Mental Chatter

Meditation is quite a buzzword these days. I remember back in the 1990’s when I started to practice variuos techniques as a 20-some-odd-year-old, I was considered a little out of the norm. At the time, I was living in the Los Angeles area as an actress, which proved to be a detriment to my wellbeing. Meditation saved my life.

Meditation for me is, on a superficial level, a practice through which I can train my mind to stem the flow of inner mental chatter. In my experience, mental chatter constitutes the multitude of thoughts we impose upon the spontaneously arising thoughts inherent to our natural state. Thoughts that arise spontaneously form of their own accord, some say like waves in the ocean, and then dissolve back into the sea of our Buddha nature. Unless we mess with them.

When a thought arises, it is not “real,” or solid. It is merely the impulse of energy. It is movement which occurs to our sense of awareness as a thought. What we do with that naturally arising thought depends strictly upon our karmic tendencies. If our tendency is to be fearful, or angry, or prideful, we will take these innately moving thoughts and add gross level thoughts to them through the scope of our karmic disposition. Oftentimes we do this in a repetitive manner that seems to make the original thought a solid thing.

Say for example the thought, “it is cold in here,” arises. We have the option of letting go of that awareness the very moment it occurs to our minds. Instead, what we are habituated to doing is grabbing it and pinning onto it all sorts of judgments and assessments. From there, we add myriad gross level thoughts.

Soon, “it is cold in here” becomes the fuel for our identities as we dress that thought up in our particular projections. It arises and instead of leaving it alone, if we are the angry type, we might add onto it something like, “I can’t believe she didn’t get a fire going in the wood stove when she got up! She knew I had to prepare for my trip this morning. What did she think I would have time for? I have to shower, make breakfast, confirm my flight, and get a taxi! I bet she didn’t even feed the cats before she left! She’s always doing that, just thinking about herself!”

See how far we’ve strayed from “it’s cold in here?”

And then, we either keep gathering more evidence for our case, or we keep reviewing the proof that we’ve been intentionally wronged over and over and over. And over again. We get so caught up in our story, our mental chatter, that we become rigid-minded. We become unwilling to hear from the perpetrator, and even doubt her when she tells us she woke up late, with a bad stomach ache, and had to run out the door to take the kids to school. From our stance, which has been firmly fostered by our mental chatter, she’s just making excuses, or is lying.

If we can learn to recognize our own mental chatter, we can become less agitated in life. We can create for ourselves a sense of gentle-mindedness. And within that state, our ability to feel compassionate becomes stronger. If we humbly acknowledge the challenge that mental chatter brings to our lives, we can create the opportunity for choice, to become more open, accepting, kind, and generous-hearted.

Try this when you sit to practice meditation next time. It doesn’t matter from what tradition you choose to practice. Just take your tools and watch the flow of mental chatter. As soon as it is exposed to the light of your awareness, it will begin to slow. Soon, with practice, you will feel more space between what arises and your reactions. You will create the ability to choose how to respond, and allow consideration and compassion to be your new habitual tendencies.