After years of clearing up my mind, I noticed that my inner voice sometimes uses short phrases to bring negative trains of thought to an end. It was a habit I was aware of but had never given any thought to.
The phrases are not pretty; e.g. “I hate them all,” “fuck them,” “who cares about assholes like that,” etc.
My guess is this kind of inner speech is not uncommon. I was using it to end various lines of thought that had wandered into painful territory.
Having a clearer mind today or at least believing I did, I decided that when phrases or words like that came up again, I would not let them shut off my thoughts as I had been doing. Rather I would let the thoughts continue, explore what was there.
What I found is a bunch of old memories and emotions that were fairly easy to clean up. They were not so much repressed as not having been visited for many years. The nasty phrases were like labels in an old, unused filing cabinet.
About half the material was out of date and easy to toss. Another one-quarter was pertinent but was stuff I had dealt with in other ways and was thus redundant.
Only about a quarter of the material lying behind those nasty phrases deserved more thought.
In some of the most interesting cases, I realized that I was letting someone off too easy by hiding their behavior inside a neutral memory. They actually had been horrible but I had been too young to understand (narcissists, for example). Analyzing that stuff over again in a more mature mind was a bit of a chore, but the results have been good, even refreshing.
The process is ongoing. It does resemble cleaning an attic or an old filing cabinet. The stuff I found behind those nasty phrases was not all the stuff from my past. It was just stuff where I was blaming someone or feeling angry about something or had been harmed by someone. The bad stuff I’ve done is elsewhere in my mind.
I am struck by several things concerning those phrases and what lay behind them. One is a lot of that material dates back to childhood and early adulthood. It was not so much unconscious as not having been visited for a long time. Though most of it does not have strong emotional valence, some of it is very revealing because it brings together memories that had been disconnected, leading me to understand dramas or aspects of experience I had not understood before even though I had lived them. I also notice that it was just a few words that closed off those “files.” The power of words to command silence in the mind.
I had been dismissing all that material with just a few words whenever I didn’t feel like going there, which was every time. After not going there for many years, it was refreshing to poke around and rearrange those parts of my mind. I am quite sure I freed up some memory space and removed some snags in my thinking by dealing with that stuff. I also see new patterns within my general sense of my past, patterns with better explanatory power, both truer and more concise.
I see our minds as having a structure sort of similar to language or a forest. Trees of ideas, memories, and feelings grow and change. It’s good to remove some of them sometimes, put the space to better use. Buddhist practice is very helpful in endeavors like this. Rather than get all worked up with Freudian passions and delusions, we can simply observe, dismiss, refile, erase, upgrade, or reimagine as needed based on our capacities and understanding of what’s best.
Our bhavanga or “storehouse consciousness” contains memories, pictures, ideas, words., explanations They flow along with us, in many ways are us. When the mind is clear, a lot of that material can be rearranged for the better. There aren’t many rules for that. Just do your best.