A few years ago I invited a few friends over to watch an “important” Laker game and when a commercial came on and, as I normally do, I pressed the mute button on the remote.
Suddenly the conversation stopped, the room went quiet, and they asked what I thought I was doing.
I always mute the commercials I said, and they seemed a bit disturbed but ok until I forgot to resume the audio for the game itself. “Leave the sound on!” they demanded, so they could continue to hear the “important” commentary.
I was thinking about this in light of work I’ve done in self-observation, and specifically what Eckhart Tolle calls “the voice in the head.” According to Eckhart, we identify with this stream of talking in our heads to the point of madness, thinking it is “us” — when in fact it turns out that it’s simply a bunch of conditioned sound that is, for the most part irrelevant – very much like the play by play of sports commentators.
Let’s remember a couple of things.
First, sports play by play began with RADIO. No one could see the baseball game and the sounds were “recreated” with different audio effects while the announcer described the action. It was like being blind and we needed the announce to “see” the game.
When TV came aboard, it was still quite helpful because picture quality was poor and the screen was small. Then jock “experts” were added to the mix to provide “color commentary.”
Now I watch the Lakers on high definition with a view of the action almost as good as being courtside; I can see the sweat dripping off their noses.
Besides the commercials, I can easily mute the commentary because I don’t need the announcer to tell me “What a dunk!” because you know what? — I AM WATCHING THE GAME. I saw what happened and I do not need it interpreted.
I really noticed the difference a few years ago when the Lakers’ cable channel offered “courtside view” – which had multiple cameras and microphones at courtside WITH NO PLAY BY PLAY.
(It wasn’t repeated – it was either too expensive, or it never caught on).
But what a revelation. It was really like being there – you could hear the comments of the players under their breath (yes they were swearing), you could hear dribbling and the sneakers squish on the floor, and you could hear the actual crowd sounds – awesome.
So I was thinking about what if I were in a quiet park and two guys got into a fight – and I watched and there was no play by play – “he throws a right and a left, he goes down, he gets up” – all of it completely superfluous because again, this is LIFE and I am SEEING what is happening…
I would truly be “present” to the situation – until my mind began its inevitable interpretation.
Of course human thought has evolved for some time. But it is really our new technology that has introduced this dysfunctional, invasive persistent new audio track into our lives…
We can see it on CNN, when a debate is not about what is said by the candidates, but by the commentary of the pundits. Even the President can’t give a speech that is simply taken in by the public, it needs to be analyzed.
Further, everywhere I go I must listen to music – in elevators, stores, supermarket, etc.
If I get into my car, I notice myself turning on the radio or CD player. When I come home I reach for the laptop to check my email. Now I have a smartphone and email and text follows me everywhere.
As someone pointed out, they don’t call it “programming” for nothing. Can this be healthy?
Certainly the “voice in the head” was part of our evolution in a valuable way – “Hey, there may be tigers out there” was probably a useful message back in the jungle.
But as Eckhart Tolle says, probably 90% of what goes through our minds as self-talk now is useless drivel.
Don’t take my word for it – pay attention to it and you will see for yourself — and more important —
You will notice that most of what passes for “information” is worrisome and negative. This is the result of the mainly cautionary conditioning (programming) we receive growing up from our well-intentioned parents and teachers—not to mention the “leaders” of our society.
Fear, dread and worry are our most basic operating system. We need to download some new programs.
Just as you don’t want or need someone talking to you while you’re driving (watch out over there) because it’s distracting and needless you don’t need the constant stream of commentary that passes for “significant information” calling attention to itself in your skull.
It is detrimental to your mental health.
Technology can be lauded for one thing – bringing this aspect of our psychology to our attention – and providing the example of a mute button.
What is immensely helpful is the growing capacity to also “mute” the brain’s mental chatter.
First, monitor the tone of the inner voice. If you have a particularly negative play by play announcer going on in your skull, it’s not surprising that your irritation will be projected out into the world and lead to unfortunate consequences. It may surprise you to discover that you have no friends. (Unless you live in New York where this is considered “normal”).
More important, when the voice is quiet, you will notice other things, both inside and outside. You will see that you are actually breathing, digesting and sensing automatically and miraculously – you don’t need the chatter for most important functions. And when you begin to intimately sense how other parts of your body actually feel, they will relish the attention and respond with friendliness and well-being.
You will also listen more attentively to others and begin to notice significant aspects of your environment that you hadn’t even bothered with before: sun, clouds, ocean, birds, flowers, and cats. There will even be space in your mind for other thoughts and feelings, often expanding your potential and horizons.
Ideas may even come in from other sources that you hadn’t expected. Some good, some useless, but as the new observer of all of this, “you” will have a choice whether to give a thought attention or “mute” it.
My friend Michael Jeffreys likes to say that your chatty mind is both the fire chief, and the arsonist – it first sets the “fire” – a problem arises – and then demands it be extinguished – solved.
But as Eckhart Tolle rightly points out, neither the arsonist nor the fire chief is really “you.” You are what can notice this neurotic behavior.
When the arsonist informs you there’s a problem, “you” can actually evaluate and decide if it’s really a problem and you need to deal with it immediately, later, or at all.
Indeed, if there is a real fire, you’re going to get the hell out of there, trust me.
But for other “emergencies”, like someone pulling out coupons on the express lane at the market, or a “jerk” cutting you off in traffic, the abrupt disruption of your tranquility will be increasingly reduced, as will the risk of you getting murdered.
It’s like when the phone rings – and you rush to pick it up. Let the machine answer sometimes – the world will go on — and you retain a measure of control of your reactionary responses.
Eckhart suggests that a mass adoption of this sort of “presence” will have a healing effect on the entire planet, and well it might, because for one thing we’ll buy less shit we don’t need, and dump less plastic into the oceans.
One final thought—Krishnamurti and others have noted that when you name a bird you no longer really see the bird… The tendency to instantly label our experience separates us from life.
Don’t take my word for it. Experiment for yourself – try the mute button on your mind for a few days or a week and you’ll see – you won’t go back to the annoying “play by play announcer” except for focused moments of significant attention – like doing your taxes, satisfying your boss or arguing with your spouse.
The rest of the time your boss’ voice, your spouse’s voice and your own deranged prattle can subside and life can be experienced as it is – without color commentary.
“You” will magically reappear in your own life, and perhaps really see it and experience it for the first time.