Inner Gossip

Jul 15, 2010

“My mind is a dangerous neighborhood and it’s risky to go there alone.” One of the dangers of my inner neighborhood is gossip. I know the devastation of gossip in the real world outside of my head. A year ago I wrote about its exponential growth in a post called The Mathematics of Gossip. I’ve learned to resist (most of the time) the urge to say aloud damaging words I’ll regret. But it’s much more difficult to tame the invisible tongue in my head than it is the nubby, four-inch muscle in my flesh and blood mouth.

The stories I tell and the rumors I spread in my own thoughts are just as destructive as those on the airwaves. When my internal tongue wags, the neighborhood in my head becomes full of resentment and chaos. All of the characters in my mind throw in their two cents. Real and imagined scenarios and stories about the object of my gossip grow larger than life.

Quelling the inner gossip takes enormous discipline. In her book Start Where You Are : A Guide to Compassionate Living (pp. 34-35), Pema Chodron says we tend to “act out or repress” in response to those messy inner feelings. Both responses are detrimental to the serenity and health of my inner neighborhood. Instead, she suggests we acknowledge the feelings, but “drop the story line.” Until I read her words, I didn’t realize how much of an internal storyteller I can be–and how those stories become epics of obsession. My friend Page says it another way: “Don’t let the train (the story) leave the station.” Because as it leaves the station, it picks up steam and adds new cars.

So here is my new discipline. When the thoughts come into my head I notice and name them–“resentment,” “anger,” “jealousy,” “shame,” “fear”…. Then I let them go. Maybe I’ll have to do it again 15 seconds later. But I’m going to resist creating a story and spreading gossip. It’s not good for the loving community I’m trying to build in the neighborhood of my mind.

By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue – it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer.With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image.” (James 3: 6-9 MSG)