Listen to your inner voice

David Servan-Schreiber on how understanding our consciousness can give meaning to our lives


Listen to your inner voice

Since the beginning of time, humankind has told of a ‘small voice’ speaking to us from the core of our being in moments of danger or great intensity directing us to safety, or towards our destiny.

In his latest book, Dr Philippe Presles, who has spent his life researching human consciousness, quotes a large number of testimonies referring to this ‘small voice’ – assured, quiet, powerful and persuasive – giving much needed advice and reassurance.

It’s often been interpreted as the voice of God, or of the soul. In Presles’ explanation, what we’re hearing is the voice of our inner wisdom, of our consciousness, the sum of our memory and all our experience, which takes over our internal dialogue in moments of crisis. He believes the voice is spiritual, but he also gives a neurological explanation our modern sensibility finds easier to digest.

I contributed one of the many testimonies to Presles’ book, when I recounted how my inner voice stopped me breaking down the day I was told I had cancer, 18 years ago. He asked me about my most intense teaching experience. I told him about the time I shared with an audience of fellow American oncologists my grief at having to break the news to our much loved colleague that he did not have long to live. Everyone was crying in the lecture theatre, and I recall being in a very strange state of mind, a sort of out-of-body experience. Presles’ aim is to understand how we became conscious beings, and whether that helps us in the search for happiness. He shows how a deeper understanding of the nature and working of our consciousness can help us feel in control of our own lives, and give meaning to our existence.

He explains how we can control our consciousness, even in our darkest moments. This is the meaning of William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus, which inspired Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment on Robben Island, and seems a fitting tribute to Presles’ work.

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. […]

Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.


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