20. Willing- an exercise in self-discipline: Against Rumination

by Culture and Anti Culture

(Also see Post 18-Thinking, Post 19-Feeling)

(For context see Post 1)

Any willed, repetitive exercise leads to new patterns and strengths in life.  The only reliable way
to overcome bad, well established habits is by displacing and suppressing them with contrary good habits, the central purpose of any exercise.

One of the most terrible and widespread afflictions of modern and postmodern humanity is rumination.  Rumination is the endless inner production of word-stuff: sentences, sentence fragments and words.  It has been called arguing with yourself until you win.  It is a kind of inner noise.  Much of what people say aloud is actually externalized rumination.

Rumination-like inner vocalization can be quite useful when properly used.  For example, writing and using a shopping list, or following a map and written directions.  However, rumination is NOT a source of fundamental truth or insight.

Rumination is largely a learned behavior and trained into us – in order to make us neurotically suggestible and vulnerable to advertising and propaganda.  It promotes many bouts of unjustified shame, guilt, fear and resentment; as well as false optimism.  “I’m no good.   It’s their fault.  I can’t.  I must.  I should.  I shouldn’t.  It’s all good.  Shit happens.”  It is the bedrock of rationalization.

We have much to suggest states of mind that are free of rumination.  Think of the images of the Buddha or of unspoiled Native Americans.  The smiling repose of the former and the suffering-imbued silent faces of the latter never suggest rumination to us.

Imagine a Plains Indian with eagle feather headdress and a lance, mounted on an Appaloosa pony, silent and impassive–AND ruminating.  “Running Bear is flirting with my old lady, he ought to stop.  Hell, he’s bigger than me.  Maybe he’ll lay off.  Sure he will.  No he won’t. Will. Won’t. Yes. No.”  Blah blah blah, on and on.  We know this is not the case, which is precisely why we admire and venerate such figures.  Nobility, dignity and inner strength are the antithesis of neurotic self-talk.

Anti-rumination exercise: an exertion in changing the direction of our will.

Conditions of exercise:

Find a calm place with a minimum of distracting noise.

1. Plan on 5 inner minutes of trying – no clock!

2. Get comfortable, close your eyes.

3. Falling asleep is okay.

4. If distracted, re-direct your attention back to the exercise.

5. Failure or success is not important; only try or not.

The exercise:

Repeat over and over again the phrase, “Be gladly silent”.  This should not be an inner command (like, “Shut up!”, “Quiet!”) but a gentle redirection, with a minimum of meaning.  It can even be absurd, free of any reference.

The key principles of this exercise are tenacity and simplicity.  Think of a dog with a bone (tenacity) and childlike, innocent simplicity.  This exercise is hard, to begin with, but becomes easier over time.  Eventually the phrase, “Be gladly silent” can be dropped and calm inwardly- asserted silence can take its place.

Don’t get discouraged.

Keep a light touch.