Like most people, I sometimes talk to myself. However, I never realized how many of my selves there were in there until I started meditating. Every time I sit down to meditate, someone in there asks me what I’m doing. And . . . someone else tries to explain it. Then, someone tells them both-gently-“not now.” Then it really gets going-a fight breaks out; others join in; and someone in there watches and listens to it all, tsk, tsking.
I know that I’m not alone in this. All the books I have read about meditating talk about how to deal with the voices-the thoughts-that come in and out of our consciousness. There is even a term for it: monkey mind. Like monkeys going from tree limb to tree limb, our minds bounce from one idea to another, and often each of those ideas comes with its own voice and its own personality. I can identify the “critical Alan,” the “supportive Alan,” the “defeated Alan,” and many others, some of whom I don’t wish anyone else to know about! And, above them all, is some “Alan” who thinks he’s in control of it all. He’s the one tsk, tsking at all the others for not behaving.
In the book our priest Gwyneth recommended for Lent, A Season for the Spirit, Episcopal priest Martin Smith recognizes this truth about ourselves in a chapter aptly titled, “The Selves of the Self”:
“As soon as I start a dialogue with myself the reality of the self as a kind of society becomes apparent at once. I ask myself a question. So there are two selves for a start, one asking and one being asked! It takes two to have a dialogue. We continually address ourselves, our selves. When we encourage ourselves, there is a courageous self and a timid self in conversation. When we blame ourselves, there is a moral self accusing a self who failed. Sometimes these selves belong to the past.”
Smith also reminds us that within all these selves, “The Holy Spirit of God dwells in your heart and is no stranger to the diversity and conflict there.” He ends the chapter with a meditation:
“Spirit of love, if I am to express the hospitality of God to all sorts of very different people, to people who seem very alien from me, then I need to learn to listen to each of them attentively. But how can I pretend to listen carefully to the different people I encounter if I refuse to listen to the different voices within my own heart? What chance is there of loving and respecting others if I refuse to meet and listen to the many sides of myself? How can I be a reconciler if I shut my ears to the unreconciled conflicts within myself and pretend that I have already arrived at peace?
“Now I begin to see that the spiritual life is based on a basic honesty which enables me to recognize that everything I find difficult to accept, bless, forgive, and appreciate in others is actually present within myself. If I paid attention to my own heart I would hear from within many voices, expressing many needs. Perhaps that suspect old saying “charity begins at home” begins to make sense here. Could it be that I have so little charity towards others because I have so little for the many selves of myself?”
This Sunday, we celebrate Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and other followers of Jesus, giving them the ability to speak in other languages-tongues-so that all the Jews gathered from “every nation” in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks could hear them speaking “about God’s deeds of power” in their own languages. (Acts 2:1-21) Acts 2:41 goes on to report that those who heard “were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
Maybe we need to start listening to our own many voices and speaking to them in their own languages so that we, too, can talk of God’s deeds of power to our selves and to others?
~ Alan (the “faithful Alan”) ~