One oft-touted piece of meditation advice is to notice your thoughts as they arise and then let them go. Don’t become attached to them. What happens if we go the other way and deliberately dig in with whatever comes up?
Sometimes our thoughts may seem to be trivial. Our brains generate a fair amount of apparently random noise and chatter, and trying to silence that can be difficult and may seem futile. I’ve found over the years that if I let the random thoughts run their course, my brain will settle down. The more time I’ve spent on this, the less random the chatter is, and the more pertinent, useful and interesting it becomes.
Making time to think results in those thoughts becoming more interesting. It means going deeper with whatever is pinging about. Seeing what’s important, or has possible implications. It’s also taught me not to treat the quiet, day to day details of my life as trivial and of no consequence. These details are our lives, and it’s how we handle the small things that will often have most impact on us. Our relationships are made of these details. Our days comprise largely of the small, mundane things that we do.
When you sit in meditation, try giving yourself permission to take your inner chatter seriously. See what comes up, and what it tells you about yourself and your life. Try questioning it – why are these things important to you right now? What could you change? What do you need? Sometimes simply making the space to process your own thoughts, feelings and reactions can be really helpful.
If you find that your brain is full of vacuous trivia, it might mean that your intellectual diet isn’t rich enough. If your thoughts are full of frustration and annoyance there could be big underlying issues that need your attention. If you’re obsessively overthinking it could be that you’re dealing with anxiety. What happens at the surface isn’t separate from the rest of who we are and how we live, and it can guide us towards things we need to examine.
Our ‘monkey brain chatter’ can be treated dismissively in spiritual circles. But, this is part of us. We are animals, these are our brains, these are our thoughts. Silencing them isn’t the answer. Treat them kindly, and these thoughts can open you up to yourself. Your spiritual life isn’t separate from the other things going on in your brain. Spend time with your own mind, get to know who you are and you may find that the chatter softens into a slower, calmer voice that means you can hear yourself think. Respect your chatter and you can find out how you think and feel about things.
If you don’t like what you find in your own head, ask how you can change your life to change your thinking. You may need less intensive stimulation or more good quality brain food. You may need more rest, or more that soothes you, more time outside, more chance to burn off stress through activity. Spending time with the chatter can be illuminating.
Our chatter is also how we talk to ourselves, and it often includes what we’ve absorbed from other people. Listen to yourself, and see what kinds of things you habitually tell yourself and call yourself. This too can be a basis for making radical change.