Mind Chatter (& The True You)

Craig Gross
Nov 12 · 11 min read

Does your brain ever turn off? Can you check out of it? Is it telling you positive things or negative things?

It recently occurred to me that “normal” doesn’t exist, because my normal isn’t yours. My mind exploded when I realized that Jeanette could shut hers off when she cleans the house. She says that the activity replaces the thinking and quiets her head.

I have no idea what that’s like. You mean you can vacuum to quiet the noise? No amount of activity ever does anything other than add to my internal chatter. Cannabis has helped me experience a bit more of that quiet, but my attempts to articulate it always devolve into some media outlet reporting the ways that “Pastor Craig Gross says that weed makes him closer to God,” twisting the narrative.

Levi has helped me write this entire book. I asked him to organize, edit and — in some cases — “ghostwrite” for me because I don’t know anyone as able to get inside of other peoples’ heads and articulate their experience the way that he can. I can give him a fragmented mess of a journal entry, and he can smooth its edges, helping me understand what the hell I’m saying while making it palatable for others at the same time.

But he has a hard time doing that for himself. He struggles to see the value that he has to offer the world, and it’s largely because of what’s “normal” inside of his head.

Part of the reason Levi and I get along, I think, is because of our ability to relate to one another’s constant brain chatter. The difference is that mine usually propels me forward, creating more work than I know what to do with, whereas his paralyzes him, creating an inability to work at all. He struggles with condemnation, whereas I “struggle” with confidence. My mind doesn’t know negatives. There’s nothing inside of it that says, “You can’t.” It just starts and dreams and explores and plots and plans and goes and goes and goes and creates more and more and more work.

“The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.” My friend Chris is the only other person I’ve found who can resonate with the level of mind chatter that Levi and I experience.

“I don’t meet a lot of people who get how relentless our heads are,” Chris said. “We feel like it’s our greatest asset. In some ways, it is. But it can also be the greatest impediment to our freedom, and our inner power and authority. I make my mind the master, but I’d rather make it the servant of my heart.”

So I asked Levi, “Does your brain ever turn off? Can you check out of it? Is it telling you positive things or negative things?” Also — after having realized that my experience is not “normal” — I asked him to describe what he thinks of me. What does he think of how I function? Are our conversations normal? How do I compare to other people that he spends time with when it comes to the volume of conversation, thought, and activity he experiences with me?

With his permission, I’ve chosen to let you in on our conversation. We use a voice messaging app to track our discussions, so we decided — after trying and failing to describe our own heads — to translate and let you in on the dialogue wherein we attempted to answer these questions for one another. As you’ll read below, I think this is an excellent means of getting there, because it was an attempt at articulation that happened in real-time, not filtered behind a computer screen, or an editor’s censorship.

At the least, I hope it explains a bit of what I’ve tried to communicate throughout this season. Who knows, perhaps you’ll read something of your own experience in what follows, as well:

Craig:

Can you answer an honest question? I’ve never met anyone that can put words to how my mind functions. Does yours ever turn off? Can you check out of it? Is yours mainly saying negative things?

And my second question for you is this: you’ve spent a lot of time with me throughout the years, how does our time together compare to everyone else you hang out with?

Levi:

My brain never turns off. If I do hands-on stuff, like Jeanette, I can get into it. That’s part of the reason art remains a desire I’d like to keep investing in. But I sometimes think that I’ve got to figure out a new medium for it, outside of writing, because I’m always in my cognitive mind.

I sometimes feel like, “I don’t really want to work a construction job, but maybe it’d be great for me. Or working in coffee. Something more hands-on and ‘mindless’ might be incredible for my mental health.”

When I was in New Zealand this January, I experienced what it feels like for my mind to turn off for the first time in my life. I was just present. It was incredible. I was so not preoccupied in my brain with obsessive thoughts about all of the bad that I’m always projecting onto myself.

Unfortunately, lately, I’ve been having a hard time again. You talk about pain manifesting itself physically. I’ve got an ulcer, or a Hiatal hernia, or something. I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s something wrong in my body. Stress-induced Hiatal hernias run in my family, and the worse it gets, the more stressed I get. On goes the cycle.

So, my brain doesn’t shut off. That means I often feel like I can’t be present with other people. It’s all negative. Yes.

To your second question: you’re doing more things than anyone else I know is capable of doing. Your capacity to handle a million things at once is something I envy. But I can also feel crippled by it because I don’t think that I could ever do what you do. Self-pity starts to kick in. “I wish…but I can’t.”

As for the volume of conversation, I am capable of and enjoy having in-depth discussions with my friends. I create those opportunities with other people. So in that regard, our interactions/conversations aren’t more than most, but of course, we talk about different things based upon where you’re at in life.

That said, as for your question, “Am I on a whole different level?” Yes. I don’t know anyone like you. I’m not sure how to describe it back to you, though. You think, talk, and move so fast. There’s so much going on that you can’t even complete sentences.

You seem fearless. You go, go, go.

I hear what you’re saying about it being both a blessing and a curse.

I struggle because I also have a million ideas. They’re not huge ideas like yours. They’re small but could become something.

The difference, though, is that I get paralyzed by my ideas and never start. You delegate immediately and get it done.

One of the things that I struggle with is people who I perceive to be complacent. Their comfort with “the way things are” blows my mind. I’m not content. I always see what could be.

Unfortunately, though, I’m not seeing what could be from the perspective of a person who feels capable of going and getting what could be.

So, I wrestle with discontentment and covetousness about what could be, but then feel paralyzed by the possibilities, and get myself stuck.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with questions like, “What am I doing?” I feel purposeless. I lack direction and overall vision. It’s making me spiral out.

I’m just trying to take one step at a time. Have a decent workday. Tack something else on top of that if I’m able to. I guess this is an example of my brain going from one unrelated thought to another to another.

I want a little less talk and a little more action.

One more thought, though. I talked about the complacency that bothers me. While that’s true, it’s also something I envy.

If I’m motivated or think I want to work on things — or if I can’t help but work on things (which is, I think, what we’re talking about) — I get annoyed by people who don’t want to keep doing more all of the time.

But then there’s another part of me that thinks, “Man, I so envy that ability just to be content.”

Getting to that place is extremely rare for me.

Maybe being content doesn’t mean, “I don’t want to do anything.”

Maybe it just means, “I know when enough is enough.” Whereas I’m stuck beneath: there’s always more. So, I keep piling on more. And then when I finish one thing, there’s never any sense of “done.”

As much as contentedness looks like complacency to me, there is undoubtedly a lot of me that wants to be able to function from that place of contentedness. For me, that is a quality of mind. Or at least: a quelling of my obsessive mind, and the negativity continually running through it.

Craig:

Hey man, that was helpful. It also made me sad listening to what you deal with.

When I listen to these audio messages, and all we’ve gone back and forth about during this season, I think, “Is anyone talking like this, or are we only using junk drawer words like mental health? Do we understand it?”

What you just told me — I’ve experienced it. I was there for that thirty minutes the night I asked the Lord to reveal to me what your head is like. I hated it. It was horrible, and it messed me up for the entire next day.

You’re a deep, empathetic writer. When I just heard you speak, though, it didn’t feel as deep as it felt clear. I haven’t read written words from you that are as clear as what I just heard you speak.

Have you ever told other people this?

Do we want to understand one another (not just you and me — but all people)?

I think my issue with many of the people and organizations that I see trying to champion the mental health discussion right now is that they all say a lot of things, but they don’t go far enough. They’re not explaining it in words specific to what’s going on inside of them. I haven’t heard anything from anyone like the voice memo you just sent. I see people post about going to counseling, but I wonder if they’d be willing to share a jumbled up mess of a recording about what is going on inside of their heads?

What are you thinking? What are you saying?

In our Influencer Inner Circle mastermind, there was a girl who I was convinced should do this one specific thing. But she was too scared to say that she was too afraid to do it. I asked the entire room if they all agreed that she could, and everyone raised their hands, and then she got to see that she was capable of the thing she’d been scared of.

But if we’re too afraid to say what we’re too afraid of, no one will have the opportunity to tell us that we shouldn’t be.

Everybody’s head game is different.

As your friend and someone who has gone before you on some of this stuff and has seen some progress, it would be awesome if you could grow out of this stuff, man. I’m old, and I’m just now making progress, but you’ve still got the gift of youth.

Keep working at it. Don’t put it off. And if things need to change, then change them.

I asked Jeanette what she wishes I would have done sooner, and she responded, “Left XXXchurch. And it’s not because life was that bad, but it’s because now that you’re so connected to your heart, life is way better.

That’s where I go, “Dude, you’ve got to figure out: how do I get back to New Zealand?”

That journal entry you sent me after you got home, that Levi, is your authentic self. That’s who you are.

Jeanette keeps saying, “I’m not going to let anyone steal my peace.”

The peace is the gift.

And you can’t keep living like this.

Whether your answer is medication, breath work, awareness, whatever. Start doing things. Ask yourself what works. Go after it.

When I talked to you after your trip to New Zealand — when I read your letter — I thought, that’s the true Levi.

That’s who you are, man. That’s the Levi I know. Not the Levi that is in your head. Your head is not you. That’s not who you are.

I’m sorry, man. I’m sorry about what it’s like in your head.

Anyway — it’s not just New Zealand — I’ve seen that in you since the day I met you. It’s special. What you’re wrestling within your head — at that capacity — has got to be scary.

Maybe it could be a type of medicine to be able to share/air some of this stuff. Be honest. Be honest as a reminder to yourself that what you’re experiencing is not who you are.

Maybe that’s the work for you in the season that you’re in right now.

Love you man.

Of course, the conversation above is personal. It includes specifics and references that not everyone will understand in their entirety. Nevertheless, I wonder what of our dialogue — or the entire context of a season coming to a close — resonates with those of you who have chosen to follow along on this journey?

What kind of mind chatter do you deal with? Does it propel you? Does it paralyze you? Does it serve you, or does it impede your growth? Are you able to overcome it?

Chris talks about “practicing embodiment.” I think we all have our own versions of this. For example, he loves breath work (think Headspace meditation plus breathing exercises) for the way it oxygenates his body and helps him “get out of his endless thought streams.”

To admit the need for that kind of practice is not a failure.

For Levi, during his New Zealand trip that I kept referencing above, embodiment meant “vacation.” Pressing a deliberate pause on his work to spend time with his wife, and working through How We Love in order to let go of negative patterns passed down from generation to generation inside of his family. Today, it means medication and leveling out chemical imbalances inside of his brain.

To admit the need for that kind of help is not a failure.

For me, it has meant spa days. And yes, it has meant Cannabis. And it has meant contemplative prayer and practicing stillness in the midst of all of my activity.

To admit the need for this kind of rest is not a failure.

For all of us, I think — more than any mental health management — it has meant exploring the core of who we are and pursuing change from the inside-out. A lot of internal, fundamental healing has to take place for functional change to occur in a person’s life…

Digging into the past.

Understanding where we’ve come from.

Extending and receiving forgiveness.

Working toward and being open to the pursuit of reconciliation.

Practicing acceptance over and above what “should be.”

mewithoutYou has a song lyric that says, “A glass can only spill what it contains.” Scripture says that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Jesus talks about the way that fruit can only be as good or bad as the tree that bears it.

Scripture also says that transformation begins in the mind, and I’m more and more convinced that if we want to change the narrative ours is speaking, we have to put in the hard work of understanding why it’s saying what it’s saying in the first place, and reminding ourselves of what the truth is.

Part of what that means for me is to recognize the lie that says I’m not good enough without whatever it is I stand to accomplish from all of the work I create for myself.

For Levi, perhaps that means recognizing the lie that says he’s a failure if he doesn’t accomplish all of the work he’d like to.

We’re both accepted and inherently valuable with or without our work.

As we are.

(As are you.)

Watch the Video

Listen to the Podcast

Craig Brain is not your brain or my brain, but neither must unity be predicated upon uniformity. This is an invitation for you to take a peek inside the gross (pun intended), squishy, alien matter inside of my brain.

Craig Gross

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Craig Brain
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