There is a complimentary Keycast to this Blog Key, “The Voices Inside Us”, which can be found on the Keycast page.
We are about to look at something I’m sure we will come back to again and again in future Blog Keys and Keycasts. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, because these voices will be with us for the rest of our lives. Secondly, because to know ourselves, to truly know ourselves, we must learn the art of navigating these voices. This will help us to answer those tough questions like, "What do I want to do with my life", "How do I really feel about...", "Why am I here, what is my purpose?", "How do I raise my self-esteem?". Hopefully, the path to be able to answer these kinds of questions will become clear as we go forward. One voice will take us deeper into knowing ourselves and finding inner freedom for outer changes, while the other can be a distraction to this.
The voices I’m talking about are the "Head Voice" and the "Heart Voice". In the picture above you'll see the "You Now" sitting in the middle of these two. This represents you, the ever-present you, the you in the here and now, the one who can consciously choose to travel along the seesaw to either of the voices. The "You Now", is the one who chooses to sit in that controlled environment we've learnt about and practice your mindful breathing. The "You Now", is in the driver's seat. This is important to understand because both of these voices want our attention and they go about it in very different ways. Both are saying, "Let's talk", and you must decide where your attention goes.
Your Head Voice
The first voice needs no introduction to most of us as it’s the one we spend most of our lives talking to - we discuss our shopping lists with it or lunch choices, how we’re going to challenge our work colleague over something they did that upset or annoyed us, or how we’re going to explain to our boss that we would like a promotion or pay rise. It’s the voice that convinces us that the most awful things are going to happen even when nothing has yet happened. It’s the voice that makes tomorrow, next week or the rest of your life seem impossible to deal with and face. It's the voice we hold hands with as we dance a waltz into the depths of oblivion and depression. It’s the voice we bargain with over whether or not we should come clean and tell the truth, or with whom we go over and over our darkest inner secrets with. It's the one we play, "He loves me, he loves me not", with. It’s the one we talk to when trying to decide if we’ve upset or hurt someone as we try to understand their behaviour, be they a friend, our family or a lover. It’s the voice that questions whether we’ve dressed appropriately as we’re approaching that first date with someone we hope likes us. It is the voice that questions if we did enough to get the grades we needed when we were about to read our exam results. Have I given enough examples?
I am talking about that lodger in your head. The one that narrates your entire life. It is this voice that supports you one minute, disagrees with you the next and then has no bloody idea only minutes later - you can put those in any order you wish!
Secret number one: This voice, is not the real you. It is made up of feedback loops from emotions and memories of experiences past.
"There is nothing more important to true growth than realising that you are not the voice in your mind - you are the one who hears it. If you don't understand this, you will try to figure out which of the many things the voice says is really you...... The answer is simple: none of them."
~ Michael Singer ~
From here on in I will refer to this one as your head voice.
Your Heart Voice
Now for the second voice. This, for a lot of us, is harder to know or hear. We do know it and we do hear it or at least sense it, but its character traits are vague to those who do not regularly practice forms of mindfulness or meditation. Unlike the head voice, which can be like that child who constantly yanks on your clothes begging for attention until your frustration drives you to give it, this voice is patient, constant, peaceful and speaks the truth. It is not driven by the ego like your head voice. This voice is driven by freedom.
This is the voice we feel. We sense. We use it to consciously tap into our unconscious. How we do this, I'll come on to later. For now, understand it is this voice we need to learn to commune with as we continue to understand ourselves at a deeper level. This voice is a key to inner healing, to changing outer habits, to changing negative thought loops that control the head voice, into positive ones.
It is this second voice that we find so hard to describe. See if you recognise any of these examples. “I can’t explain it, it’s just a feeling I have”. “It’s my gut...”. “I just have a sense that…”. “It’s my intuition”. “I just feel it, like, down there”. Any guesses where this voice lives?
Yes, it is this “down there”, where you’ll find this voice. In your stomach, your centre, your soul or spirit. Rather interestingly this is also where your third chakra sits, the yellow one. It’s this chakra that governs our will, our ability to choose, to be balanced, make choices.
"You start by listening, listening to your heart. Then you start to manifest it in the real physical world."
~ Paulo Coelho ~
Secret number two: This voice is the real you. It has a hotline to your heart, your soul, buried, forgotten treasures of desires, hopes and dreams and importantly, to your inner child.
From here on in I will refer to this one as your heart voice.
With the introduction to the two voices done, let’s talk about their preferred environments and then we’ll move on to how we navigate them, and we’ll finish with how to get better acquainted with your heart voice through your mindful breathing sessions.
The head voice loves the environment of noise. The heart voice loves the environment of stillness. The head voice lives to distract. The heart voice lives to set free.
The head voice needs constant stimulation and attention. It is either talking to you or using distraction techniques - anything it can do to stop you from ignoring it. It has an insatiable appetite for attention. It also has a real fear that you'll ignore it and turn your attention to your heart voice, tuning it out and starving it of control. For example, whenever you think about going to your controlled environment to spend 10 or 15 minutes in mindful breathing or meditation, you can guarantee your head voice will come up a whole list of things you should do first. Similarly, when you just want to sit quietly in your own company, there will be a to-do list that magically pops into your head! And before you know it, a week has gone by and you've not done any mindful breathing and not visited your controlled environment once. The wandering mind, the anxious mind, the busy mind, are all variations on a theme of environments your head voice uses to keep your attention on it and keep you focusing outwards of yourself. Anything to stop you from taking time to shut down and focus inwards on yourself. This environment is also one that for the most part triggers your SNS, (sympathetic nervous system).
Your heart voice, on the other hand, lives in an environment of stillness, tranquillity, calm, peacefulness and triggers your PNS, (parasympathetic nervous system). It is in this environment where you have tuned out the noise of life, the constant flow of words of the head voice, the demands and pressures of day to day living, so you can focus inwards. Only here, can you start to hear this voice and learn what it sounds like and what it feels like.
Secret number three: Neither voice can properly be heard in the other's environment.
"We can connect to the heart when we are in silence. We live in the noise, and we are so busy all the time, there is no time, no space, no silence for the heart. That is why people meditate or pray, because they need that space, that moment, when you listen to the heart."
~ Isabel Allende ~
This is key to understanding why we need to practice our mindful breathing if we are to journey into a place of self-awareness, self-knowing, inner healing, building our self-esteem, enlarging our ability to be who we truly are. Only by learning to tune into the heart voice can we do any of this and only by entering and sitting in the heart voice environment, will we be able to do this to any large degree. And when we do, we are learning to tune out of the head voice, away from the world of noise. In this quiet place, the head voice loses its power to control and distract us. In this noisy place, our heart voice loses its ability to be heard.
How Do We Navigate These Environments?
Have you ever noticed how hard it is for us as humans to spend time with ourselves, peacefully, quietly, tuning into our hearts? Some of us even find it hard to just sit still, read a book, admire nature just because, do away with social media, listen quietly to some music, let alone sit and meditate. And if we do manage it, it will only last for a few minutes before the phone buzzes and takes us away from the moment, or a thought comes into our heads about something we’ve forgotten to do, or the wandering mind takes over. For some of us, sitting still feels like a waste of time. Others will actually get agitated, antsy or anxious when we sit still! Yet for others, it’s second nature, to find quality alone time. To take a relaxed walk in nature, or sit in your garden and peacefully admire the bees buzzing or birds chirping or clouds passing on their journey around the world. Mostly, these two groups of people fall broadly into two categories we commonly know as introverts and extroverts.
We touched on this briefly in Blog Key 3, "Bye, bye stress, hello new life!”. Introversion and extroversion is not about whether or not you can be the life and soul of a party. Either can be that. It is actually about where you get your energy from. What re-energises you and what drains you. It is broadly understood that around 70% of the Western world are extroverts and the rest, introverts. So, only around 30% of us, "plug-in” and re-charge when alone. If this is you, then you’ll understand that when you’re tired, the last thing you have the energy for is people, lots of people. Before you can do a social situation, you need some alone time, time to charge back up, because you know that being with lots of people, drains your batteries. This is not a bad thing, that people drain your energy, because it is not about the people, it is actually about how you manage your energy. To be with people, you must expend it. To be alone is to charge those inner batteries back up. This is why introverts love and more importantly, need to spend time alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, need external stimulation, they need their cerebral reward centres tickled by external stimuli.
Interestingly, their brains are wired differently. Yes, that’s right, how the introvert and extrovert manage stimulation of the reward centre of the brain is down to their neural pathways and the way they are wired. For the sake of this blog, we don’t need to go into the details but suffice it to say that the introvert self-stimulates most naturally, and locates themselves in environments that allow them to do so. These introvert environments are usually peaceful, tranquil, calm and quiet and if they are not, then they can "tune out" or "zone out", to reduce stimuli. Whilst extroverts seek and crave external stimuli and spend most of their time doing so. Extroverts do this by using the shorter neural pathway from the limbic brain, using the dopamine pathway, to stimulate the closely situated reward centre, rather than the longer frontal lobe neural pathway, which uses the acetylcholine pathway preferred by introverts. These preferred extrovert environments are usually full of noise, distraction, people, things to do. Are you beginning to join the dots here?
Using Functional MRI scans we can understand this from a neurological perspective. Here's a whistle-stop tour. Your ascending RAS, (Reticular Activating System), receives external stimuli and then chats to your Hypothalamus and this in turn either switches on the parasympathetic nervous system in introverts; or the sympathetic nervous system in extroverts. This then triggers a conversation with your Thalamus. The anterior thalamus sends stimuli to the frontal lobe and "turns down" amounts of stimuli in introverts whereas the posterior thalamus sends increased stimuli to the amygdala in extroverts. The introvert, travelling the acetylcholine pathway, then triggers the Broca area of inner dialogue, the frontal lobe area of thinking, planning and processing and feeds back to the hypothalamus, filing feelings into long term memory, attaching emotions to thoughts via the amygdala. The extrovert, skips this longer pathway, instead using the dopamine pathway, directly going to the amygdala where emotions are attached to actions. Note here, that the introvert ends up attaching emotions to thoughts and the extrovert attaches emotions to actions. This is why the required stimuli is different for each.
Preferring actions, extroverts can find it hard to sit down and get into their mindful breathing, (MB), because it just doesn't come naturally - actually, it can feel unnatural. But this doesn't mean the introvert has it easy. Remember, they love inner dialogue and thoughts. The introvert can "live in their head". Yes, the introvert still battles with their head voice, probably more so than the extrovert. Actually, remember your head voice distracts with inner dialogue and distractions of things to do. The inner dialogue will play to the introvert's leaning and the list of things to do/people to see will play to the extrovert's brain wiring. So even though the introvert will find it easier to go to their controlled environment and do some mindful breathing, actually calming the mind and tuning out their head voice of inner dialogue can be difficult. Because the introvert is such a reflective person, sitting in their frontal lobe, they are masters of working things out, pondering a million different variations on a theme of answers to questions. This is not conducive to tuning into the heart voice. Whereas the extrovert, finally sitting and doing some MB, will often find themselves more distracted with things to do, people to see.
Because the introverted pathway triggers the PNS, (due to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine), you can see, (from reading Blog Key 3), that this aligns with what happens when we are in our controlled environments, practising our MB and focusing on our exhaling breath. Whereas the extrovert's preferred dopamine neural pathway, activates the SNS, meaning it is less natural for them to sit in a controlled environment and do their MB. It will be even harder for them to do it for any length of time, without training and regular practice.
Hopefully, this explanation will help you identify yourself and also help you understand how you navigate these environments. So how do we navigate out of the head voice into the heart?
Navigating the voices
This is simple. Tuning into either voice, automatically zones out the other. So when you start tuning into your heart voice, you are automatically tuning out of the head voice and visa versa. As we've seen from above, it is about getting into the right environment for the voice in question. Here, it is the heart voice, so we need to place ourselves in our controlled environments, do our MB, activate out PNS as we have already learnt and calm the mind.
Now, that's all nice and simple, until our head voice puts up a fight and starts to post shopping lists and to-do lists in your head! This is where your blog key for this blog comes in.
The Key: HAL is your friend.
When we try to ignore something, like a noise we want to zone out of, (a crying baby, someone chewing with their mouth open, a car alarm, someone on the phone), we actively try to ignore it, but in doing so, we end up focusing on it because we are trying to see it diminish. What we resist, persists. The problem is that by focusing on it, we actually give it power, and end up keeping our focus on it, which means we're achieving the opposite result. You know what I'm talking about here because, for the most part, we just end up getting even more frustrated by the noise! This is true for noises, problems, issues we're having or similar. What we need to do, is not try to resist it, or it will just persist because we are giving it focus, power. Instead, we simply focus on something else. By focusing our attention on something else, without realising it, we actually zone out the distraction. I won't lie, it takes practice, but I promise you it really does work. When I first learnt this several years ago, it felt impossible but over time it became easier and faster to zone things out. So, when a thought from your head voice comes up, don't fight it, just remember HAL is your friend. No, not the A.I. computer HAL 9000 from the film 2001, but my HAL - Hear, Acknowledge, Let go. When the head voice throws in a distraction, Hear it, Acknowledge it and then, Let it go, consciously focusing your mind on your heart voice. This is the opposite of trying to resist it - which inadvertently places the focus on the distraction. Instead, it allows it to be but doesn't allow it to control. HAL - Hear, Acknowledge, Let go.
How Do I Hear My Heart Voice?
I can't say exactly what your heart voice sounds like, as this is your voice, so it will have your unique voiceprint. I can give you a guide on how to recognise it. It will have your personality. You will know it because it will feel like your best friend, like you've known it forever. It will feel calm. It will feel warm. It will feel friendly. It will seem quiet at first, and it will originate from within you, not from your head. It will feel like home.
"When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless...huge, vast, and limitless."
~ Pema Chodron ~
A good way to start is to use visualisation. We introduced this in Blog Key 5. Here are a couple of ways to do it.
Using a Key Space, so you are truly centred and in a mindful place, ask your heart voice to speak to you. Using visualisation, ask your heart to reveal things to you depending on what your aim is.
If you want to do a general check-up, I find it useful to visualise a projection of myself, from my centre, in front of me and simply ask him, "How are you?". Then I sit, wait, watch and listen to the response. Note that your heart voice doesn't only speak in words, but in feelings, pictures and colours too. So the response can come in any or all of these forms.
If you are trying to navigate a particular emotion, say you are trying to understand why you are upset or tearful and don't know why then I ask my heart to reveal a memory that is a trigger to those feelings or one that is connected. Then, I wait, watch and listen. Focusing on the emotion I'm trying to unravel. Quite often, a distant memory comes up that I had no idea was connected to the emotion I'm trying to navigate.
One final method, which is useful for when something is troubling you, is to ask your heart to show you your inner child. Using visualisation, I picture the child-me sitting in front of me and I ask, as above, "How are you?". Or words to that effect. And I wait, watch and listen to see what little me has to say. Be warned, this can sometimes be an emotional journey.
The beauty of these methods is that you can visit them over and over and over again and uncover different answers. What you are doing here, as mentioned towards the beginning of this blog, is consciously tapping into your unconscious. Remember, your heart voice speaks the truth and lives to set free.
The final guide I'll give here is for when you are not looking for answers, but want to bathe yourself in something positive or receive something positive. For this, you simply visualise the positive, let's say it's self-love or gratitude, and visualise it filling you up. Focus on thoughts of self-love, "I am special", "I am enough", "I am beautiful", "I am strong", or on thoughts of gratitude, listing and focusing on things you are grateful for and allowing the positive energy to fill you. Similarly, if you just want to receive whatever the universe, (or God or Spirit or whatever energy system or faith you lean towards or believe in), wants to give you, then I find it helps to sit in a pose reflective of receiving a gift, open hands with palms facing upwards, and I allow my visualisation to "see" whatever it is I'm receiving. I find that this type of visualisation often comes with colour, so go with it and see what happens. For me, the light either comes through the top of the head or through the hands or it surrounds me, and the colour of the light generally reflects my needs, spiritually or in terms of energy. For example, green for balance and harmony, orange for cleansing and energising, white for purification and awakening. I don't choose the colour, I open myself to receive and see what is given. You can choose, but that is when you approach this with a specific need you know you have and then you visualise that specific colour.
And there we have it. Hopefully, that gives you a few pointers to start with as you learn to navigate your own inner voices and learn to tune into your heart voice. The more you do, the better acquainted you will become with your heart voice. The stronger your relationship with it will become and the faster you'll get at tuning into it. Please do read Blog Key 7, "Key Spaces, an introduction", as that will get you started in bridging the gap between your MB and mindfulness and meditation and also Blog Key 5, "What is visualisation?", to help get you started with how to do it.
Going forward, Blog Key 9, will bring together everything you've learnt in Blog Keys 1-8, providing a useful summation and preparing you for Blog Key 10, which will walk you through your first Key Space, setting you up to fully practice mindfulness and meditation, showing you how the breathing techniques you've learnt are doors into this new, wonderful world.
The Power of the Heart, Baptist de Pape
The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer Quiet, Susan Cain
(All can be found on the Key Books page)