Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Chronic Meditator vs The Voices

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading some books by zen teacher Cheri Huber and listening to her on-line radio show.  One of the good things about being in bed all day is that if I want to spend 8 hours lying back on my fluffy pillows, listening to a radio show, with only my black teddy-bear for company – I can! 

 I’ve been bowled over by Cheri’s work.  As I’ve said in previous posts, a lot of what she teaches is about gaining an understanding that the voice that speaks to us all day every day in our head may not have that much to contribute to our life – and (quelle horreur!) might actually be causing the suffering that’s in our life.

The voice in my head claims that what its saying is of vital importance and that it’s imperative that I listen and react to it (even when it contradicts itself). Cheri’s work is helping me to relate to this voice – not by obeying it, or flinching in reaction to its criticisms – but by investigating how it works. 

As an example of this practice, I’m going to track some feelings, sensations and thoughts I’m having around what’s present for me at the moment - anxiety and exhaustion.  I’m going to write my original thoughts and feelings in black and the commentary from ‘the voice’ in red. (I’ve learnt that a good clue to picking up which comments are from ‘the voice’ is that they often call me ‘You,’ as in ‘you’re hopeless,’ or ‘you’re too fat.’)

My overwhelming feeling is of anxiety. I'm thinking, ‘Oh God, I’ve done too much again, now my adrenals are totally overwhelmed, I feel like crap.  Oh God, this is awful.’

‘Now you’ve gone too far, you’ll never get over this adrenal spike.  Why can’t you ever stop before you get totally exhausted?  This is just hopeless.’

I start to investigate this. How does it make me feel, this voice telling me everything is hopeless?  It makes me feel anxious.  I realise that my response to this anxiety is actually making me feel more anxious.  It’s fuelling my anxiety, like hot air fanning flames.

Just noticing this makes me feel a little more relaxed.  It allows a little more spaciousness around my experience. I feel my arms slowly start to sink into the pillows.

‘ can relax a bit, but it’s never going to make a difference to this huge anxiety and adrenal surge you’ve created by overdoing it.’

How does that comment make me feel?  Good, bad, anxious or relaxed?  I feel anxious and overwhelmed! This voice seems like it’s trying to help me, but it’s actually making me feel worse.

I feel like I will never climb out from beneath this mountain of anxiety. I lie resting for a few more minutes. My heart is pounding.

‘Boy, this is bad, this is so uncomfortable.  And, worse still, it’s all my fault.  Why can you never learn to rest?  You’ve really got to somehow work out a way to stop yourself overdoing it.  It’s not rocket-science – why can’t you just be more restrained and rest more?  When will you ever learn?’

How does this voice make me feel?  Blamed, I feel blamed and criticized. I feel like I have a huge task ahead of me to change my behaviour so I never overdo it again – and I feel confusion, and overwhelmed, because I feel like I am not up to this battle.  I feel more stressed and anxious because I’m faced with this enormous work task that I’m bound to fail at.

So, I’m lying in bed, exhausted, in pain, and anxious, and a voice in my head is badgering and dictating to me about how I have to work hard to improve myself...even though it’s all hopeless.

Hmmm. The penny drops. This is a no-win situation. No wonder I’m so stressed out!

I can see quite clearly, for the first time, how my usual responses of blame and challenging myself to improve are making my situation worse.  They are promising to ‘help me’ (in the long run), but in this moment they just make me feel worse.  I suddenly realise that there is no future here – there is no ‘long run,’ there’s just the present moment and in the present moment I feel worse. Perhaps there is no point in making myself suffer in this instant?

But, now I feel stuck because what can I do?  I don’t know of any other way to respond but to urge myself to improve my habits to get myself out of this mess and make sure it never happens again. It feels very strongly that I have to criticize myself or I’ll just become so lazy I’ll never improve.  But is this true, or is this just another example of conditioning? Will my life become better or worse if I stop haranguing myself?

DOH! WORSE!’ says the voice.

‘Well...I’m not sure.’ says me. ‘Maybe there is another way.’


Will Emma and her bear find 'another way' or will the forces of evil win out??!!
Stayed tuned for the next exciting episode of...

The Chronic Meditator vs The Voices

Coming soon to a laptop near YOU!


  1. I love this post Emma. Cheri Huber sounds like a great teacher. I'm reminded of a story that Mary Grace Orr told at a meditation retreat (she's a Spirit Rock teacher). She was driving her car one day, frantically trying to get to a meeting on time and she heard that voice in her head. It was saying things like "Why can't you ever get it together to leave in time so you're not rushed?" "You idiot, you forgot your notebook." (I don't remember her exact words, but they were in this vain.)

    Then she said she suddently realized that she would never talk to other people the way she was talking to herself. That insight led her (and then us -- to whom she was telling the story) to start speaking to herself more compassionately, in both words and tone.

    I'm staying tuned for your next episode!

  2. Hi Emma,
    I love your blog, too. I'm adding your link to my blog under the ME/CFS section.


  3. What a lovely way to come back to your blog. I've missed reading it whilst I've been riding the Bob bus.

    I now have visions of you in a superhero outfit fighting the forces of evil. It's obvious that bear is your 'Robin'. :)

    I think it's about re-writing your script (sometimes literally) using a tone that is positive.

    If you think about it The Wizard of Oz could be seen as a nightmare journey of death and a young girl constantly beset by evil, but instead it's one of friendship, love and finding home (ok its a little disturbing anyway, but it's about as good as it gets this early without caffeine).

    I often overdo it and whilst I initially think 'idiot', I look back at why I overdid it. Was it a conscious choice? eg did I go to one of my kids sports events?. Was it out of my control? eg the car broke down and the fridge stopped working so it had to be dealt with? As crappy as I now feel was it worth it? Yes/No.

    Some days we do make stupid decisions and should give ourselves a shake. But at the same time realise this is not the norm. Accept our moment of insanity and realise that tomorrow is a new day. Other days we made a decision or were forced into a situation that we could not avoid. Now I'm not saying I do this well. I think as women our first instinct is to blame ourselves, working on it like you are is the only way to change that reaction.

    Can't wait for the next episode :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...