The Quiet Voice: On Listening to the Noise in Your Head, and Using it to Your Benefit

Close your eyes for a few seconds. You don’t need to go find a quiet place, in fact the less quiet the place, the better. Now just listen. What do you hear? No, not the droning of the world around you listen deeper. What’s going on in your head? Everyone has a voice or two (or three or ninety) in their head. They’re not voices you can literally hear, rather, they are the ones to which you listen — the ones you follow the directions of — as you go about your day and decide what you are doing.

There’s the one voice that reminds you what you have to get done today. There’s the one that tells you that you’re screwing up. There’s the one that insists that you’re an impostor, and don’t deserve any of the success you’ve achieved. There’s the one that tells you that you really haven’t achieved anything. But there there is another voice — one that often isn’t loud enough to be heard over the others. I call it the quiet voice.

What I propose is that we make time to listen to that quiet voice, because it has a lot to teach us. But the lessons are difficult to learn.

I promise, I will try to make this piece as un-self-helpy and un-fluffy as I possibly can. But there is an element of this strategy that is about getting in touch with your deeper self. You can say you don’t have time for it, and on a superficial level, you’re right; none of us do — we’ve filled our schedules to the brim. We keep filling them, too; our cups overfloweth with things to do.

But at a deeper level, we have plenty of time to get in touch with our deeper selves. We have just chosen to fill that time with other things. The tragic irony is that so many of these other things with which we have filled our time would be much less taxing, or perhaps not even choices we’d have made, if we were really in touch with our deeper selves.

The deeper self simply is that “quiet voice”. But it’s not quiet because it doesn’t have anything to say, or because it is meek. It’s quiet because it it has subsisted, and will continue to, while all the other voices we hear shriek and holler themselves to death. We hear it in those rare moments when the volume on all of the filler in our lives gets turned down. It is so rare that we hear it, and even rarer still that when we do hear it, we understand it.

The quiet voice is your bare identity. It is what you are after you strip away all of the social and status-based constraints and contortions. Below your career objectives, your religious rituals, your social obligations, and your biases tell you you should be — what are you in each bare present moment? What is that thing below all of the pretense, down below all of the promises you’ve made, and all of the strings that have been attached? What is that unencumbered nugget of existence you have buried inside of you saying?!

Answering this question is crucial for tapping into real personal growth because it’s the fountain from which all of the rest of your identity flows. It’s that part of you that connects with things right now, in the moment. It’s the part that makes the rest of your identity possible because it is where all of the passion — all of the fervor — originates.

Our modern existence finds us so at odds with what this voice is asking for, and we sense that every time we are stuck, and not sure where to go, or feel so weighed down by our daily navigations of the maze.

It takes a lot to get to that place where all of the normal buzzing and whirring of the social machine is stripped away. People enlist the help of meditation, exercise, journaling, and so many other things. But those tools must always allow for focus on the goal of digging down deep, lest they be only fancy tools with no real use.

The focus needs to be on getting into that space where the quiet voice lives. Down there, you can find just a flicker of real freedom — the freedom that comes from so many possibilities, from the ignorance about the cautions adopted throughout an adult life, ignorance about the judgments of uninformed critics. I see that flicker in my young daughter’s eyes, when she picks up toys, and begins to mix them together, unlocking new possibilities — embracing new enthusiasms.

Here’s the kicker though: just because you listen to the quiet voice, doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, or follow it’s urges. No, in fact there are a great many things that the quiet voice may say that seem despicable, that you’d never want to repeat — and that’s okay.

You need to confront those terrible things you hear and feel, to make your peace with them being there, or to begin the path to changing what your quiet voice says. Either process is fertile ground for inspiring creative work. The struggle to change or the struggle to make peace can be the struggles that sow the seeds of great art. But fear — whether fear of failure, fear of judgment, or fear of finding out what’s really down there — must not be allowed to win. When that happens, that light of possibility for true creativity, truly inspired work, dims once again.

I fear that I have failed to make this writing un-self-helpy and un-fluffy, but I am okay with that. I only promised that I would try, and try I did. Had I listened to the quiet voice initially, I probably would not have made such a promise. So it goes, but I hope that at least reading through this mumbo-jumbo helped you — that is my only real aim here. If it did help you, share it with others. Sharing is caring.

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”:

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