The great Himalayan Sage, Swami Rama, said, "If you learn to have an internal dialogue, you will become comfortable with yourself."
Many people, perhaps most, talk with themselves. Recently, I visited a professional office, and the very pleasant receptionist, who had many tasks to accomplish, constantly muttered to himself, saying things like "okay, now I need to write this letter; now I need to give this man his bill; oh, this person keeps calling!....." It went on and on. Have you ever caught yourself talking to yourself like this? I have.
Perhaps this is fairly common, although most people don't do it out loud when others are within earshot. Talking to yourself in this way may help us stay focused and feel less lonely, but it doesn't generally lead to greater wisdom and inner peace. Rather, this sort of self-talk tends to be a habitual, almost automatic, audible expression of our inner disquiet.
Internal dialogue, on the other hand, is a way of reducing our inner disquiet by helping us make choices based on awareness and wisdom rather than habit; by strengthening our connection with our innate wisdom; and by resolving inner conflicts.
Sounds good? If so, you might be wondering how to do internal dialogue. One way is to simply talk with our mind as we might talk with a friend, listening, asking questions, and supplying information that leads to greater awareness and wisdom. For example, sensing a strong urge to sate her hunger with handfuls of twinkies, Susan (a fictional person) might ask, "Mind, how will eating twinkies help advance your goals of feeling well and losing weight?"
"I'm hungry and I want twinkies," responds her mind, somewhat childlike.
Taking this opportunity to help the mind consider the whole picture, Susan says, "but when you ate twinkies last time, do you remember how you felt?"
"Not so well I think."
"Right. Afterward you felt agitated and were upset that you blew your diet."
Then the mind might say, "That's true."
"What would help you feel well?" says Susan to her mind.
"I don't know."
"How about we work together and come up with some ideas?" says Susan.
So the dialogue proceeds. Susan, as the dialoguer listens and asks questions as appropriate, with a goal of helping her mind come to greater awareness so a choice can be made, consciously, based on reality, rather than unconsciously, based on desire and habit.
Notice how Susan is being friendly, respectful, and not pushy or punitive with her mind. This is crucial for success of the dialogue.
Many people have a tendency to talk to themselves in a demeaning way, such as "you're an idiot. You're so stupid for wanting to eat Twinkies when you know they are bad for you." But when we talk with ourselves in this way, it sets up an adversarial relationship between one part of our mind and another, and this creates an inner-conflict, which agitates us rather than bringing us inner-peace.
If someone talked to me like that, instead of cooperating, I might have an urge to sabotage the process. It's the same with the mind.
Similarly, many people habitually make demands on their mind, saying, "You should do this, "or "you must do that." But, just like when we demean ourselves, making demands of ourselves also creates an inner-duality, creates an inner conflict, and isn't helpful.
It is said that a horse can be led to water but not made to drink. It's the same with internal dialogue. The mind can be led to wisdom, but can't be made to choose wisely without creating resistance. So, rather than bullying the mind into wisdom, simply help it become aware of reality, so that the benefits of wisdom are obvious, and allow the mind to choose. The mind wants to be happy, and when aware of the facts, will likely choose well. Even if the mind chooses unwisely, if you're aware and carefully observe the consequences of the choice, the mind will likely be more open to choosing wisely in the future.
So, the best way to do internal dialogue is as a helper, like a friend, coach or counselor, whose intention is to help the mind find the best way to fulfillment. Doing this is practicing ahimsa, non-harming, with ourselves. When we act as our mind's friend in this way, rather than splitting the mind into warring polarities, we promote inner-peace.
An internal dialogue can be about any subject. If we are confused, we can ask our mind "what is true in this situation?" One might ask the mind what the best way is to meditate, or to do any task. Swami Veda Bharati suggests that, when we have a choice to make in life directions, we can ask ourselves "which way will lead toward my spiritual goals? Which will lead away from my spiritual goals?" Then we choose the way that best leads to our goals. Swami Rama suggests doing a brief internal dialogue upon first sitting for meditation, about whatever might be on the mind at that time, to clear the mind of conflicts and agitation.
In addition to leading our mind toward wiser, more loving choices, internal dialogue also helps us discover our innate wisdom and to become better connected with it. Then, rather than always seeking wisdom outside of ourselves, we increasingly find it inside. As we practice internal dialogue, we come to trust ourselves more, to have more inner peace, and to flow though life more smoothly.
It is in this way that internal dialogue can lead us, as Swami Rama said, to become more comfortable with ourselves.
Appreciation to Atem Ramsundersingh and Lori Smith for their helpful questions about internal dialogue that led to this article.