We all have an internal monologue that shapes our view of the world and our behavior in it. Did that person really mean what they said about me? Should I have that second piece of chocolate? Does God still love me in all of my sinfulness?
Carrying on this kind of silent conversation is part of what it means to have an interior life. In some ways, it is our most authentic self. The self we present to the outside world through our words and actions is rooted in this interior activity. By God’s grace, we are able to weigh and judge and consider everything we encounter in the light of truth.
The Disney Pixar movie “Inside Out” made emotions like joy, anger and sadness the main characters in the story by portraying them as humanistic animated characters. The setting of the film is the interior life of a young girl who is anxious about moving. The film manages to convey her interior life in a winsome way but it presents a misleading view of the psyche (the Greek term for “soul”).
We are not simply a collection of emotions that react to stimuli with the proper feeling. We are eternal souls, made in the image and likeness of God, with memory, imagination and rational faculties for making sense of reality.
The more our memory and imagination are rooted in realities like nature and authentic human relationships, the more well-ordered our interior life tends to be. A well-ordered interior life is a surefire way to grow closer to God.
We are living in a time when our interior lives have been extended by digital technology and displayed on screens. Rather than engaging regularly with our own thoughts, feelings and observations about what’s happening around us, we are engaging with disjointed content.
Oftentimes that content is snippets of thought, feeling and observation from the interior lives of other people, many of whom are complete strangers. It’s hard enough to process our own thoughts, let alone trying to make sense of millions of others!
Sitting silently staring at one’s phone is not a mindless activity as many frustrated parents and teachers would have it. It is a supercharged extension of human memory, imagination and feeling. The only problem is that much of it is not our own.
To live peacefully and practically amid information overload means returning to the basics of a well-ordered interior life. Start by asking, “To whom is my interior conversation ultimately directed?” Myself, my social media followers or God? How many times have you thought of something witty or surprising and then immediately thought, “This would be great for Twitter!”
Slow down. Savor the thought for a moment. Give thanks to God for it. Allow some space and time for Him to respond in the silent and mysterious way that He always does when our minds are lifted toward heaven and not being poured out on a screen.
Robinson is director of communications and Catholic media studies at the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life.