I was in the laundromat the other day washing a bedspread. The place was quiet. As my eyes scanned the remodeling project in process, a sticker on the coin machine caught my eye. On the sticker was a cartoonish character with a big grin and the words, “I live in my own little world, but it’s okay…they know me here.” (credit to Co-edikit)
I knew well what that sticker was referring to. During the time I was healing from my broken bones, I experienced the full repertoire of “my own little world,” better known as the voices in my head. Not in a position to escape those voices when they were unpleasant by driving somewhere, calling a friend, or scrolling social media, I was a captive audience. Not all the voices were unpleasant; there were kind voices along with the cruel ones, and there were uplifting voices along with the real downers.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna teaches Arjuna that we can be a friend to ourself or a foe to ourself; we can lift ourself up or we can cause ourself to sink (paraphrased from a translation by Vyaas Houston). I held tightly to these words as I sat with the voices in my head and their power to uplift me or drag me down.
When we sink ourselves with denigrating or fearful language, we weaken our clarity, our wisdom, and our energy. As humans we are an odd mixture of good tendencies and bad tendencies, and all these tendencies have a voice. When the bad tendencies win out, we can learn from these times and make peace with them and with ourselves.
These times can be the voice of conscience inviting us to re-look at the event in question and discern how we could have made the situation work for everyone’s benefit. In re-living the event in our imagination, a different response can be imprinted on our neural pathway. In this way, we will have learned from our failure and are better prepared for the next time the situation appears.
We can also lift ourselves up by listening to the tender and compassionate voices in our head. We can nourish these voices, tease them out, and make them a staple diet.
Choosing which voices to listen to has communal repercussions. When I sink myself, I take others down with me. When I uplift myself, I in turn uplift others.
The world needs us in these difficult times. It needs the best we have to offer. We can begin to show up to the challenge by making peace with who we are and choosing from the commentary in our head, which voices to dwell on. This is how we become a friend to ourself and to the world.