If you have ever watched a silent movie from the 1920s, you may remember a device called an "intertitle."
The movie would show you a damsel in distress.
Then a text-based card—an intertitle—would pop up saying, "Will our hero come to the rescue?"
A man would show up.
Then another intertitle: "The hero arrives!" And so on.
The intertitles guided the flow of the story. They contextualized what the audience was seeing. They shaped the narrative.
This is remarkably similar to how our minds process the world. As we go through our days, we receive a continuous swirl of sensory input: colors, feelings, sounds, shapes.
In order to make sense of this swirl, our minds create their own intertitles. This happens so quickly and fluidly that we rarely notice them. The story just seems to flow on its own, without our participation. We seem to be characters along for the ride.
A practice in many spiritual paths involves "stepping back" from the experience of what we're seeing, and identifying our intertitles—our story-making interpretations.
Within any 60-second period in your day, you might be able to catch a number of these. For example:
"This project at work is going terribly!"
"That person is a thorn in my side."
"This 401(k) balance is looking pretty good."
"That guy is so hot!"
These interpretations make sense of what we're seeing. They tie together the narrative flow. They create the emotionally-infused stories that we seem to find ourselves in.
So what would happen if the intertitles were to drop away? What would we see without them? Let's explore that.
In the past, I've written about a practice of saying, "I don't know what to think about this."
That practice is one of the quickest ways to clear the mind of its intertitles. You can pause throughout the day (especially when you're upset) and say:
"I don't know what to think about this situation."
"I don't know how to interpret this event."
"I don't know what this development means."
"I don't know how to react to this."
As you do that, you release the intertitles. You break up the story that the mind was creating—a story that seemed to be controlling you.
Each moment now becomes a neutral splash of color and sound, without any narrative overlay. The mind quiets and opens. A clean canvass emerges.
Previously, you might have seen yourself as a character in a story. Now you simply see a neutral setting. There is no story. You don't know what is taking place. You don't know what is happening, or what will happen next. You allow the neutral colors and shapes to flow past.
Reaching that place of open-mindedness is a remarkable accomplishment. It can produce a significant emotional shift, especially if you are overwhelmed or upset when you try it. But that neutral place isn't the goal; it is simply a bridge.
Having created a clean slate, you can now move more easily into your "wise mind"—a peaceful, inspired mindset that will guide a new set of actions and interpretations.
The wise mind is our goal. It is where our inner wisdom emerges. This wisdom can provide guidance on actions that will help both you and others. It can inspire healing-oriented thoughts, feelings, and solutions.
In this new mindset, you see everyone—including yourself—as worthy of happiness. You wish to help, comfort, and bless those around you. You see sparkles of beauty in ordinary things. You feel a deep sense of connection. The wise mind is a wonderful place to be.
Releasing the New Story
Now, this mindset isn't terribly rare. Most people have experienced flashes of it throughout their lives.
However, what usually happens is that the storytelling mind immediately creates a new set of intertitles—a new story—that pins the wise mind experience back into a narrative.
The storytelling mind acknowledges how great that experience was. Then it says:
"You felt happy because you were sitting on that beach! Gotta get back there."
"You felt that way because that woman was perfect. If you can get her to love you, you'll feel like that all the time."
"When you have enough money, you'll be able to feel like that every day."
"See how great it feels when you accomplish something important!"
And then the mind leads us into another story, another pursuit, another journey. Travel to this location. Get that person's love. Make that money. Accomplish that thing. Do that, and you'll recapture that wonderful experience.
What the storytelling mind doesn't realize is that its narratives are covering up the experience that it claims to be leading us toward. The activity of the storytelling mind is hiding what is already there.
The peaceful, inspired wise mind is accessible right now. We don't need to travel anywhere, attract anyone, earn or accomplish anything in order to access it. We simply need to clear away the interference to it. We need but release the stories that obscure it.
Saying, "I don't know what this means. I don't know what to think of it. I don't know how to react," is the first step. Then we can then turn with an open mind to a sense of wisdom, peace, and warmth within us that does know how to think and act.
As we keep the screen clear of intertitles, and create an open-minded space for our spiritual wisdom to guide us, peace can arise. This can open up an entirely new experience of the world.
Let me conclude by sharing a question I've received about this topic.
Q: This sounds fine in theory, but I can't seem to stop my mind from all its activity. How are you supposed to get rid of all the mind's interpretations and intertitles?
A: Simply "catching" them is a powerful first step. In my experience, almost no one catches more than a tiny fraction of the interpretations that the mind is generating. So you might want to focus on the catching process at first.
Unlike the obvious intertitles in the silent movies, our mental intertitles "fuse" with what we see. That is what makes them so hard to catch.
For example, let's say that you see your coworker as annoying. It's tricky to realize that there's a thought there: "This person is annoying." There don't seem to be any thoughts; the guy just seems to be an annoyance. But in truth, there is a thought that forms the narrative—and you can catch it.
Once you catch an intertitle, you can gain leverage over it by saying, "This is my interpretation. This is my thought. I take ownership of it." Identifying the thought and taking ownership of it can speed you on your way.
You can then move into a state of willingness to let the old thought go. You can rest in your willingness to release it. Don't try to force anything—or even "get rid" of anything. Simply express your willingness to let the thought float by, and allow a clean slate to emerge. Saying "I don't know how to look at this" can help to facilitate this release.
Finally, you can express your willingness to allow a new, peaceful, healing-oriented mindset to emerge. Willingness and openness will clear the way for this exchange.
I've written extensively about this exchange-through-willingness process in my book Inner Healing, available here. Feel free to review that if you'd like.