Whether or not we’re consciously listening to ourselves, generally there is an internal dialogue going on as we sort and make sense of our experiences. This dialogue can take many forms—visual images, snippets of popular songs or movie soundtracks, a little voice quietly cataloguing things as they go by, multiple voices debating the best course of action, favorite characters’ lines from TV shows, and just about anything that can be a medium of expression. Which is to say, just about anything.

My inner dialogue mostly sounds like my own voice in a conversational tone, as if explaining a topic or maybe raising a question for others to discuss. It has a text-mode component as well, like a mental display screen where the words scroll along. This is the voice in which I write my blog entries—calm, reflective, and always subject to editing in the interest of greater precision.

When I get into a more fanciful mood, I sometimes imagine that time is not as linear as it seems and that my internal narrative might be the voice of a future self offering helpful advice, or maybe a past self creating an intention for something she’d like to see in her life going forward.

Suspending disbelief (which, of course, one must always do with a story if it’s to be fully enjoyed) in the present moment, I consider how I might have gone back in time and changed the life of a younger self with my words. When had a memorable insight shown up in my thoughts suddenly, for no apparent reason?

That’s when a memory comes to mind. My 35-year-old self didn’t see much to celebrate when she had her birthday. She’d had no luck finding a job when the children started school. Hubby (a software developer) was spending nearly every waking moment at the office doing Y2K remediation, to save the world from poorly written software that couldn’t read dates after 1999—yes, it seems funny now, but there really was a nuclear power plant in Japan that malfunctioned on January 1, 2000, because of the Y2K bug and required an emergency shutdown.

Garden with flowers, shrubs, and winding stone paths.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

She had been trying to cheer herself up by looking at flower catalogs and imagining the house surrounded by bright, colorful, well-cultivated gardens; but she just couldn’t shake off depressing self-talk about failure. In a dark, dismal corner of her mind, she felt that she was doomed to end up getting divorced and never having a career, just like what happened to her mother. Of course, social attitudes toward women were very different a generation earlier; and if she had taken the time to critically examine her fears, she’d have realized they made very little sense.

But she didn’t; and so, early in the afternoon of a cloudy winter day, she was sitting alone at home (as usual) feeling tired and hopeless. She closed her eyes, thinking to rest them for a moment. Maybe she dozed off without realizing it; at least, that was the practical explanation she came up with afterward.

Just a little time went by—minutes, or perhaps only seconds. Then she became aware that there was someone else in her quiet mindspace. But, she was alone in the house—could it be a ghost? Surely the house wasn’t haunted; by now the family had been living there for more than five years, and she had never seen strange things happen. Had anyone passed on recently whose spirit might want to send her a message? Well, there was that nice lady who died of lung cancer last year…

“Nancy.” As she thought the name, it sounded like a voice speaking in her mind—an echo, like a question and response.

From my comfortable vantage point in the present day, sipping cinnamon coffee and enjoying a lovely animated landscape on my new digital art display, I also hear the echo in my memories. It doesn’t sound to me like another person’s voice, though—it has the familiar tone of my own internal dialogue. Inventive sci-fi explanations come to mind. Am I creating a resonance across space-time, sending my memories into the thoughts of my younger self?

She certainly didn’t interpret it as such; that idea never crossed her mind. Rather, the mysterious voice sounded to her like it was Nancy’s ghost answering the question in the affirmative. Having no history of talking with spirits, my younger self naturally felt nervous. But the voice in her mind seemed friendly enough that, after a moment, she mustered up enough courage to ask, “Is there something you want to tell me?”

Between my hands, the coffee cup feels warm and comforting as it anchors me solidly in the present. The imagined resonance with my younger self’s time begins to fade. Just before it goes, I speak the words that I remember hearing in my thoughts on that dark winter afternoon, so many years ago. “Cultivate peace.”

And then I leave it at that, making no attempt to say more. After all, it’s where the scene actually ended in real life. My 35-year-old self blinked once, looked around at the empty room, and then shook her head and tried to convince herself she’d just been dreaming. It was a good thing she hadn’t slept too long, she thought. Soon it would be time to go and pick up the kids from school.

I would have liked to tell her that everything would work out for the best, and not to worry. Looking back across the years, though, I know there was no need to say it. Taking the advice to heart, my younger self began writing a page of affirmations every day, working to cultivate a more peaceful mindset. She didn’t yet know the far-reaching effects, but soon she would discover them.

Rather than feeling neglected and resentful in her marriage, she would think more about how stressful all those long overtime hours had been for her husband. She’d appreciate how responsible and hard-working he was, making sure to be especially cheerful in speaking with him. As one might expect, he became more cheerful as well, enjoying her company and wanting to spend more time with her. It wasn’t long before those neglected-wife feelings were a distant memory.

She wouldn’t feel desperate to find work to convince herself she was not a failure, either. Instead she would take the time to visualize a career well suited to her background and skills, along with a hiring manager who would be delighted to find such an ideal candidate. Somehow it didn’t come as a surprise when she found the job posting a few weeks later, soon followed by an interview with the happy hiring manager who really did think she was just what the company needed.

The only loose end that didn’t get tied up was the never-answered question: Where did the mysterious voice saying “Cultivate peace” really come from on that quiet winter afternoon? Was it a dream, a ghost, maybe an angel, or the voice of her future self looking back through time? She would never know—and, though she couldn’t have foreseen it at the time, eventually she would start writing a blog, and on a snowy weekend in January 2016 her readers would be left to wonder about it too.

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