Posted by Jill Whalen | Posted in Meditation, Spirituality, Yoga | Posted on 11-22-2013
[Jill’s Note: If you prefer to listen rather than read, please scroll to the bottom of this post for the audio version.]
Whether you call it your inner voice, inner guide, spiritual guide, conscious mind or something altogether different, how do you know what it is and if you are actually hearing it correctly (or at all)?
Not too long ago, I was wondering exactly that. Even though I had made a huge life-changing decision that I attributed to listening to my inner guide, I couldn’t tell you how I knew it was that for sure. My guidance was more of a gut feeling than a voice or words. You could also characterize it as an epiphany or an “aha moment.” Even though it was a feeling, I recognized it as my inner guide speaking to me because of the rightness of it. That is, when I thought of doing what it was telling me I needed to do, I knew it was the correct thing even though it seemed pretty crazy.
While strong gut feelings are an important and common way to listen to your inner guide, I’ve recently found other ways to communicate with it as well.
As I started meditating on a daily basis I’ve come to realize that my inner voice can in fact be a “real” voice (in that it contains words) rather than simply a feeling. The tricky part was hearing and recognizing it amongst the din of all the other voices in my head.
Lord knows we all hear multiple voices in our heads (at least I hope I’m not the only one!). In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if most of us were just one crazy voice away from being Sybil herself! Most of the time, however, we don’t even pay attention to the voices. It’s only when you start to pay attention, that you realize just how much incessant chatter is going on upstairs.
This was especially obvious to me during the final relaxation (Shavasana) in my yoga classes. For those who’ve never been to a yoga class, for the last 5 minutes or so, you are supposed to rest in a sort of quiet meditation, with the idea being to quiet your body and mind after a good yogic workout. While the room may have been quiet, my mind never was! Not only was I hearing multiple voices in my head, they were all speaking at once. I felt like there were different layers in my mind where more than one conversation (on different topics even) were taking place at the same time.
There was the main voice (which I felt was the “real” me as I had control over it) recognizing that the other conversations were happening. But the other voices seemed to have a life of their own. My main voice could not help but wonder how it would ever be possible to quiet the rest of them. And when I would forget to even try to quiet them, I’d drift off and start thinking about how hungry I was, and what I was going to make for lunch, and was it now raining, or had the sun come out? While at the same time, another layer of the mind would be thinking about the class itself and how I had sucked at certain poses or how I finally did a good job on others. Eventually I would realize my mind(s) had drifted and my main voice would rise up in frustration and scream “SHUT THE HELL UP ALREADY”! (Which by the way, doesn’t help!)
And this is what makes meditating so difficult. The whole idea is to quiet your mind. Yet just as you get one voice to shut up, the others laugh and keep going, which makes you feel completely powerless.
One day while I was lying there wondering when the Shavasana would be over so I could go home and eat, something happened and the layers of thought suddenly stopped. (I’ll talk about different ways to help make that happen in a future post.) When the voices stopped, the only way I could describe it was like the clouds (the voices) blew away and the sky (my mind) became completely clear. For the first time ever, I had a quiet mind! At first I got scared because it was such a strange sensation, but I managed to stay with it until the teacher ended the session shortly thereafter.
What I learned from this brief encounter (and from future meditations when I was able to repeat the stillness) was that while the uncontrollable thoughts stopped, I still had the one main voice that I could hear and control. That’s the one I believe to be my conscious mind, with the noisier ones being part of my egoic mind. However, at times there is also another voice. A more authoritative one that I don’t seem to have control over. I believe that one is the voice of my inner guide.
Those two important voices–my conscious mind and my inner guide–is where the magic (or perhaps the crazy?!) happens in the form of conversations with myself. With my conscious mind in focus, I can ask questions directly to my inner guide about my life such as: “How can I _____?” “How do I know if_____?” etc. And very often I will receive verbal answers. Interestingly enough, the answers are usually quite simple. Sometimes they’re only a few words, and they’re generally not even an entire sentence. Still, hearing that authoritative voice so clearly lets me know that I’m on the right path.
So how can you tell if you’re truly hearing your inner guide or if you’re egoic mind is just telling you what you want to hear or potentially sending you on a wild goose chase (as egos love to do)?
I can only speak for myself, but what I’ve noticed so far (and honestly I’m extremely new at this) is that the voice of my inner guide seems to speak much slower than any other voice that is in my head. When my conscious mind is free from the clutter of the egoic mind, I can very clearly hear and sense the distinction between the me who’s asking the question and the I who is providing the answers. The answerer is very no nonsense and it always provides the one true answer that I know is exactly right. Therefore I can only explain it to you in somewhat of a riddle: You’ll know for sure if you’re hearing your inner guide only when you actually know for sure that you’re hearing your inner guide! In other words, if you’re not sure, then it’s probably not your inner guide speaking.
It’s also important to note that the inner guide doesn’t always answer right away. In fact, I don’t typically expect answers at all at the time I ask my questions. I generally believe they’ll come to me later either as a sign (such as hearing about a certain book from multiple sources) or through allowing my inner guide to literally lead me through my day. I’ve also found that the more I allow for that to happen, the fewer questions I feel the need need to ask in my meditations.
To recap how you might take what I’ve learned and use it to recognize and listen to your own inner voice I’d recommend the following:
Pay attention to your gut feelings.
Learn to quiet your mind so that you can hear it when it’s speaking.
Remember that you’ll know it when you know it!
I hope that my learning and explaining what I’m doing to further my own spirituality might make it easier for you to figure similar things out for yourself. I’ve found that hearing about others experiences can often spark something in me that suddenly causes it to all make sense.
Feel free to share your own experiences with accessing and listening to your inner voice in the comments. I’d love to compare notes with you!
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P.S. Please contact me if you’re struggling with anxiety, addiction, your health or wanting to transform your life in any way. I’d LOVE to speak with you!