In our culture if we joke about someone “hearing voices” we are essentially calling them crazy in a roundabout passive Minnesota way. In the third weekend of 200-hour teacher training we discussed the voices we all hear which brought me to admit that I not only hear them, but sometimes they can be incredibly harsh and damaging. As we move through Cheri Huber’s book, “Making a Change for Good: A guide to compassionate self-discipline” I continue to be astounded by the influence my own harsh voices have had on my actions without me being cognizant of them, or having the power to do anything about them.

Voices come from so many places. Cheri Huber talks about the conditioned mind as the socialization we’ve absorbed from things like our family, media, culture, and more. We are sent messages from a very young age that teach us what is beautiful and what is ugly, what is valuable and what is worthless, what is right and what is wrong. These influences become the inner voices that help make our decisions. When we are trying to work out more and be healthy we might eat one cookie and the next morning look at ourselves as weak, fat, and a failure. Maybe we are trying to change money spending habits, and after a splurge on a vacation we wonder we even bother to try and change and give up. It’s easy to see why these voices keep us down. It’s easier sometimes to give into the harsh self-discipline we hear and give up than push through and remind ourselves that we are bigger than this moment. These voices can do an impressive job of removing us from the present moment.

Because of our capitalist society, a voice we have all been conditioned to listen to in some capacity is that we need more. We compare ourselves to our friends (a factor social media does not help with) and wonder why we don’t have the newest car, jacket, phone, or anything else we replace the word “want” with “need” in our heads. A voice tells us we will be happier if we have these things, and let us escape asking ourselves WHY we want these things and what we are trying to fill up with these things.

In “Happiness is Your Creation” Pandit Rajmani Tigunait wrote of an experience that he had with his master, Swami Rama. Tigunait left his master’s home in the mountains of India and began high school in the city. In the mountains money was not very necessary as only the bare minimum was available. But once at school, Tigunait felt rich and began collecting possessions, as many of us do. He went to visit his master one day and brought three Gramophones he had bought. His master demanded put records on all of them and play them together, despite Tigunait insisting it would not sound good. He played all three Gramophones and his master asked, “If you cannot enjoy more than one piece of music at a time, then why do you need more than one Gramophone?” I read that question repeatedly. Such a simple question to point out the absurdity of collecting things to satisfy that inner voice that tells us we need more to be happy.

This month’s Yama, Asteya, introduced us to the idea of non-stealing; from ourselves, others, the earth, and ultimately our future. Investing in possessions over experiences can contribute to these forms of stealing. To live with a feeling of constant need steals from our present moment, it takes us away from appreciating what we have and moves into what we could have in the future in an unhealthy way. It also contributes to a culture of waste and stealing from the Earth when we don’t need to. We move into a space of not giving our full attention to the people in our lives because we think we can get so many things done at once, at least that’s what our inner voices expect. But when we check our phone, or scroll on our computer as we talk, we steal from those we love, straining the relationship in ways we might not be paying enough attention to realize.

At first it is overwhelming to start paying attention to these voices with a different perspective. We’re so used to taking their criticism and not questioning it. For me becoming aware of them made them louder, now all I could hear were the voices of self-doubt. But through this experience I can now recognize them as untrue and begin to work on changing that narrative into something that better serves me. What voices of self-doubt do you hear? What can you replace them with? How can you make better informed inferences and decisions without harsh self-doubt?