There was once a wise man. He had been visiting for some time the city of Asyufindit. In his time there he had seen everything and observed it all impartially, but knowingly. One day the wise man left the city. He was a traveller by nature, and by travelling he met many people and learned many things. When he had been going for some time he met a traveller coming in the other direction. They stopped and chatted a while as travellers do. 'Tell me,' the traveller said, 'I have heard many things about Asyufindit'. 'What have you heard?' the wise man asked. 'Oh I’ve heard it’s a wonderful place. That the people are welcoming and friendly, that business is honest, play is joyful and sport is fair.'
The wise man was watching the other man carefully but discreetly for a few moments. 'Yes that is true,' he said, 'you will enjoy your time there very much. And if you decide to settle there I’m sure you will be very happy.' The traveller was very pleased to hear this and smiled happily. 'Here, let me offer you some food, I’m sure you must be hungry. I was fortunate enough to be given a package of food in the last village.' 'Yes I’m not surprised,' the wise man said somewhat enigmatically. They shared the lunch, and, both well-fed, they said their goodbyes and went their respective ways.
Further on down the road, the next day, the wise man met another traveller coming in the other direction. They stopped and greeted one another. 'Tell me,' the traveller said, 'I have heard many things about Asyufindit'. 'What have you heard?' the wise man asked. 'Well I’ve heard that the people are not very friendly. In fact you can’t trust anyone and you have to take great care, particularly if you do any business, they’ll rob you blind. And as for…'
And while the traveller was talking the wise man looked him over carefully, and when he had finished speaking, the wise man said, 'Yes what you say is true. You will find the people unfriendly and you will have quite some difficulty in having honest dealings with anyone.' The traveller was actually gratified to hear this, just as he’d heard, he thought, and being forewarned is forearmed too. Just then the wise man said he was hungry and asked if he had a little food he could spare. The traveller said he was afraid he had just enough for himself and could not spare any. The wise man said he understood completely. And so they parted and went their opposite ways.
The inner dialogue
First thoughts on this are likely to relate to everyday life. The better we think of others the more likely we are to get on well with them. And if we think badly of others we tend to find those qualities reflected in our life. But there is also another way to understand it, that this same relationship exists in our inner world too. There I have a relationship with myself, between me and myself, carried on as an inner dialogue.
Listen carefully and you'll find that there's a background commentary going on most of the time. It's there in the background so it may not be obvious or even noticeable at first. It’s unconscious and if we do notice it, we may even feel dissociated from it, like it's not really me, or doesn't matter anyway. We are not talking about the relationship with others here, but only the relationship between me and myself. If this relationship is positive and in harmony then we find that we are able to accept our more disparate qualities much more evenly. And conversely if this relationship is negative there is more struggle and debate and conflict within.
Is the mind always right?
Monitoring the inner dialogue is vitally important, and discovering this can be something of a turning point. First of all recognising it for what it is and letting it play out unconsciously, but watching and observing all the while, is a big step in expanding awareness to include our inner nature, what we’re like when it really comes down to it. And in due course, even more importantly, once the awareness has reached a level of observation and acceptance free of preference or rejection, then it becomes possible to reprogram the background commentary so that actually the negative can become a positive. How is it done?
There is no existing authority that is able to ratify definitely that any thought that you have about yourself is true and accurate. The apparent truth or accuracy of thought is dependent only on what you think about it - the source of our inner dialogue. Take it to be true and it will be to be so becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Question the truth of it and that can set up a chain reaction leading to a deconstruction of all the thoughts that make up the dialogue.
A recognisable example
Just take an example. If I look across a room and see a friend of mine talking to somebody that I don't know, looking in my direction and laughing. What do I think? The positive view may be that there really isn't any particular thought, but if there is one, there's two people, one of whom happens to be my friend, having a pleasant conversation, nothing more. But on the other hand, possibly an inner dialogue begins with the thought that, as I see my friend talking to someone else, looking at me, laughing, then he must be saying something unpleasant at my expense.
At this point I don't know the truth of the matter. But in the second case the mind, through the apparent evidence (talking to someone, looking at me, laughing), the evidence is there that he is talking unkindly about me. Now let’s suppose that the actual truth is that my friend is just having a pleasant chat and happens to be looking my way at the same time. However, I have chosen to see it differently, jumped to a conclusion, and now my inner dialogue is fast establishing it as fact, as the truth.
Brooding on it overnight, waking up the next morning, I reinforce it and wonder about the nature of my friendship. And if I'm really foolish and following an even more negative trend of thinking, I do not try to find out what happened, by talking to him for instance; and in the course of time gossip to others about it, about someone who used to be my friend, and put him down whenever his name comes up. And so it goes, and in the end making myself very unhappy.
Catch it the moment it happens
Exactly the same kind of preconceived notions are laid down in the mind, accumulating into a store of reinforced opinions that make up the inner dialogue, so that when they return later, their origin now unidentified, they appear as established fact, verified long ago, perhaps on some spurious idea which amounted to pure fantasy.
Now suppose you are able to catch the exact moment when the first thought - like when seeing the friend across the room and his apparently disloyal behaviour - arises in the mind. And make it possible at that moment to catch the rush of thoughts that are mounting an assault in the mind, and step back just enough to allow the thoughts to occur, but not to give them any credence, no credibility at all, until they have done with their presentation, and a clearer mind can verify the truth one way or the other.
And in meditation…
All that can also happen later in meditation too because these things do come back for further verification. You get another go at it! And it all becomes clear in meditation where we learn to maintain the awareness as a neutral point independent of all thought and emotional reaction. It's not denial, it's just an unwillingness to buy into just any idea and then the sequence of thoughts which lead to conclusions, without closer inspection, which may turn out to be only a construct of the mind, the mind's fantasy, with no connection to actual reality at all.
Just stand still and wait to see where it goes before jumping to any conclusion. Then in time you’ll see where it comes from, what motivated the thoughts in the first place. Following this course of action, when the real conclusion finally arises, it’s likely to be very different from the one anticipated by the mind before being observed by the awareness and neutralised. And you will know for sure at this moment where the truth really lies.
Include the doubter in the doubting
Doubt comes to every mind. Uncertainty is what we live with and try in so many ways to find an antidote for. And doubt is one of them. But before doubt turns from speculation into hard fact, reinforced by repeated thoughts in the mind, like a dialogue, why not include the doubter in the doubting? What that means is that if you allow yourself the luxury of doubting anything, question also yourself, the one who is having the doubt, and your own point of view - to be really fair, shouldn’t that also come under suspicion too.
Why automatically assume that the mind is so infallible that it cannot be making a mistake in having the doubt in the first place. Let the doubter be heard, but questioned also, and it becomes gently neutralised by the powerful presence of awareness, which accepts nothing as true on face value. There is a quiet wisdom that is waiting to be heard once the noisy trumpets of the mind have packed up and gone home.
And an experiment…
You can experiment with this: With any thought or opinion you have that is just there, has always been there and taken for granted, check in your baggage for a while - you can pick it up later, but just for a while put it all down. Don’t allow that opinion to justify itself (think of the implications in the story). And then consciously, actively substitute a different more positive starting point around which more positive thoughts and then ideas and then opinions can form. You get the idea, it’s not a big deal… You’ll find that the mind is much more flexible than you think it is than if you let any thought and opinion rule and represent you in the accustomed way. Then when you're done you can go back and pick up your bags again if you want to.
This is not idle philosophy where we might say, oh there’s some truth in that, and then forget it. Pause for a moment and, like so many things in life, you’ll find there’s an inner logic, which does not necessarily come easy, but is borne out by practice, trial and error, by building a little faith and finding it to be true. Then there is truth too in the saying: Take a good look at yourself and you will look at others differently. And make ourselves and others around us a lot happier into the bargain.
The two travellers epitomise the inner dialogue, one as a positive and one as a negative. The wise man is the awareness, who sees it all accurately, hints quietly, but does not intervene.