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A Hidden Lever and Emotional Control (Part 1)

There are three things to unpack…

  • The first experience (about internal monologues, with some practical advice),

  • The second experience (about the experience of fear, with some practical advice), and

  • A big, crazy out-there/not so out-there idea about what it could all mean.

This post is going to be about the brain, the will and emotional control which are all things that I have been growing to understand and experiment with in what seem to be rather important ways over this past year. In particular, they have served a life of greater peace, clarity, a kind of discipline; of greater self-control... and I think they've even helped my life of prayer.

Perhaps some of these same discoveries might be of use to you.

A Quick Overture

Before we dive in, I want to give you some idea of where I’m coming from with all of this. I still very much plan to write a future article or two on the “mechanisation” and bifurcation of the mind and how that is proving to be an effective model for thinking, experiencing, adapting and interacting with reality (including things, ourselves and other people)… but for now, I’ll just give one nugget of this idea to frame the current discourse…

Basically, the idea is that one “half” or at least one of two parts of our mind has a proclivity to process reality “in detail” as if pixel by pixel, thus overly mechanising and stultifying the mind, instead of allowing it to appreciate and relate to reality more fluidly and organically. This ends up having deep effects on everything from logic, to our relationships, to the way that we enjoy music… but one such thing it seems to be connected to is the monologue that people tend to run in their heads. The habitual internal monologue seems to be either a symptom of the “narrow-mind” attempt to process everything ad-nauseam, or if it is not a symptom, it might just be one example of that process in action.

Anyway, what point am I trying to get to?

The point is that the current mental model that I’m referring to maps these features onto the brain and proposes that the parts of the brain which link the “narrow mind” to the “wide mind” are in fact inhibitory when they are activated. What does that mean? In a word, that when we have that monologue or do the narrow-focused, pixel-by-pixel thinking… we can turn it off.

The First Experience: The Internal Monologue

So there I was, ambling around on one of my daily walks as I so often do, jabbering away inside my head as I so often do thinking about a myriad of different things. But not exploring and expounding upon great thesis-like tapestries of discovery that reach further and further into new creative areas of insight… oh no. Much of the time, it was a case of re-treading the same paths over and over again... in brief, I was having an internal monologue.

Now, it’s not like such a state of mind is permanent for me, or that I skulk as much as I walk, muttering to myself like some kind of schizophrenic who is practising his rap freestyle skills, but this was certainly a habit I would fall into fairly regularly. More importantly in the months prior to this, I had come to understand that, for a variety of reason, this really wasn’t a very good thing and really not the kind of help to myself as it seemed to be.

Connected to this habit of monologue was also a habit of narrow-focus, i.e. literally paying “narrow” attention to things around me… but more on that in a moment.

Anyway, like I alluded to, I encountered the idea that these types of monologues are a result of a narrowing of the mind, which results from the narrowing of the brain which, according to this author, results from a miscommunication between the two hemispheres and what is actually an excess of traffic between them. The traffic is a result of the under-management through an area where the cells are inhibitory when activated.

With all of these ideas in my mind, I caught myself within this monologue again one day and wondered if I could “switch it off” by sheer force of will...

The result?

It worked.

I found that if I simply told my mind to “stop”, not in words but by a kind of raw intention or will, it would. Sometimes it would "slip" and I would catch myself in a monologue again, but once I caught myself, I could press "stop" and it would stop (even if this was only momentary).

One of the first things I want to try and describe is what it felt like or seemed like to do it...

Many people I speak to about this either “get it” right away or feel bewildered by it, and I suppose that many who feel bewildered just think of an internal monologue as something dominating. I suppose that they don’t see it as a “habit” but more like a raw natural occurrence like experiencing a strain of the eyes on a particularly sunny day… yet, in truth, they’re not like that. This kind of play of the mind is more like a rabble of children who are running amuck because they’ve never received proper discipline. Much like disciplining a group of children, shutting down a monologue really does feel like a parent assertively, dominantly (although calmly) setting the tone for a room. For me, it almost felt like I was putting a mental hand into the middle of my brain, combined with all the force of mind that comes when I might look a naughty child in the eye and say “stop” without the word actually being thought or said.

And… it stopped.

That was the marvel… that really was the wonder of the situation.

Why? You might be asking… and the answer is: because it stopped – I stopped it – and I didn’t know that I could.

It was as if (or perhaps literally as if) I had discovered a new muscle that had never been exercised before; that I had found a new “lever” in my mind that I never knew that I could pull.

It was a clear glimpse at something… long upon my life I had always assumed that certain of these mental habits and patterns that I was “locked into” were somehow engrained in me. Now I discovered that, perhaps, there was something different… some way to break free.

A second example of this same phenomenon is part-and-parcel of the same kind of experience. Insofar as I found my attention “narrowing” internally into these monologues, I also began to notice that my attention tended to “narrow” externally when looking at the world around me. My eyes were constantly zapping from one detail to another, yet seldom just “soaking up” and entire scene or vista. And so, now that these new possibilities were unlocked, I wondered: does it have to be that way?

I noticed the phenomenological sensation of the “narrow” focus itself: when we narrowly focus on details, it’s almost as if our mind and attention are “reaching out” over to the thing to “grab onto it”. In that respect, it’s very much a kind of “leaning forward” and “zooming-in” sensation in terms of attention. Also, this had a physical feeling attached to it. And so, I wondered if I could mentally exercise something different… first, like with the monologue, I simply stopped the habit of “grabbing” with my focus which, by itself, seemed to allow my mind more space to simply “experience” or “appreciate” my sense-date. Then, if I felt my mind trying to “zoom-in”, I would wilfully “pull it back” (like a rambunctious child), and basically force my attention to “sit back” in its broader focus. And it really did feel like my mind or brain was “sitting back” and soaking up the view.

Hence, I found that the same kind of activity applied in the same way to something different. In essence, I found that there are hidden “levers” in the mind/body; they are at once psychological and physiological. Psychological because of their place in the mind, and physiological because they correlated with what felt like real, physical sensations and pressures in the body; I felt the physical sensation of stopping the monologue and a physical sensation of “zooming out”.

Now, the final thing to mention is that these “levers” really do seem to function like muscles. People have since asked me whether I never have internal monologues any more and the answer is simply “no” – they do still occur. But here’s the thing: they occur less now than they did a month ago, and way less than they did a month before.


I put it down to the fact that I am simply more in the habit of shutting them down when they occur. Most of the time, were are already “in” a monologue before we even realise it’s started, and for many that can feel like they’re already swept up in it… but I’ve found that we always have the option to wrestle them down and quiet them once we discover that they’re chattering, and the consistent application of this counter-habit is like taking the money out of the whack-a-mole machine… they just don’t seem to pop-up so much any more.

I’ve noticed the same thing with my attention in which consistent attempts to live in “broad attention” has made subsequent attempts easier to start and maintain.

And so, that’s what I want to share with all of you (because I know that this stuff doesn’t just apply to me): there are things in our minds that govern our mental activity right down to the most basic levels like how we habitually think or how we even pay attention to things… and we can have conscious, wilful control over them, and exercise them like muscles… and that’s pretty cool.

This seems to have some strong significance for emotions, too. But more on that next.

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