In life, there is so much noise – cars, notifications, lectures, chatter, footsteps – that seeks to steal our attention and distract us. There is also another kind of noise that, although we may not hear it, still causes us to lose focus. This other noise is the noise of people’s expectations, what other people are doing, how they perceive you, what they think of you. It commonly occurs as thoughts popping into our minds. It’s easy to see how the first kind of noise – cars, notifications, chatter – is external, but the other noise – of people’s expectations, opinions and actions – is external too. Although it may manifest itself as thoughts inside our heads, it originates from something outside of us: society, parents, friends, peers. And it’s a noise because it takes away our attention, causes us to lose focus and become distracted. When our minds are constantly full of this noise we can’t hear our inner voice: the internal voice that lives within us – our deepest, truest desires, ambitions and intentions.
An example: Online lectures and being alone
When this term started over a month ago, I thought I would hate online lectures and working in my room for long hours, essentially: being alone. To my surprise though, I loved it. I realised that being alone meant I was no longer distracted by much of the external noise that exists in our world. Before an online lecture, I was no longer thinking about what people would think about my outfit, or whether my scarf was done properly or whether they would judge me for being slightly late (my lecturers don’t require us to turn on our video). Similarly, when I was working in my room, I was no longer worried about what work other people were doing, whether I should be doing that instead or whether they were solving problems faster than me, all of which were thoughts I often had when working in the library surrounded by others. And in the absence of this external noise was a newfound silence wherein I could hear my quiet inner voice – the voice telling me what I really wanted to be doing at that moment in time. So, if I could hear my inner voice telling me I wanted to take a snack break, I would take it without thinking about everyone else in the library who had been sitting there for hours without a break.
So, my point is that being alone isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, for me, the silence that came with solitude helped me to hear my quiet inner voice. And listening to this voice allowed me to act with more intention and feel more fulfilled.
Find your centre
You see, it’s so easy to compare yourself, to set your standard with the standard of everybody else. But when you start paying attention to the external noise so that it drowns out your inner voice, you lose sight of what you really want and instead think of what you should be doing. You may even feel lost, so that you don’t even know what you want because you haven’t heard your inner voice in so long, and you don’t know how to hear it again. How to connect with your true self. How to “find your centre” as Iron Fist put it.
When you can connect with and listen to your inner voice, then your actions will be more purposeful, mindful and intentional. You’ll feel more aware and present because you consciously made the choice to do whatever it is you are doing, including doing nothing and simply sitting there. Meditation practice can help you to become more mindful and aware of your inner voice, to make it that much louder, to help you tune into it. And a large part of this is achieved by sitting in silence and focusing within, on the body and the breath.
Meditation is a tool to help you become more mindful and aware of your inner voice in everyday life. I like to think of it as training for the mind. Just as you would do strength training at the gym to build strength, meditation is training to be more mindful. When you go to the gym, your focus for that entire session is on building muscular strength by lifting weights; in meditation you focus on being aware and practise the skill of mindfulness, so that you can then use it in your everyday life. Just as how the strength you get from the gym makes you better able to deal with physical loads (lifting boxes and carrying heavy shopping bags), the mindfulness you develop through meditation makes you better able to deal with mental loads – pressure and stress – making you more resilient and happier.
Try this: Meditation
[8 minute guided meditation: first scanning the body and then focusing on the breath. This is enjoyable done lying down.]
If you don’t want to meditate (maybe you’re not quite convinced yet) simply taking some time to sit by yourself in silence can help you tune into your inner voice. Every day, take a minute to sit alone without distractions (social media, YouTube, etc) and ask yourself this: “What do I really – ultimately – want to be doing right now?” And dig deep because it’s easy to ask yourself the question and then immediately think “I don’t want to be doing my work right now. I just want to watch a movie or YouTube or my TV series,” but these may just be surface level desires. If you ask yourself again “Do I really not want to be doing my work right now? Do I really not care about it right now?” you might find that your answer changes. You might realise that you do really care about the work, because you want to do well in your degree to get a good job, to take care of your family, to help the world. It may also be that, actually, you don’t want to be working right now, because you realise you need a break so that you can be more productive in helping you to reach your goals, in which case don’t. Take a break. Do whatever you really want to do. But just make sure that whatever choice you make, you really want it.
So, let’s recap what we’ve discussed so far:
- Noise – of people’s expectations, opinions and actions – exists all around us and seeks to distract us.
- When we pay attention to the noise for too long, we can no longer hear our quiet inner voice that tells us what our true intentions, ambitions and desires are.
- We can use meditation practise to tune back into our inner voice and live happier, more fulfilling lives.
- Sitting alone without distractions can also help us tune into our inner voice.
Until next time,