That Voice in Your Head| Sane or insane?
Have you ever noticed that there’s a voice in your head?
A person with schizophrenia hears a mental voice just like a person without that particular condition. The only difference is, they don’t have the feeling that the voice is theirs.
Picture a conveyor belt, with a bunch of ‘thoughts’ on it. The thought could be go to the living room or that flower looks pretty.
A “sane” person has the comfortable feeling that the voice is them. It’s like each thought packet on the conveyor belt has a little tag on it that says THIS IS MINE. A person with schizophrenia might have the same thoughts, but they are missing the tag. Instead of feeling like the thought is theirs, they have the uncomfortable feeling that it is someone else’s. It’s called an auditory hallucination.
It’s so interesting to me that most of us go around with that conveyor belt of thoughts always running through our minds, and we all have the little tag that says THIS IS MINE on the thoughts.
What is that voice saying? Sometimes it narrates events (like this chairlift riding monologue, haha). Sometimes it’s harsh. Sometimes it is kind. The kinds of mind training that I’ve practiced involve trying to pay attention to what that voice says. I found that I’m so used to the constant monologue that I sometimes forget that it’s even happening.
But it is! All the time. I can hear it best when I focus on it. A great way to focus on it, in my experience, is to try to divide thoughts into two categories: a voice in my head, and an image in my head. Meditation teacher Shinzen Young calls these hear in and see in.
Before going to bed sometimes I try to do this dividing work. I’ll catch a few sentences and notice that they are hear in. Then my mind might wander for a minute, and before I know it I can see an image on my mental screen. That’s see in. Then I’m back to hearing a mental voice. It’s really interesting to notice the difference between the two modes of thinking.
So if there’s a pretty much constant conveyor belt of thought-packets running through the mind, and each one has the tag THIS IS MINE attached to it, I can end up owning and believing all sorts of things, even if they don’t really belong to me.
On a deeper level, that identification tag could even be the reason there’s a feeling of self at all. If I constantly have a feeling that thoughts belong to me, then I feel separate from other people out there who I assume don’t have the same thoughts.
The opposite of separation is unity. I believe that feeling connected and unified with everything is a much nicer state to live in than feeling blocked off, separate, and disconnected. Mind watching and mind training are ways to see the source of feeling separate. Once I see that every thought has a little ID tag on it, I can question the tag. If I never noticed those ID tags then my sense of identification could never change or broaden.
I don’t believe that it’s sane to identify with the voice all the time. I like detaching from the voice and just noticing it. I can do that by focusing on my thoughts once in a while and separating them into two piles: hear in and see in. Even if I only do this for a few minutes a day, it helps me shift my identity.
Try it out: Before you fall asleep at night, try to notice the thoughts in your head. Are you ‘hearing’ the thought or ‘seeing’ the thought? If you notice a visual impression on your mental screen, that’s ‘see in’. Other thoughts are probably ‘hear in’. Trying this for a few minutes can be really insightful. At least, it was for me! If you try it out, let me know how it went.