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Quietening the Inner Chatter - Part 1

The inner chatter in our minds is something we are all familiar with.  While we may have good and sometimes bad experiences in our lives that may move us to ponder life's deeper meanings or to seek out answers it is this inner chatter, more-so out of it's insistent and consistent barrage on our minds, that we are finally driven to seek out someway to quieten it down.  It gets so unrelenting and so persistent that once we have decided that we have had enough of it and we want to quieten it down, there doesn't appear to be any way to stop it.  We can't even go to sleep because the mind just keeps going and going!!  It's like torture "Okay, I'm over this noise in my head now.  I think you should stop now.  Okay, stop.  No no, I mean stop .... now!  Shhh!  I really mean it.  Come on now, stop!!! STOP!!!"

We quickly realise as much as we want it to stop it just seems to keep going.  We try frantically to find ways to quieten the mind but none of it seems to make the slightest bit of difference. We'll typically at this point turn to all kinds of external means to find some peace and we'll drown it out with social activities, making ourselves busy, through entertainment media like TV, radio, music, x-box or even alcohol and drugs.  These only serves as a means of distracting us from the noise.  As soon as we remove the distraction the noise and inner chatter is back as loud as ever.  Actually over time doing these distraction techniques just make the inner chatter worse by perpetuating the cycle.  So how do we stop it?  Well really the secret is not to stop it, I'll explain more as we go.

If we are lucky, in our search for a solution, we may eventually stumble across meditation.  The common problem is people try it and think that meditation is about stopping the thoughts.  It's a very common misconception and unfortunately leads a lot of people to try it and then walk away thinking it didn't yield any results.  This is why I'm writing this article, to help bring some understanding to what is happening here. People often read a few blogs, a website or two, a book maybe or chat to someone about the basics of meditation and then sit down to try meditation only find it doesn't work.  Or so they think!

In talking to people about meditation I find lots of people have tried it. This is really heartening to see. You can see they too are seeking some peace and along the way have tried meditation as a means of finding this peace.  One of the main recurring themes I hear is that people say "Oh I tried meditation but it didn't work" or "I couldn't do it".  My immediate response is usually "This is like water saying, I just don't know how to be wet".  It's impossible for meditation not to work!!  It has to work because it is by it's very fabric the nature of all things, including ourselves, our minds and consciousness.  I'll explain this below as we go.

It is important to take a step back and ask ourselves first "What has lead me to have this mind and all this inner chatter?" and to really evaluate what is going on.  It is through wanting, conceptualising, grasping, categorising, judging, pushing away, and thinking about everything we experience in life that our minds become busy.  In our day to day we have a thought arise about every thing little, every teeny tiny thing and what we think about it, how we feel about it, what it means to us and how we can get more of it or get away from it. Through this there is a perpetuating cycle of mind busyness which over times results in a momentum all of it's own. It's like a freight train that's been gathering more carriages along its journey.  The heavier it gets the harder it is to stop.  After a while it has so much momentum that even when the train driver sticks on the brakes the train will just keeping on skidding and take a long time to come to a stop!!!  Our minds are just like this.  We stick on the brakes expecting it to stop and, "Holy crap! It's still going!"

What is Meditation About?

So we have to be very clear, meditation is not about stopping thoughts.
 We cannot approach meditation with another "want", but often this is exactly what we do.  "I want to do meditation to find some peace" or "I want to do meditation to be happy" or "I want to do meditation to stop this inner chatter in my mind".  Again however this is the same cycle we just stated above.  In doing so we've just approached meditation in the same way we've approached everything else in our lives, and in trying it like this we continue to perpetuate the cycle of inner chatter.  So of course we walk away thinking "Well that stinks, it doesn't work".  Meditation is not about getting what you want, meditation is about letting go.  As you do this thoughts stop by themselves!

Ajahn Chah's has a little book of quotes called No Ajahn Chah: Reflections in which he says:
Remember you don’t meditate to "get" anything, but to get "rid" of things. We do it not with desire but with letting go. If you "want" anything, you won’t find it.
By this he doesn't mean to get rid of something we don't want or we remove something that we want to get away from. He's not saying to get rid of the inner chatter or noise.

I'll explain exactly how that works in Part 2 and then in Part 3 what we can do to quieten the inner chatter, the common trap and how to apply this.  Check back tomorrow for Part 2.

Quietening the Inner Chatter - Part 2

Continuing on from yesterday's article Quietening the Inner Chatter - Part 1, we were saying that meditation is not about getting what we want but out letting go of what it is that is supporting the existence of the inner chatter. This is a very important point.

The Builder and the House

There is good metaphor which will help explain this. Our minds are like little construction workers, always building building building. We build ideas and thoughts about everything, over time we construct this big house called "me". At some point we start to not like the house we are in so we think "Okay, I'm not enjoying this any more, I want out of this house!!". So we immediately get to work on building another house in hope that moving into it will somehow make us happier.  "I can't stand this house any more, I want a new house"  or we think "If I can just change this thing room here, add this modification on there, then I'll be happy". We mistakenly think happiness will be bought about by changing something external to us. So we get busy, thinking, building, analysing the past, thinking about our future, complaining about what we don't like about our current house, thinking about how we want life to be, trying to think our way out of our current situation and how we can get the house to be just like we want it to be.  Then we focus desperately on how we can get into the new house.  So eventually we think we've found the answer, we abandon the current house, move in and for a few days or weeks we think it's perfect.  Then looking around we realise we moved all our crap into this house too and it's full of the same junk we had in the last house!!  It just moved with us!  Then after a while we begin looking at the new house and start thinking "You know, this house really could do with ...." and it all starts again.

This clearly isn't the answer but interestingly we'll repeat this process in all areas of our life for many, many, many years in hope that it will eventually yield some results.  Holding onto hope keeps us stuck, we hold out hope that eventually it will work, in this way we stay stuck. We are like a car stuck in the mud, with our foot constantly on the accelerator spinning our wheels getting more and more bogged.

So when approaching meditation we do the same "I want to stop these thoughts that are driving me nuts", so we sit down but we can't get the thoughts to stop.  Why is this?  It's because life does not work like this.  Just look at the clouds, can more wind make the clouds go away?  No, its just makes more clouds.  This isn't a metaphor, I'm talking directly and literally about the very nature that drives the existence of things like wind and clouds and rain are the same forces that drive our minds and thoughts and pain. To break through the clouds the sun has to come out. Why is this? Let us go back to the house building metaphor for the answer.

The Laws behind Inner Chatter

Going back to our house building metaphor the answer isn't to move into another house, the answer is to deconstruct the current house we live in .... completely. We need to stop building and let the current house get old and collapse.  If we stop building and improving on a house what happens?  It slowly cracks, the wood rots, it gets weathered, things fall off and eventually it falls down. So, asking again, why is this?  This is very important and the heart of this entire article.  It is because the conditions that support the survival of the house are removed, so eventually it dies.  All things in life are exactly like this.

Clouds require a certain condition. Certain moisture content in the air and certain temperature creates the conditions for them to exist. When the sun comes out the conditions that supports the existence of the clouds passes and so too do the clouds. When a flower doesn't get enough water, or gets too much sun, or gets uprooted from the soil it too dies. It's conditions cease, so it ceases. If our body doesn't get food or water eventually it will die. Look around you, everything, absolutely everything you can see or experience or think are exactly like this and all exist due to the dependent conditions that support their existence. There is not a single thing in the universe that does not obey this law. Not one! I'm not asking you to believe me, investigate yourself, look around. Is there anything you can find that doesn't obey this law?

Your mind and thoughts are exactly the same.  They require a certain conditions to exist and certain conditions to keep them going.  The cycle of inner chatter requires certain conditions too.  Through repeating the same process we just perpetuate their existence and in fact make them stronger.  This is why when we approach meditation and want to stop the inner chatter it doesn't work. We don't realise, by approaching it in this way, that we are just running the same old patterns that creates and supports the very existence of the inner chatter. 

Slowing Down Takes Time

The other thing to consider, like the momentum of the heavy freight train, is that it is going to take time to stop. If you’re 20, 30, 40 or 50 years old, then you’ve been supporting and building a world of inner chatter over all those years. You can’t just sit down to try meditation and expect it to stop right away. Again, life just doesn’t work like this. For example, think of the flower again. If we stop watering a flower it doesn’t die straight away, it will take a week or two. All things are like this, they take time to cease.  We are the same with our inner chatter.

So typically we approach meditation with the same incorrect assumption we hold about life, that things will just stop instantly.  We want instant results and so we expect life to be the way we want it to be.  In doing this we ignore and don’t respect these laws that all things are bound by, and in doing so we create conditions that support the perpetuation of inner noise. The process is so obvious, so inherent in our nature, that we simply just don’t notice it. In reality you could say it is so obvious that in growing up with it since a baby we don’t notice the obviousness of it any more. However, all it requires is for us to look around and observe the way everything works.  You can see this truth right there in everything around you.So in Part 1 I explained how inner chatter is a problem and what the effects are like.  In Part 2 we talked how that problem functions and in Part 3 I’ll discuss what we can do to quieten the inner chatter, how that healing process works, a common trap to look our for and how to apply this.  Check back tomorrow for Part 3.

In Quietening the Inner Chatter - Part 1, we were saying that meditation is not about getting what we want but about letting go of what it is that is supporting the existence of the inner chatter. This is a very important point.

Continuing on from yesterday's article Quietening the Inner Chatter - Part 2, we were saying that the inner chatter is reliant on certain conditions that support it's existence and that it, like everything else, obeys natural laws that all things abide by.

So How Does Meditation Work?

This is why I said earlier that meditation has to work, because it inherently obeys and works on these same rules of nature that everything else works on.  When we sit and do meditation practice we focus the mind on an object, typically the breath.  In doing this we remove the conditions that support the perpetuation of inner chatter.  It's like the flower suddenly not getting water any more, over time it slowly dies.  Our inner chatter is the same.  Don't think thought that just because you've removed the conditions through meditation that the chatter will cease straight away.  If we stop drinking water it takes a few days before we really start to feel it, and a week or two before we die.  Our inner chatter is the same.  In sitting meditation we aren't stopping thought, we are removing certain conditions that support the existence of problems in our lives.  In doing this things naturally quieten down on their own and our life naturally feels more alive, more radiant and vibrant.  So it's a constant process of letting go whatever house or structure you have around you at that point in time and letting it naturally pass. Peace, happiness and silence therefore aren't things we acquire, this is why we can't go out and seek after them and acquire them, they are the natural properties of our existence when the noise of our lives quietens down.

So if you want peace of mind, don't focus on getting peace. If you want happiness, don't focus on getting happiness. You have to focus on meditating diligently and letting go of the house you've build up around you. As the house decays and dies and collapses peace and happiness is revealed.

One Step Further Down the Rabbit Hole

While the above focuses on how meditation breaks down the structure, as we meditate we start to notice something interesting.  
The letting go happens all by itself.  If we try to let go, it doesn't seem to happen.  "Okay, let go now.  No no, I mean, I'm over this, you can let go!"  It doesn't work.Why is this? Letting go isn't something we do, it's something that occurs when there is mindful awareness.  As soon as there is awareness, letting go occurs because we start to see clearly the very nature of things.  In this awareness we see them for what they are, in doing so they freed from the condition that kept it perpetuating and that kept us bound to it.  Examine any regular life example you've had in which you later let go of what bothered you and you'll discover this was the process.  This is because awareness itself is condition-less, is empty and has no enduring substance. It is the true nature of existence. Going back to the above we said that in doing meditation we remove the conditions that supports the existence of the inner chatter. This is because awareness itself is condition-less and in meditating and being aware the things in our lives (like inner chatter) cease to have anything to interact with, that is, their conditions for existence are removed.

The awareness itself is like pulling the rug out from underneath everything.  So all we need to do to reveal peace and happiness is return as often as possible to this mindful awareness.  In doing that our life transforms all by itself.  Simply by placing awareness on anything it is eventually seen for what it truly is and it passes.  It quite remarkable really.  Another way to say this is, in seeing anything clearly it ceases to exist, it is let go, and to see things clearly you need to be aware.

The Common Fear

In reading this the common fear that immediately arises is "This sounds like I have to destroy or sacrifice who I am to find peace!", and fear arises in us. We unnaturally feel that in approaching meditation we lose that sense of who we are.  While the process does require us to learn to let go of the things in our lives that are unfruitful it doesn't mean we have to become zombies to find peace, and it also doesn't mean we have to be completely boring either.  We must remind ourselves it is actually the unfruitful things in our lives that creates our pains, it is these things that obscure our life and stop us from actually understanding who we are.  It is these conditions that support the unfruitful results in our lives that we seek to heal.  Admittedly doing meditation can be a tough process at times but through it we actually open ourselves up to a greater sense of who we are, who we are without a big smelly dung heap piled on top.  So we uncover a new "me". This next section contains a metaphor that explains why.

The Common Trap

Now typically after reading the above we'll go "Okay so if I do X then I'll get Y" and we'll race out and do  meditation with vigour in the hope that doing it will result in the peace of mind we seek.  Again, this is a problem because we are just approaching meditation with a mutated desire - "In doing this, I'll get that". The builder in us jumps out and wants to try and build another house.  It's the same problem that supports the conditions of inner chatter.  This is not good, not bad, it's just where you are at now.  It is better at least that you are doing meditation because as I've described above in simply returning to this awareness our lives change. Just be aware in yourself and know that eventually you are going to have to let go of this desire towards meditation, you'll have to let go of this attachment to meditation being a tool to bring about change. Keep meditating and keeping letting go, when the time is right you'll come to see it's time to let go.  It therefore requires you to acknowledge what the current structure you've built up that you call "me", and it requires the willingness to let go of it.  This takes courage and honesty.

At every stage in life what you are experiencing is supported by a set of conditions. Even this one right now!  Even this very consciousness and experience you are having as you read this.  Once you've let go of one set of conditions, another more subtle set becomes apparent through mindfulness.  It is therefore a constant process of letting go, of seeing more clearly. You must constantly remind yourself "This too shall pass" and sit and watch the next structure pass away.  As you do peace and happiness reveal themselves on their own, kind of like the sun revealing itself from behind the clouds.  It's not that the sun went away, it was just obscured by clouds.  Our lives are exactly like this.  Meditation in this way is about revealing the true nature of what we are and becoming the same as this very nature.

How to Apply This

While all the above helps understand how we create the inner chatter, what supports it and how to break it down, when it comes to our time on the meditation mat, how do we apply this? After all this dialogue this isn't going to be a long discourse because it's really quite simple. Go back to basics. When you sit meditation just focus on your breath and be aware, and keep returning over and over to being mindfully aware. That is all.

If you notice a desire for something then acknowledge it and know it has a supporting set of conditions to it's existence. Don't act out the desire, just simply notice it and return to the focus of the meditation. In doing this, without consciously knowing it at first, we remove the underlying conditions of the desire itself. Over time the desire passes. We say "time heals" but really it's the awareness that heals, time just ticks over as the problem itself dissipates because it's conditions for survival are removed.

If you are meditating and have inner chatter then notice the inner chatter and acknowledge that there is a supporting set of conditions to it's existence. Don't engage in the chatter no matter how convincing it seems, just simply notice it and return to the meditation. Again, in doing this we remove the underlying conditions of the chatter itself. Over time the chatter quietens down.

This same process applies from the first day we sit on the meditation mat through to the advance stages, and finally through to complete enlightenment. We aren't gaining anything, we are letting go of the conditions that support a false way of experiencing the world and we are ultimately returning to this very awareness that is condition-less.  The meditation technique itself therefore is incredibly simple - be aware, that is all -  however it is all the false structures we've build up and the chatter about this process of letting go that is our challenge. This is what makes up the path we travel through to eventual realisation and enlightenment.

I hope this article has helped to clarify why we have inner chatter and helped to bring some understanding to the process of quietening it down and how meditation helps.

If you have any comments or questions please feel free to add them below.
4 Responses
  1. Balaji Says:

    You speak in your article without words!!!
    Excellent!!! I am weeping....

  2. Unknown Says:

    I have never read such an excellent article before in my life. Thank you very much.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I have read so many explanations on how meditation works, but none has mentioned the deconstruction the set of supporting conditions for inner chatter. This is such a revelation. Thank you for this article!

  4. Kelpszoid Says:

    Too many words.

    Stopping the mind to observe it is real in chi kuan.

    It takes practice. Don't water down real practice with your shallow ideas..