Mental Integrity: Five Techniques to Quiet the Mind
by Heather Ash Amara
Our internal dialogue is comprised of the many voices in our head. They distract, judge, compare, and appear to support us in solving problems. These voices take us out of the present, causing us to cycle old thoughts about the past and worries about the future. Our internal dialogue snags our attention in a mess of stories and dramas, keeping us from attending to what is actually in front of us.
Learning to consciously direct our mind and stop our internal dialogue allows us to soften into each moment and open to all possibilities. It leads us into mental integrity, where we can hear our own true voice.
Deepak Chopra writes, "In stillness, inner energies spontaneously wake up and bring about the appropriate transformation for every situation." When we bring our attention to stillness we tap into our knowing, which is based in love and infinite choice, rather than our thinking, which is often based in fear and scarcity. Within stillness rests our innate connection to Spirit and our sacred creativity.
Stopping our internal dialogue can take many different forms. Try any of the following five practices to quiet your mind.
1. Fill the Space with Something More Helpful
Give your mind a chant or an affirmation to repeat. This action fills the brain space your random thoughts would normally occupy. If you can bring your attention fully to the chant or affirmation you will begin to feel the silence between each word. You must be firm in coming back to your chosen words over and over again, and letting the stillness between the words permeate you.
I like to start my mornings off with chanting, and then take one chant into my day. I keep a list of chants from a variety of cultures (Native American, Hindu, Jewish, etc.) that I have learned over the years. It can be good to work with chants that are not in English, so you don't get stuck on the words, or to have ones that affirm something positive so if the chant does get stuck in your head you will be repeating something like, "I am opening up in sweet surrender to the luminous love light of the One." Your affirmation can be one word or a sentence, e.g., anything from "Peace, peace, peace" or the Sanskrit version, "Om, shanti" to "May I open to all possibilities."
Proper punctuation is another invaluable tool for stopping the internal dialogue. We tend to string together huge run-on sentences in our heads, weaving together our fears of the past or future with present events or triggers. We do nonsensical things like talk to ourselves about how we should not be having any voices in our head and then tell ourselves stories about what that means. For example, have you ever caught yourself thinking in a circular, tangled fashion like this:
"The voices in my head are so loud, I am comparing myself to people around me all the time, I can't get still, I just keep thinking and thinking. Will I ever get this right? What if I can't get quiet? I'll never be able to go any farther on my spiritual path until I still my mind, but it is impossible! My mind is totally out of control. Darn, I forgot to get toilet paper at the store. I always forget something. I am a terrible warrior (priestess, healer, teacher, human being...) If only I could be still inside. I hate my mind! I'm never going to have any peace..."
With a mind that busy, it is no wonder we fill our time talking, watching television, or fantasizing, instead of being quiet. Our minds comment on everything, even our thoughts. By learning to use a period and stop the next thought, we create space. For the example above, imagine hearing, "The voices in my head are so loud," and then say, "Period." Stop yourself after the first thought and take a breath. Do not let any more thoughts squeeze in. "The voices in my head are so loud, period." Do not allow your mind to comment on this statement, justify it, whine, or judge. Do this many times during the day, and you will notice gaps of stillness between your thoughts. Keep strong punctuation.
3. Take Mental Breaks
Get habituated to taking breaks during the day to sink into silence. For example, let your mind rest when you eat, have a few minutes between meetings, or go to the bathroom. Instead of running from one activity to the next in constant thought, breathe into your feet. Notice the colors around you. Slow your movement. Walk deliberately from place to place. Consciously reconnect with silence.
4. Let Thoughts Pass
Quieting the mind takes awareness and the commitment to keep coming back to stillness over and over again. A daily meditation practice can greatly increase your capacity to find silence during your day. I recommend you set an alarm (e.g., five to ten minutes to start) for your practice and simply let your thoughts float by without attaching to them. You do not need to stop them, but let them pass without judgment.
5. Stop Thinking
Lastly, an advanced technique is to stop the thoughts before they arise. I sit and imagine the foundation from where my thoughts arise. It looks like a grey-brown field, and I can feel it in my head. From this field thoughts bubble up. By using my intent I stop them from coming. At first they pop out of the field spontaneously, but over time I have learned to feel and witness when a thought is about to arise and gently push it back down into the silence. Over time you can build your capacity to keep the thoughts from being birthed as well.
Stopping the internal dialogue and living from stillness take perseverance and lots of practice. Cleaning your mind is a lot like cleaning a very messy room: if you look at the overall picture it can feel daunting. But if you start in one corner and work your way around step by step, you see that the action in front of you is doable, and before you know it the room is clean. Pick one practice and do not worry about how much chatter or noise there is, or how impossible the task at hand seems. Then do the next step. Breathe. Chant. Punctuate. Meditate. Stop. And then do it all over again, and again, and again.
Make this repetitive cleaning a joy, and be gentle. The stillness that will begin to arise will be the nectar that will motivate you to continue quieting your mind. Taste the silence and let it inspire you keep going.