I was walking up a steep hill in our neighborhood on a sun-baked late winter day with unseasonably early irises blossoming my path and wild turkeys chit chatting in the distance.
Yet, I barely noticed any of it. My mind was busy having an unpleasant conversation…with someone who wasn’t there. Do you ever have “phantom conversations”?
There are wonderful conversations to be had with someone who is not present. Perhaps we might seek support or advice by connecting with the essence of a deceased loved one. Or we might want to prepare…once or twice…for an important meeting by rehearsing what we will say.
I define a phantom conversation as repeated, agitated internal conversations with someone not present. It’s not a one-time rehearsal for a talk I plan to have, but rather ongoing inner disturbances that often occur in lieu of actually speaking my truth to someone.
Now there is one helpful thing about a phantom conversation. Sometimes in the midst of my internal rant I realize that my self-righteous position is absolutely ridiculous. I end up saving myself and the other person a great deal of unnecessary drama.
Mostly these inner diatribes are just a ticker tape of my judgments and self-defenses. When I can liberate myself from their addictive lure, I realize the total futility of proving myself right to someone not present.
So how do I liberate myself when caught up in a phantom conversation? Midst my rambling, I realize that I’ve not been hearing the gobbling turkeys or savoring the jasmine fragrance. The present moment intrudes on my illusion, and I return my attention to what is right in front of me.
I then choose to open my heart with the power of gratitude and let this moment nourish me. For me gratitude is often the key that will open my mind and free my heart. Otherwise, the lure of the internal drama is simply too strong. In that gracious space, a smidgeon of compassion for the person I’ve been “talking at” might sneak up on me.
Perhaps such a shift is what it means to live a contemplative life. Contemplation, originally comes from the Latin templum, which is a “place of observation”. So, contemplation is to engage from a place of observation. The contemplative life is cultivating the ability to observe both our inner workings and our outer reality simultaneously, and then take an appropriate action here and now with a free mind and an open heart.
Of course, this is not easy. We have spiritual “practices” because this game of life is challenging.
Cultivating inner freedom through non-judgmental self-observation is my daily commitment. Like an addict, I have to return each day to the admission that I’m hooked by phantom conversations and other unhelpful habits of my psyche. Then I return my attention to the Highest Power of the current moment, reconnect with gratitude, and pick up my conversation with the here and now. Some might call that a return to sanity. I call it prayer.