Making Sense of the Voices In Your Head
A Sermon by Rich Tafel
May 22, 2021
Today I want to talk about hearing voices.
All of us have had an experience of hearing a voice in our head that seems to come out of left field. Often these voices remind us to do something or guide us. It doesn’t seem to be us thinking it feels like someone else. Few of us actually hear voices out loud when no one is there, and when that happens it usually falls into the mental health category, for example, schizophrenia. Experts do report that 10% of the population experiences this.
What do the voices we hear and what do they mean?
Secular mental health experts say that hearing different voices is common, but we should be concerned when they tell us to do bad things to ourselves. Also, there’s a dividing line between hearing voices talking to you out loud or hearing different ideas coming into your thoughts.
All of us have an ongoing conversation going on in our head. It almost feels like we have different parts to ourselves. Working with people’s parts is now a very common exercise in therapy, particularly family therapy. The theory is that we have many mental systems working on our behalf. These mental parts were created by us usually for purposes of survival.
If this is anything like the way you are operating now, you are engaging voices. If you’ve ever said, part of me wants to attend this event and part of me wants to go to bed early, you’ve got competing voices.
A therapist or a coach can ask questions of clients to identify where the voices are coming from within them. Having had this done to me and having helped others with it, let me give some examples.
A client tells me she doesn’t want to market her company. When I ask her why she explains that she doesn’t want to be that sleazy marketing person. I ask her if she is that sleazy marketing person. She says, No.
I ask what the chances are you’ll become that sleazy marketing person and she says practically zero.
So where is that voice coming from telling you something that’s not true?
She thinks and reflects on it and says she can almost hear it. After some discussion she shares that it has a German accent and is the voice of her scolding grandmother who didn’t think women should work.
We engage the voice and ask why it tells her this and discover the voice is seeking to protect my client’s heart from being hurt in the man’s world of business.
She explains to the voice what she’s doing and thanks it for caring about her. The voice disappears and she becomes much more able to market herself.
Our listening to God.
In my own life, I’ve meditated to imagine a conference room of voices arguing with each other about the best way forward. There’s the accountant looking at the books. There’s the visionary who doesn’t care a bit about money, only purpose and faith. Each serves a purpose it seems, but when they are in conflict we are in conflict. Until I’m at peace, I can really serve as a peacemaker in the world. We need internal resolution before we can bring external resolution.
Maybe you’ve heard similar voices. Maybe one voice now is saying, “Rich sounds sort of nutty with these voice things. What does this have to do with church?” Another voice might be saying, “I’ve heard those voices but if I admit it they’ll think I’m nuts.” Another voice might be saying, “How long before this sermon is over. I’m hungry but don’t want to seem rude. I could use a nap.” And yet another voice might be saying, “Let’s stay for the discussion time to see if Rich is the only one who hears these things.”
I’m just at the beginning stages of really understanding “parts work.” In a discussion earlier this week I found our own Sheri Smith has been involved and trained in this work for years and recently conducted a powerful training on this topic.
Modern psychology seems to put us all on a continuum of hearing different ideas and thoughts from different voices, but it doesn’t really explain where this comes from except to say it starts in our childhood and is usually related to trauma.
Spiritual Connection to Voices
Swedenborg’s insights predate modern psychology, but his thinking pioneered this field. One of his earliest followers in the US was the famous author Henry James whose trunk of Swedenborg’s book he took everywhere was for years on display at our Swedenborg library. His son, William James, is seen by many as the father of modern psychology.
The modern secular world explained all phenomena in material terms getting rid of a lot of superstition, however, they also disenchanted our world by making it flat–only material things that you can measure are true.
Swedenborg describes a different world at work in those voices we hear, which could work complimentary with parts work, but that’s not how he described it.
He described us as fundamentally spiritual beings in a material world for a short time. The spiritual being is your essence and goes on forever. The physical being gives out when it is done. The spiritually part of ourselves is in constant touch with the spiritual world around us though we are not permitted to see it.
Each of us are surrounded on a constant basis by angelic presences seeking to guide us toward the good and happiness, while never violating our freedom. There are also dark voices as well seeking to tempt us in the wrong direction. Eventually, we warm up to one side or the other and when the body ends we move to the communities we’ve connected with here.
People often ask, “How do I know which voice is which?”
The short answer is that it is sometimes tough to know. According to Swedenborg dark forces often pretend to be good voices. They don’t come at you straight on. They’ll use your own values and religious outlook to torment.
Here’s a key filter to run those voices through. God is love. God only loves you. God only wants what’s best for you. God forgives you. God through angels in our lives is always pushing, prodding and guiding us toward good. God does not shame, and God doesn’t use fear to manipulate. God is never mean. God will not abandon you.
So, when you hear voices that use cruel phrases, that try to remind you of past mistakes using shame or voices that manipulate through fear; you can simply tell them to go away. Often saying the Lord’s Prayer or 23rd Psalm will do it.
These voices are often loud, but after a period of casting them away they will move on.
So, then what about those voices that are from you angels. Remember that really good idea you had? Remember that game changing thought you didn’t know where it came from? Remember that time you met that person and decided to continue a conversation? In all of those situations you were being guided by angels.
In fact, almost every good thought you have had, and inspired ideas came from angels.
So, if good thoughts and guidance comes from angels and bad thoughts and fear comes from the dark side; then what can we take credit for? It all seems to be their idea.
The answer is that you have the freedom to decide to follow different paths. When you decide to take good advice from angelic beings your action on that make it yours. The same is true for dark voices and acting on those.
Gaining understanding and management of your own voices can bring you greater peace and alignment.