“Inner silence is for our race a difficult achievement. There is a chattering part of the mind which continues, until it is corrected, to chatter on even in the holiest places.”
— C.S. Lewis
Reading time: 15-20 mins
You’re on an internal cell phone to your “Self” that never stops ringing. You pick up and you say the same thing over and over. You hang up. And then it rings again and you start over, completely forgetting your last feverish conversation. Our wires become so crisscrossed and entangled with endless contradictions and conflations that we end up trapped in our mind.
A life of endless chatter, deliberation, vascillation, questioning, doubts, ten thousand possible ‘if’s’ and ‘but’s’ fuelled by our fantasies of the future and the past. These thoughts get our brain and nervous system so habitually overheated, criss-crossing over each other with complexity, that we cannot discern or discriminate objective from subjective.
That’s an unfortunate part of being human. We all do it to different degrees – mostly as our default position. It certainly takes me back to all kinds of poor decisions which were based solely on that inner noise of fear and anxiety and not much else. We can even make ourselves believe that it’s all logical and rational rather than an internal babbling of self-protection.
All this has a name: “inner considering”, a phrase drawn from the 4th Way teachings of George I. Gurdjieff and its relationship to indentification and self-remembering.
When we fully identify with the object of our attention we immediately begin a cascade of thought loops about what might or might not be, fuelled by anticipation and inner dissatisfaction. People, in particular, form our most potent forms of identification. This is the social battlefield of unresolved childhood insecurities and misdirected sexual energies. Plagued by endless loops of inner considering we are not motivated by truth but by self-protection and inner comfort. It’s like we carry around a no-entry sign for any authentic interaction. Only those exchanges which bypass “sensitive” lanes into our heart are allowed access. And since most people are asleep to themselves, therefore inauthentic, much of what we see as social interactions are merely the exchange of inner considerations.
Fear is still pumped into society on a daily basis and has produced immense distrust and cynicism. Our infotainment mediocrity elevates artifice and images devoid of meaning which means most of us search desperately for anchors of purpose. Albeit entirely understandable, this is a fool’s game because it is driven by subjective, frustrated assumptions and all manner of negative projections – all of it largely unconscious.
The net result means no change, or change for its own sake. The loops are still there based on a refusal to take responsibility for one’s own development. A contractile denial of one’s own deformations remains in place.
The late Hollywood star Carrie Fisher certainly knew about instant gratification. Known for her biting wit and satirical bent the above quote was a comment on her own weaknesses but also described the nature of culture in the 21st Century. Gratification, in all its guises has proven to be the primary channel through which the human family escape reality and the darkness within.
That drive for the instant “hit” gets ever stronger the moment it is satiated. This leads to the following statistics:
Obesity: About 36 percent of American adults are obese — more than 1 in 3. And, globally, more than 1 in 10 humans are obese.
General substance abuse: Nearly 21 million Americans ages 12 and older had a substance use problem in 2015.
Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for an average of 88,000 deaths each year.
Sex: The National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity estimated that 6%-8% of Americans are sex addicts, which is 18 million – 24 million people.
Pornography: More than 80% of women who have porn addiction take it offline. Women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex, or affairs.
Gambling: Over 80 percent of American adults gamble on a yearly basis. 
The above are extremes. But for every addiction that becomes full-blown there’s another one germinating in the wings. We don’t have to be a gambler or substance abuser to know that we have a problem with controlling our desires and impulses. Often it’s a very fine line between addiction and what is considered “normal.” Equally we can be addicted to all kinds of covert negative behaviours which cry out for limitations and order. “Think before you speak” might be the most obvious and applicable to most of us. Practicing self-control means that you’re able to delay ego-gratification without going into an emotional tailspin. Do this often enough and it becomes an asset, thereby improving the quality of your life.
Stanford professor Mischel has spent his life exploring this very topic and provided some very interesting data that proves self-control is a key component of individual mastery. His psychological studies date back to the 1960s and involved children with an average age of 4 – 5 years old. Mischel and his research team published their findings in 1972 as Cognitive and Attentional Mechanisms in delay of gratification and it remains the most influential experiment on self-control available. These experiments were refined and improved over the decades, but the basic format remained the same. Popularly known as “The Marshmallow Test” from the book of the same name, Mischel’s discoveries and conclusions make fascinating reading, so we’ll return to some of suggestions on building self-control later on. Meantime, let’s look at what this ground-breaking experiment was about.