by Rev. Eric Elnes, Ph.D.
In my last post I quoted the apostle Paul where he writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” I actually didn’t quote the full statement. The full statement is: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God -what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Apparently, when we turn down the volume of the external voices in order to hear more clearly the internal ones, we may hear God’s voice in the mix.
Last Saturday, I attended the 90th birthday party of a member of my church. We had a grand old time celebrating her long life with the help of about a hundred and twenty of her closest friends, a magician, and of course, lots and lots of cake and ice cream. Having spent the last three months working hard to lose twenty pounds – and having another twenty to go before I’m through – I steeled myself against the temptation to indulge in either the cake or the ice cream. I did not “conform myself to the world” that kept asking me – even expecting me – to take a piece.
Yet, when I later stopped for a cup of coffee at Panera, I couldn’t help but notice a large chocolate chip cookie staring at me from behind the counter. I may have been successful at not being “conformed to the world” when offered cake at the birthday party, but now with just myself and my “heart” to listen to, I found that there wasn’t just one Eric staring at the cookie. There were many. Here are just a few of the Eric’s I heard from:
Eric #1:”You know better. Just pay for your coffee and get out of here before you succumb to temptation!”
Eric #2: “COOKIE? COOOOKIE? I AM COOKIE MONSTER! GIMME COOKIE!”
Eric #3: “Hey, you’ve been doing such an admirable job with your weight lately. People are noticing. Don’t blow it now!”
Eric #4: “That cookie’s 300 calories. A half hour on the treadmill would erase it from your waistline!”
Eric #5: “You know you’re going to eat that cookie. Why make it hard on yourself justifying your behavior. Just get it over with and buy the thing!”
Eric #6: “Are you really going to let something as paltry as a cookie tempt you off your diet? You’re better than that. Believe in yourself! Just grab your coffee and go!”
Eric #7: “You are a worm – a despicable worm! Of course you’re going to eat the cookie. You’re too weak to control yourself”
Eric #8: “I wonder how [my daughter] Arianna is doing with her final exams down in Argentina? She sure sounded happy in her last email. It seems like she’s having all those experiences you hope for in a study-abroad program. Those memories will last a lifetime!”
Eric #9: “Cookie? What cookie? Oh, that. Nah, why would I want that? I already had four tacos, a slice of apple pie, and a Rice Krispies treat at the choir party last night!”
Although I acted on just one of these voices (#9, if you’re wondering), the point is that each of them were authentically me. Each voice is one that I’m used to hearing in my head constantly. They offer their opinion on any number of subjects, from purchasing cookies to purchasing homes; from considering food choices to choosing a president. Chances are, these voices are familiar to you, too. In fact, they correspond to some of the great archetypal voices identified by psychologists and mystics alike – and discussed at Darkwood Brew last Sunday (See our fun film compilation of these archetypes!).
They could be called (in order of appearance): The Parent, The Free-Child, The Peer Group, The Pragmatist, The Pessimist, The Hero, The Adversary, The Holy Spirit or Comforter, and The True Self.
Did you notice the Holy Spirit in that list? I didn’t call one of the voices the Holy Spirit simply because I’m blogging about how one listens for the Spirit. The voice of the Spirit is there because it is really, genuinely a part of us – albeit a part that we have no real control over. It’s the voice that’s very much within the mix of the voices billowing around inside our heads. It’s what makes it possible to, in Paul’s words, “discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I’ve put together a summary of the above nine voices within us based on a list originally developed by Rev. Bruce Van Blair (our Skype Guest for the entire 6-week “Upside Down Faith” series earlier in the year). If you want to try something fun (and surprisingly helpful), take a few minutes to get quiet and locate a question that’s burning within you – something specific to you and your life. Then, take 20-30 minutes to simply write notes to yourself in the voices below. Feel what the Free Child is wanting to tell you, for instance, then write it down. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. You’d be amazed at how often this simple exercise can shake lose some profound insights!
SOME VOICES WITHIN
There are only nine here, but you no doubt have others:
1) THE PARENT (conscience) Stern disciplinarian; you should be more compassionate and considerate of others. Jiminy Cricket – “Let your conscience be your guide” “You’ll shoot your eye out!” – A Christmas Story
2) THE FREE-CHILD (creativity, naivete) Inspiring but not always very responsible or realistic) “Come on, live a little!” – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
3) THE PEER GROUP (popularity) Co-workers – friends – best friend – spouse – children – respected sibling. “I was just tryin’ to be a sheep dog.” – Babe the pig
4) THE PRAGMATIST (security – survival – here and now) Practical, worldly-success advisor. Logic – common sense – “As far as I can see . . .” (How far is that?) Boss – lawyer – financial planner – business associate.
5) THE PESSIMIST (shadow – cynic- depression) Nothing works or lasts – it isn’t worth it. “… if it is a good morning, which I doubt” – Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh
6) THE HERO (idealist) Who are your heroes? “I have a dream …” – MLK
7) THE ADVERSARY (The Accuser – ventriloquist – liar – short-cut artist) Can imitate the wording, but not the tone, of the Spirit’s “voice” – that is, patience and affirmation, peace, quiet joy – would give away the false note in what the Accuser is doing. Cannot mimic the Holy Spirit very long – cannot be calm, quiet, with your deepest spiritual self-interest at heart, getting you in tune with God. Show a little disrespect!
8) THE HOLY SPIRIT (the breath behind your breath) God’s appeal is deep and clean and “good” – hard maybe, but beautiful. It is calm – reassuring – no guilt or fear that is not “situation reasonable.” Who do you most want to please? Who is your audience?
9) THE TRUE SELF (identity of what you will become – “Higher Mind”) Soul – will. You are born with more than you realize (wisdom – archetypes – identity – purpose), but you have to find it – call if forth. Education for techniques and information – Prayer/meditation for wisdom and truth.
Our object is to get the True Self (higher mind – will – soul) into the chairperson’s seat – and keep it there. You cannot control the Holy Spirit, or decide when or what the Spirit will communicate. The Soul within will listen – and respond – with much comment from the other voices at times. But if you put your True Self in charge, get to know, appreciate and respect the other voices, and listen to them but not let them control or bully you, that is what you can do. The rest is up to the Spirit.
Remember: You cannot pray or “know God” above the level of your own self-awareness. To know thyself and to develop spiritually is the same path. (Augustine) You must spend some time alone, in reflection, on a regular basis, if you want to make friends with yourself. And if you do that, you will also encounter the One who made you – and Who knows who you really are, and what you are here for.