There is a cacaphony of voices in your head. They do plenty of talking, but none of them listen.
This is the description of the mitote in Toltec spiritual practice according to one of its leading exponents, Gary van Warmerdam. The first time I heard about the mitote, all I could think was: Voices in your head! There’s actually a WORD for them.
All writers know about the voices. They whisper to us constantly. The tell us we’re lousy writers, that no one is going to want to read what we’re writing, that we’re not getting anywhere, that we’ll never get anywhere. Then sometimes, they change their tune. They say, “That novel you’re working on? It’s going to be the next Big Thing! A run-away best-seller! Translated into every known language!”
It doesn’t matter what they’re saying, they’re all liars—and they’re all dangerous. As van Warmerdam puts it: “The mitote is driven by . . . false beliefs, self importance, fears, layers of denial and justifications. As you become aware, the mitote can appear to be an endless stream of useless chatter talking over itself. Try to turn it off in the beginning and you get a lesson in humility. As you learn to observe it with neutrality, which is a critical step in dissolving the mitote, you find that it often tricks you by pulling your attention into the conversation.”
Followers of the Toltec tradition have ceremonies designed to break through the mitote, some involving hallucinogens and most requiring guides who know what they’re doing. But, if you don’t have access to a trained Toltec practitioner, you can still take steps to sort out the voices, step away from them, and recognize them for what they are.
One of the best techniques I have come across for dealing with the mitote is described by Heather Ash on the Toci.og website. Ash suggests we each create a mitote book--an inventory of the conflicting voices we have created over the years.
For the most part, the sources of the mitote are hidden from us—they’ve developed and grown through the experiences we’ve had throughout our lives, but they’re mainly unconsciousness. By cataloguing them, we begin to sort out our own individual mitote. The distinct voices start to separate out, and we can begin seeing them for what they are.
Ash suggests you start your mitote book with a dedication or intent, such as: I dedicate this mitote book to my own transformation and healing. She advises readers to reread their intent every time they open their mitote book—to rest with it and reflect on it, let it sink in.
What do you put in your mitote book? All the beliefs, assumptions, and value judgments that are hindering your life—and your writing. Judgments toward the people you love the most: your family, partner, and friends. Judgments toward those you work with, toward neighbors, toward those you only know in passing. Judgments toward strangers—we make them everyday, even about people with whom we have never spoken and about whom we know nothing. Finally, the beliefs, assumptions, and judgments you hold about yourself.
When you have exposed your underlying beliefs in this way, you can go further by looking for connections and patterns. Ash suggests you list four ways you judge others and four ways you judge yourself. Identify which judgments you use again and again. Explore what those judgments say about your overall view of how things should be (what followers of the Toltec path call your “book of law”).
Finally, use your mitote book for free-writing on your judgments. Pick one and fill an entire blank page without stopping. Write whatever comes into your mind. See what comes up.
The mitote book is a simple, practical technique for sorting out the voices plaguing our lives. One of the best things you can do for your writing life is to turn off those voices—whether they’re tearing you down or giving you a false sense of your own importance. What you need isn’t voices, positive or negative, whispering in your ear. What you need is silence, so your own true voice can be heard.
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