We have 10,000 thoughts a day…and 8,000 of them are the same thoughts we had yesterday.–Buddhist saying.

Our ‘internal dialog’ is the constant flow of thoughts we have about the world and our condition in it as we move through the day. While this flow of thoughts may contain images for many of us it also contains an internal dialog, a flow of comments that represent our evaluation of what is going on. I am going to start by belittling the internal dialog and then when I’m finished I’ll come to its defense.

If you have ever spent time monitoring your own internal dialog you might have found it to be a humbling experience. When I have done that I am appalled by the mundane inanity of my thoughts. It is like discovering that I have Howard Cossell in my head making a running commentary on my life (you probably have to be my age or older to understand that reference). Our internal dialog is sometimes referred to as ‘the drunken monkey’ in our head, as our stream of thoughts, when examined from outside the process of having them, are of that approximate quality.

The problem with the internal dialog is that it takes our consciousness away from experiencing reality and focusses it instead on our interpretation of, and reaction to, reality. When we are heavily into internal dialog we experience the world through a thick layer of interpretation, attending to the meaning we have assigned to what is happening rather than to what is actually going on. A problem with that is that we will often miss information that could change how we interpret what is going on. Ways in which reality doesn’t fit our interpretation don’t make it to our consciousness if we focus exclusively on the interpretation. The internal dialog often takes us away from the present moment to rehash what has happened in the past (justifying how we feel about it, or what we should have done differently, or what we wished would have happened) or to what is approaching in the future (perhaps running through various scenarios and how we will react, or simply looking with dread or tedium on what is coming up). It also takes us away from what is in front of us to other things we want to think about (e.g. thinking about work while being at home). The internal dialog is pure yachay, 100% thought.

The challenge in almost any meditation I can think of is that to pursue the meditation involves attending to something other than the internal dialog, and our internal dialog is so habitual that after a few seconds of putting our consciousness somewhere else we find that we have drifted back into thinking and interpreting, back into our internal dialog. To a large degree the skill that develops with practice at meditating involves being able to spend longer and longer time periods free of internal dialog. My strategy is, when I notice I have gone back to my internal dialog, to just smile to myself and gently pull my consciousness back to the focus of the meditation. That, and a lot of practice. Even then I find there are some days when turing off my internal dialog is like trying to ignore a marching band passing a few feet away. Then there are the times when I’m meditating and the thought arises “Hey, I have managed to turn off my internal dialog!” (which of course is my internal dialog speaking).

I mention all this for those of you who are trying out the Andean meditations and who don’t have much background in meditating. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself, if you like the experiences enough to keep going, if they touch you at a deep level, then persevere with patience. If not, well, there is no moral imperative to continue. Over the years my friends and I have explored many non-Western paths, Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, and otherisms. They are all worthy paths with a heart. Most of us have, eventually, found a path that just feels right for us. That is how it is with me and Andean mysticism (as I have learned it), it feels right for me without any implication that this would mean it is right for everyone (see the post Fallacies). It might be the same way for you, or perhaps not.

When learning to meditate a lot of the focus is on turning off the internal dialog so that the alternative focus of the meditation can be attended to. The internal dialog, however, is not a bad thing, it is incredibly useful to us. To get around in our world, particularly in our society, we need to be able to interpret things in a way that is similar to those around us. In addition, it is my internal dialog that convinces me I need to get up in the morning, go to the store , save money to go to the Andes, mend a spat I’ve had with a friend, take my vitamins, sit in front of my computer and write my posts, figure out ways to help the Qero, and so on. It is just that (at least for me) if I operate on autopilot then my internal dialog, my yachay, makes up 99% of my way of being in this world, and there is so much more to explore, so many other ways of understanding and being in this world, ways of great beauty, sometimes scary, an adventure that makes my life worth living to me.

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