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Getting Over Your Demanding Voice

Twenty years ago I sat in my first silent meditation retreat. It was the third day out of the seven and I had already shed quite a few tears discovering with horror that I couldn’t stay with my breath for more than a couple of cycles.

My mind was racing with thoughts and my body was restless with pain.

That day I stayed in the meditation hall after everyone had left. I was determined to break through that wall. I vowed to sit until I cracked this thing and simply stayed with my breath without flinching.

I sat on my cushion without moving. My bones started yelling “you’re crazy, get us out of this stupid position”, but I didn’t move.

My belly started boiling with anger, my lower back stabbed me from within. But I didn’t move.

After two and a half hours I had an encounter with an inner voice that I’d never seen so clearly before. It told me something I’ll never forget.

I call it the demanding voice.

The demanding voice seems to have a life of its own. Even though you know you need rest it’ll keep demanding that you do something or else it will call you lazy.

When you know you can’t keep doing the work you do but can’t seem to bring the energy, motivation or conviction to make a change, it’s the demanding voice that binds you with ideas about your role as _________ [fill in the details].

The demanding voice is afraid of change and no matter how clear you are about what’s good for you and how much you want to change your life to embrace beneficial habits or situations, this voice comes up with extremely compelling arguments to tell you why you can’t apply those changes.

But, at the same time, the demanding voice makes sure we don't get lost, that we’re not wasting time.

It makes sure our goals are achieved and with the help of its insistence we get to places where people say “wow, look at what you’ve done! you are so amazing, talented”. And we love that praise.

How can you give up on something that feels like an important part of achieving the things you care about?

You can’t. So even though you wished the demanding voice would stop its siege of name-calling and entrapment, the trade-off is just too high to make that change.

The relationship with our inner voices is a complex one. When we shift to treat it with love instead of fear, something quite magical happens.

After two and a half hours of sitting still on a cushion I became so tired, frustrated and disappointed that I simply started crying.

People started entering the room again. Quietly, they took their place on their cushions. And my face was inundated with salty water.

At that moment, I started feeling so peaceful inside. Feels like you’re reading some fantasy story or imaginative movie? I know, but simply put — that’s exactly how the inner peace we’re looking for happens.

The moment when you get so exhausted, when your hands are bruised from clutching at the jagged shards of crazy aspirations, there is a sweet movement of letting go.

What I’ve learned in the twenty years of following that experience is that we can achieve that level of peace without giving the demanding voice the role of the director.

The demanding voice is indeed an important part of us.

So we don’t want to be violent towards something that’s important to our psyche. Instead we turn to love in order to ask for her help.