I recently thought a lot about the voices in our heads. Not strictly a Buddhist topic, but bear with me. Now, think of people who hear voices in their head. That is supposedly not normal. If you can hear voices in your head you are considered crazy. So far it is pretty straight forward, right? However, recent studies have shown that the problem is not so much the hearing of voices. Turns out, we all hear voices in our head all the time and we are considered (mostly) normal. Researchers found evidence that the problem are not the voices in a persons head but rather the inability of the person to realize that these voices are indeed his or her own voice.
We, the normal people (allegedly), on the other hand know that the voices in our head are different versions of our own voice.
It’s very strange, but I get that. Just think how freaked out you would be, if one day you suddenly think the voice in your head telling you to slap all you colleagues at the office, belonged to someone else.
Then – being the weirdo Buddhist I am – I thought: Actually, the whole voice thing is a big problem anyway.
The advantage of a strange voice in your head you cannot recognize, telling you to slap everyone at work, is that at least you can blame someone else. What is with all the voices in our head we can hear all day long? Our own voices, we know just to well, who still keep demanding ludicrous stuff – and we do it anyway…
Go there. Hit on her. Buy that. Eat this. Be insulted now. Make this better. You are a looser, Nobody loves you, Mondays suck, more money, better car, etc.
If we have a closer look at all these voices in our head that supposedly speak in the same name – our name – we soon find out that most of them fall in a couple of very distinct categories. Sub-Characters of our personality that we somehow allowed to get personified within our head, leading a not very productive parasitic life deep in our so called character frame. That absolutely freaks me out to no end.
On the other hand, I am a Buddhist and I am supposed to pick stuff apart, so I had a quick survey in my head and spent some time meeting a few of the guys. Let me introduce you:
The Fighter, who immediately suggests that the best solution would be just to punch everyone’s lights out.
The Drinker, who starts whining for a beer at eight in the morning.
The Bad Coach who, no matter what you achieve, keeps screaming that it is not good enough. (He was not even invited, I blame society.)
The Greedy Guy who wants to go buy a new computer/car/watch/phone immediately because only this will make us all happy.
The Drill sergeant who keeps yelling that I should stop annoying people with weird Buddhism and go for a ten mile run.
The Scientist who wants to know everything and understands the world in every detail.
The Monk who meditates all the time and ignores the rest of us.
The Cook who is strongly voting for a pizza to improve the day for everyone.
The Little Boy who is afraid and wants his mommy. (Seriously? Still? I’m almost forty!)
Some of these voices are actually useful. Also, by now it should be pretty obvious why our everyday life is so complicated. We have to make decisions while every single sub-voice-monkey hanging in our character-tree is screaming on the top of his lungs that his solution is the only one worth listening to.
What we have to do is to make an conscious choice at every second of our life regarding who we want to put in charge at this very moment. If we are under physical attack, the fighter is a good choice. However in literally every other situation in life he is the worst choice.
The Drinker has to be told to shut up until everything else for the day was successfully accomplished and even then he will have to discuss things with the Cook first. This is a good first step, however our responsibility goes much further and much deeper.
Not only do we have to make a conscious short term decision who to put in charge at every moment , we also have to make a long term decision which persons are allowed to stay on <Team Me> in the long run.
You have to be very careful here. There are voices who do not allow any other voice next to them, once they are in charge.
The fighter and the drinker are the best examples. They will take over for good first chance they get.
So does the monk. If the monk has the final word, he will end up being the only one left in your head. And he will make sure that after that, no other voice will ever be established in your mind … ever.
Here is the take home message: It is a decision.
You are the one who decides who will stay on the team. How you are supposed to do that? I could go all Buddhist on you, but just for a change let’s go with a famous old Cherokee Legend, that gives a way better answer than I ever could (also Buddhism strongly agrees with the Cherokees on this one):
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee replied, “Whichever one you feed.”