it is on behalf of the self which is aware of the voice. For, even as the voice asks, you can still just be aware of the asking, from outside of it. So not only are you separate from the voice, but you are separate from the question. You are sitting back, watching something else ask what you are. But that something else is seemingly a part of you. What is going on here?
I am tempted to suggest that the mind just rattles on regardless, and doesn’t necessarily care about truth. The older I get, the more it seems that the mind’s sole function is just to question whatever is happening. When you become advanced with meditation practices, you start to get good at noticing the slightest bubbles of thought just as they emerge. You get to the point where you can watch a thought become a thought. There is the seed of a thought first, often based in some physiological sensation, and then that opens up into the potentiality of the thought. At this point, a few things can happen. Without mindfulness, in normal everyday function, it will then blossom into whatever it usually blossoms into. This will be the result of habitual thought patterns, often deeply embedded from years of thinking the same kinds of thoughts. Alternatively, with mindfulness, it might blossom into a new kind of thought, one which is of the moment. And then you get the thought proper, at which point it becomes expressed by means of an image or that voice talking inside your head.
When you see your thoughts come and go this clearly, you start to notice some interesting patterns. Your mind is not all that logical. Most of the time, it just kind of coasts along on half-arsed assumptions based on inaccurate memories. And what happens when you start to question your own self is really quite interesting. The question ‘what am I?’ is really just another thought, but it is one which is unable to answer the question, for it refers to a previous thought which is now forever dead. In other words, by the time the question arises, the entity which it is referring to is no longer in existence. That moment is dead, along with everything you thought you were, and now you have been reborn in a new moment, with the question ‘what am I?’ going through your mind. Alan Watts pointed to this absurdity when he said that trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. In other words, that which is doing the biting is that which is trying to be bitten. It never works. It will, probably, never work.
When you try to define yourself, your mind panics. It is really just a kind of momentary seizure of the mind. It makes little sense. It is a brain, three-and-a-half pounds of grey matter, inside a human body, two-thirds water and mostly air, producing a kind of consciousness which has a tendency to make itself separate. At its most basic, that is really all that a self is: a tendency at a certain point in space to be other than that which is perceived. We do this all the time, and as human beings with advanced brains it becomes particularly confused, but ultimately it is a cultural thing which we can learn to see through. Over the years, your idea of your self has become like a veil through which you perceive the world. And this is the basic illusion: that there is something ‘back here’ which is separate from and needs protection from everything ‘out there’. It is as though we have long ago made the assumption that there exists, behind our eyes, a homunculus who needs defending. But this is clearly nonsense. There is no place behind the eyes where you reside. You are not sitting in a Cartesian theatre inside the brain, there is no central place that we can call you.
And that’s why, when you open up your consciousness to be the awareness of the thoughts, rather than the thoughts themselves, you are being truer to how things really are. The thoughts come and go, and as the Zen saying goes, it is best not to serve them tea. You are that which is aware of them, but then there is yet another hurdle which people routinely fall into at this point. Once you identify with the wider awareness, it is all too easy to make that into a false sense of self. Just as you used to do with your thought patterns, now you find yourself doing with awareness itself. This is a hurdle so common on so many spiritual paths that it is all but invisible, and is often taken as being the end goal. Many people have got themselves stuck at this point and called it Enlightenment or whatever. Let’s be clear: it is anything but. All that has happened is that the same tendency which used to make a small self out of thought patterns has started to make a bigger self out of awareness.
This is a common ailment in spiritual practice. When you meet someone who, vacant-eyed, tells you that they are God and so immune to death, they are caught in this place. It is a subtle and endlessly devious trap, and you might find yourself getting caught in it more than once. The truth? You are not the awareness, for that is yet another falsity. The only way out is to give up the whole game. Stop trying to define yourself. You only cause yourself confusion, and the reason is clear. It is only once you start trying to define yourself that you come into existence at all. The self is that which crops up as you begin to wonder what it is. When you don’t feel the need to wonder what it is, it doesn’t appear.
Beyond that, invest yourself as fully as possible into whatever experience you are currently having. When you get to the point where you are the perception itself, rather than the perceiver or the perceived, you are getting somewhere. And this might turn out to be an essential practice. The world is at war with itself. The mind has created the means for its own demise. Rationality has been dragged to its very end. We are now being slowly driven mad, all of us, by the inanity of the world we have created. As the membrane between screen and life lessens and become subtler and more sinister, as capitalism gradually starts to collapse in on itself, and as people everywhere become more and more isolated through their dependence on false images of apparent connection, simply sitting and being aware of your basic human experience in this moment becomes a revolutionary act. It is time to put down our ideas, and take up the practice of simply being. This is the new emerging consciousness which will mark the next significant shift in human evolution. This is what we have come to call meditation, and it might be our only hope.