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Busy Mind




Excerpted from
Just Listen: A Guide to Finding Your Own True Voice
By Nancy O'Hara

Throughout the Quiet Corner process we will be studying our mind. We will see how it controls us and learn to what extent we have control over it. Being human, most of us have very active minds. Generally, we just accept this as normal and may not even realize that much of our stress and anxiety comes from our busy minds. Have you ever paid attention to what your mind actually contains? When we sit quietly alone with ourselves we can begin to hear what's there inside us, and the point of doing this is to clear our minds of empty chatter and hear the deep, inner truth of ourselves. But before we explore that, let's look at what a busy mind might contain and feel like.

A busy mind might contain thoughts of what you have to do later this afternoon, tomorrow, or next week. It might be thinking about yesterday's meeting with the boss and trying to figure out what he's thinking or what his next move will be. Maybe it dreams about last week's date or next month's vacation as you pretend to pay attention to what you're doing at the moment. Thoughts of bills waiting to be paid sit in one corner of your brain, while thoughts of where you'll be picking up the kids, how you're going to afford your mother's nursing home, and when your best friend will be out of the hospital invade the other corners. A busy mind can jump from one thought to the next, spanning years, without your even noticing the shift.

A busy mind can keep you awake at night with feelings, unresolved dilemmas, worries, hopes, and fears. A busy mind can so preoccupy you that accidents happen. It might cause such anxiety that your physical health becomes weakened. A busy mind can torment you to distraction and leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, and empty. A busy mind might all at once start telling you how to do things, what not to do, when to do it, whom to or not to do it with, how you should look, what you should think about this or that, what you could have said to avoid this morning's argument, what to cook for dinner. Your busy mind might ask those tormenting who-what-when questions ad nauseam. What will happen at tomorrow's job interview? Will I have enough money to pay the rent? Will my job be the next to go? Does he (or she) like me? When will I see him again? This goes on until you think you might explode from the sheer weight of words floating around in your head. There are enough voices to supply a choir and then some.

You might be asking yourself "What can I possibly gain from finding my true inner voice? I have enough voices in my head, I don't need to find another one." While reading this book, put aside such questions. Let's practice taking them (and all judgments and criticisms) as they arise and putting them aside. When such a question comes up, write it on a slip of paper and put it away. You may want to start an envelope or a box or drawer in which to collect these slips of paper. Believe it or not, by the time you finish this book, if you are diligent about taking the suggestions here, you will see that all your questions will either be answered or will have become irrelevant. So write them down and put them away for now.

When we get right down to it and actually notice the various components and voices that contribute to our busy mind, we realize that much of it is repetitive and mundane. Our minds usually are not cluttered with creative ideas that stem from our genius. Generally, our thoughts deal with the boring specifics of our day-to-day lives or with abstract philosophical questions that we'll never resolve. Sometimes we compartmentalize the different parts of our busy mind to avoid too much conflict and competition among them. Yet, though we try our best, they often struggle to have their say, keeping us awake at night or interfering each time we are about to make a big decision. And these parts of our mind do not cancel each other out. They rarely agree, a situation that usually just leads us to more confusion. Rarely does such a busy mind live in harmony. It can often rule our lives without us even knowing it.

If none of this applies to you, that's great, you're a rare individual. But most of us have extremely active minds. Some of us have a high tolerance for the noise, while others let it get the best of us, adding to our stress and making us unable to focus and think clearly. We all differ in how we deal with our mind noise. And there's no point in trying to figure out how someone else's mind behaves. Trying to compare ourselves with others is a frustrating and fruitless mind game. So begin by becoming aware of and accepting your own unique and wonderful mind just as it is. Resist the impulse to compare.

If your mind is a busy one and you'd like to learn how to calm it down, you can take steps to do so. The first thing you can do is simply observe your mind as it works. Start paying closer attention. What are you thinking of right now? Jot it down. Keep it simple. Next? Where did it go from there? Jot that down. Imagine that you have volume and channel selector knobs in your brain. Place them wherever you'd like. Behind your eyes. In the back of your throat. At the crown of your head. Now close your eyes and breathe. As one thought pops up, notice it and play with your dials. Turn up the volume. Change the channel and go to another thought. Now turn it down. Notice that I didn't suggest an on/off switch. That is because your mind is permanently on. But there are control switches you can learn how to use.

So accept your mind as it is, know that you are, right now, powerless over the noise, and trust that there is a solution, that serenity and a peaceful mind are possible.

Once you start to become aware and take note of what your mind is doing, create a Quiet Corner bank in which to store all your questions, self-judgments, and self-criticisms. Perhaps you could make something out of construction paper. Make it colorful and big enough to hold many slips of paper. Don't try to imagine how many questions you might ask yourself before the questions slow down. You can always make a second or third or fourth container if the first becomes too small. Have some fun. Make a game of it. Use magazines or old newspapers or even an empty coffee can. Paint it, decorate it, label it. And then put it away. Let it be the vessel for your nagging questions. This is the beginning of clearing your head of some of the noise so that you can begin to hear your inner voice. Be aware that once you write a question down and put it in the bank, it may revisit you. That's okay and perfectly natural. Simply write it down again and redeposit it. There may be something to learn from the repetition.



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