Deep listening – to oneself

Last week I was discussing deep listening to another as one sits silently attending to what one can hear them say rather than going into thinking about what to say in response. This last week I had an experience of listening deeply to myself, to the meaning making machine of my mind and the beliefs that underpin that. 

A friend called me and I asked to call back latter as I was near the end of my work out and needed time to finish. I called back but couldn’t get through and then in a series of missed calls we ended up not being able to talk. Eventually I received a text saying he was now busy and could not talk. 

Objectively it was just one of those things, nothing to get too concerned about. But in my body I felt a sense of heaviness and constriction. My mind went into panic as it thought about how I should have ended my workout to make time to talk, feeling sad at missing the chance to connect and feeling a sense of loss that we were not now able to talk. I got the urge to text him to say this and yet also felt this was way out of proportion for what had just happened and would just create a drama where one was not needed. Hence I then had a fight in myself about if I can say I am upset or not.

I stayed present to this as the time passed and realised I was going into a familiar pattern of mine – the fear of abandonment. The brain has been called a ‘meaning making machine’ and when it has unhelpful programmes in it the meanings it creates do not always serve one’s well being and happiness. Right now, my meaning making mind was generating the old familiar story of being not wanted/abandoned and by so doing was blowing a fresh breeze into the old worn out sails of this particular fear. 

Jung says: “what we resist persists and what we fight we get more of”. I think that despite talking about this dynamic of fearing abandonment, I’ve not really allowed myself fully to turn to it, face it and feel it. Instead I always run after the next experience that I hope will take away the fear, and then feel worry as I wait for the text in reply/ for the person to like me/ to hear back. In this way I stay locked into  the familiar place of longing and loss, rather than opening to a feeling of plenitude and abundance – which just feels too unfamiliar and unusual to believe in! 

A book I’ve been reading about mindfulness for addiction makes the point that all addictions seem to be rooted in an attempt to escape stress. When stress arises we turn to our addiction of choice. This could include an addiction to being wanted in order to feel of worth. I know as a child I created the meaning that my mother needed me for her well being – rather than feel it the other way around. And this has fed in to my adult life, where I try to be the one for others to turn to but feel unable to say I need help, creating a pattern of never fully owning my own need for support, comfort or love – yet having repeated mind dramas that keep bringing me back to the pain of fearing being alone, of not being good enough for another to want. “What we resit persists, what we fight we get more of”. 

A deeper belief I notice as I reflect on this now is the belief I had as a boy that my father left because I had done something wrong – that in fact, I was wrong. Each time someone does not reply or pulls away, this old belief is activated: “I am wrong” and it is painful – so I try to escape the pain by doing what I did as a child, go into my head and think it out or pull away entirely, or push in closer to the person I fear is going to leave me….with the inevitable result that they see me as needy and pull away! And so the cycle goes on. 

One approach to working with our negative self-talk in the book ‘Loving Ourselves’ by Kimeron Hardin is to listen in to the underlaying beliefs under our self-talk. What I notice right now is the belief “I am wrong” under the drama of missing a phone call. This is a belief a child created in response to his father leaving him. It was his only way to make sense of the world. A child cannot conceive that his parents are defective or wrong, and being so focused on himself assumes whatever happened was due to him. Looking at this belief as an adult I can bring in the disputing self talk that says this is not true, that my father left because he had his own reasons, and in this way bring this repeating pattern to an end. Instead all there is is a feeling of sadness at missing a chance to talk to my friend without the mind then creating meaning from this. It is felt, and it passes. 

The Buddha once said: “Through the round of many births I roamed without reward, without rest, seeking the house-builder. Painful is birth again and again. House-builder, you’re seen! You will not build a house again. All your rafters broken, the ridge pole destroyed, gone to the Unformed, the mind has come to the end of craving.” — Dhammapada 153-4 There are various Buddhist teaching this may refer to, but perhaps one element of the house builder that he saw through was this storytelling in the mind and the underlaying beliefs that give rise to the sense of ‘me’. Once fully present and in the moment all he experienced was things as they were in that moment, without any drama.

Disputing the propaganda of the mind

What I’m exploring right now is a method I learnt recently which uses disputing self talk to challenge the story. The propaganda machine of the mind is so ready to start telling it’s old lies and assumed truths. Rather than going along with this and getting pulled into the familiar tailspin of despondency I can turn to the thoughts or statements of truth and ask: is this true, can it be challenged? 

Disputing the self-talk takes the form of being like a lawyer in one’s own head. The statement comes – “my friend no longer likes me, I have no friends, there’s something wrong with me”, and rather than go along with this, I can say “stop”, “this thought is not helpful” – and question it. Is it the case I’m always abandoned? No, I have some friends I no longer see, that is true. I meet men who then do not want to date again, but this is life and happens to everyone. I also have friends who will make time for me, want to see me and value my company. I had a boyfriend and we were together for over two years – so someone did want to be with me, and in fact we are still friends.

As the evening went on, my friend did then text me and we ended up having a lovely exchange. He was working late and that was why he could not talk, but we connected by text and all of the inner drama was shown to be based on nothing true. In this way the phrase a therapist once said to me was also played out: “we are wounded in relationship and we heel in relationship”. I received the wounds that make me fear abandonment and the belief I am wrong from family dynamics, but having good friends who then hold and offer true connection gives  a chance to heal this wound in a current relationship. 

A book I’m reading at the moment called Wake The F#ck Up, by Brett Moran, gives a very simple exercise when faced with this negative self-talk. On noticing such self-talk, repeat one of the following as if it were a mantra:

  • I am not my thoughts, I am not my thoughts, I am not my thoughts
  • My thoughts are not real, My thoughts are not real, My thoughts are not real
  • It’s just a story, It’s just a story, It’s just a story

Next time you get caught in an old loop of thinking, try this and see if by questioning the thought it can be allowed to dissolve and instead there’s just an awareness of the experience rather than being lost in the drama. What can be created in this open space of awareness? What is it you want to open to rather than run away from? Ask, when did it become more important to me to run from my fears than dive into my bliss? What is my bliss? Do these thoughts take me in the direction of my bliss or away? If they take me away, then what purpose do they serve?

The four minute video below is by the author of Wake The F#ch Up, and is a beautiful exploration of the two things we know – that we were born and will die, and of the amazing space in between, which is our life.