I often wonder; what would happen if I were to actually write down the different voices that clamor for attention in my head… what they would say? I utter ‘they’, but of course they are ‘me’. Once in the Navy, I guess it was in 1970, a group of us were sitting around the barracks talking, when one of the men said lets play a game. It was a strange game, each man was asked to sit in the middle of the group and simply answer as quickly as possible the different questions that we each had about life. I was amazed at some of the answers that were given, if the ‘man in the middle’ was only given a few seconds to answer. Some did better than others of course; it was as if their answers were coming from a place deeper than what they would consciously think about. I know they certainly surprised themselves in how they responded. We were all sipping wine, so I guess that helped a bit to lower inhibitions.

If I ask myself a question, and then settle down to see what comes up, I find that there are more than one response available. Some responses are childish, others not so much so, and then there is something else that arises from the inner depths. It is what is below the clamoring that seems to have the wisest answer, though not the easiest one. In the ‘I Ching” an interesting book to read, it calls these inner voices “the army”. Competing voices and opinions seeking to be heard and the more childish they are the louder they clamor. Like children jumping up and down wanting to give their answer to the teacher.

Who is it that is watching all of this going on? Being an average sort, I know that there are many like me, who are aware of this inner chaos and have developed the ability to simply stand back and watch this inner mob at work. It could be a matter of survival for some, to develop this skill. For not all the voices are pleasant, good, kind and for that matter, wise in any way. Their power grows in the proportion that they are actually believed and acted upon. So it is possible that ones life could be reduced to being pulled in one direction after another, if some kind of inner discipline is not developed.

I call these inner voices ‘fragments’, bits and pieces of ‘me’, that are floating around in my unconscious that are seeking some kind of audience; not wanting to be discounted. When I was a child, for the first nine years of my life, they used to speak to me as nightmares, which I would have every night. They were in fact ‘zombie’ like in how they played out. They even came with color. The dreams would start off with a green fog appearing, slowly rolling into my dream vision. Then becoming a kind of doorway for me to enter; however reluctantly I was to do so. It was then that I would try to wake up. I could feel my eyes trying to open… so I guess these dreams were what you would call lucid, for I knew I was dreaming. Along with the fog there would be music and then I would find myself in a deep, dark, cold and clammy forest, alone and very much afraid. I knew what was coming next, a bunch of people shuffling towards me. I would try to run (thinking, not again!), but my legs would not move, they were asleep. I would sometimes make it to my home, but once there everyone would laugh at me. I would always wake up before I was caught; so it would go every night. During the day I did not think about the dreams, but once asleep they were waiting for me. When we moved to Panama in 1958 the nightmares ended, though not the dreams, they changed for the better. I guess many of my so called breakthroughs have come through dreams. Having nightmares as a child on a regular basis has born the good fruit; allowing me to be conscious of my dreams.

The inner voices are very archetypal. There is the ‘petulant child’, always in front of the line, saying, me, me! The ‘warrior’; always wanting to fight some enemy or another, always on the lookout, with club in hand… really not much different than the petulant child in fact,; just bigger and meaner. The ‘loner’, wanting to isolate…  Seeking to hoard my inner energy that is easily depleted (I suppose when depleted I can become zombie like). Then there is my favorite, the ‘judge’ always finding ways to keep me overly self conscious, trying to keep me from experiencing the freedom that comes from simple self love and acceptance. The loudest, often speaking in very down to earth terminology, is my inner two year old; very whinny, but being two, I forgive him (myself). All the above come in many varieties, shapes and sizes. I know them pretty well (well I think I do, but I think his statement is probably more false than true) and as I get older they are background noise that I put up with and at times can fall under their influence if I am not careful. I call it being swallowed by the whale, being trapped in its stomach for awhile (I love the book of Jonah for that reason; it speaks to me of my own experience with life). I guess you could call this imprisonment in the belly of the whale, as “having one of my moods”. Funny thing, when I am aware of my inner family (army); those with whom I live don’t brother me at all. For I can always see myself in all of them, no matter what their problems are and how they live them out in their day to day lives. Not always of course (that is when I have a mood), for I lose touch with myself more often that I would like to say. I have a friend who is very angry and who can easily resort to bullying behavior if things don’t go his way. Well, I see that in myself, so I can relate to my friend, talk to him and not judge, for his outsides or just like my insides.

When I am having a ‘mood’, it is then that the ‘wise ones’ come to the fore. Not sure really if they are much better than the ‘childish ones’, which seem to take up most of the populace of my inner army. However, these inner ‘wise ones’, have taught me to know that I can stand apart and observe this often chaotic party that goes on within me. Strange to say, in times like this, it is ‘heavy metal music’ that actually calms things down for a bit. It is the bass guitar that does it for me, the voices seem to join together, or perhaps, listen is the best word to use, to the primitive, angry music. Then the drums, the more pounding the better, the words don’t matter, are also important. For I guess if I listened to some of the words, I might not want to put the music on.

Music has always been a tool for me. I am not one to just sit and listen (I am a reader). I need to be driving (or when younger, dancing), and when I do that, at times, different kinds of music call out to me to listen to different rhythms. It can be world music, Christian music, heavy metal, country and on very rare occasions even classical. Who knows, one day I could become a ‘highbrow’.

Yet, I have learned from experience that these ‘voices’ are in fact a very small part of who I really am. Now what that is, I am not sure yet… however as I age, this inner vastness is becoming ever more apparent to me. These fragmented parts of me have always swam around a deep center that is silent, wise, loving and embraces me when I have the presence of mind to attend to it. This center is in relationship with me and as a Christian I call this experience ‘Christ’. Not sure what I would be today if that loving center had not been a part of my life. It calms down my hectic inner life long enough to actually listen and over the years I have come to trust the process that is my life and from that, to trust the process that is in the lives of others as well. While it is true that we are each unique, there is also a commonality that unites us and when that is known we can become more accepting of others. For the more I understand my own inner struggles, compulsions and my snail pace in growing; the easier it is to accept others.

There are times when the puzzle actually comes together and my fragmentation seems to end for awhile… then… the puzzle falls apart and I have to piece it together again; though the puzzle has changed… it always changes. So it comes together and falls apart yet again, and in the mist of this chaos, if I keep my desire to keep moving, the pieces will as the cycle goes, come together. There seems to me that something deeper is at work. I call it grace, gift and mercy. Which flows from depths that I cannot even imagine at this time in my life; perhaps there is no bottom. Our journey is eternal, leading us into ever more expansive worlds of discovery and yes and ever deepening experience of the love that we all seek in varied and often self destructive ways. Perhaps, no matter how deep we each go in living out the mystery; we are in the end just scratching the surface. Perhaps in this life, we are all caterpillars, not yet understanding the process that will give us our wings… the process seems to be messy, chaotic and at times making faith very difficult. In the end, on some level, known only to God, we do actually choose.

It is easy to demand from others what is impossible for me. When I do that, I just want a world in which I am comfortable. Seeking to make others simple props for my life, pieces on a chess board that I can move about according to my will (like that will actually ever happen, people can’t be herded). Compassion and yes empathy allows love to be impersonal, not based on need, but actually on the need of others. Ok, yes, I do in very imperfectly, but in living that out may be what will one day put this puzzle together… or not. The puzzle may be the very process itself, falling apart and coming back together gain, though different. Pieces change size… not sure I like puzzles, but there you have it… I am being called kicking and screaming to become a puzzle master… I kind of suck at it.

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.