Changing our words will change our story. Changing our stories can change our lives.
Our parents tell us stories about our family, heritage, and culture. Our culture tells us stories about what people like us can expect.
The words we use are not coincidental or arbitrary. We are taught to name, identify, and classify. Words are used to classify us. Eventually, we get the picture. We don’t need anyone to tell us we need to shape up. We know.
Have you ever looked at the words you use to describe yourself? Do you see yourself as smart, attractive, competent, scared, passive, helpful? Are you loyal? Independent? A team player?
Which words are more positive to you? More negative?
Words create our sense of who we are. A good girl. A strong boy. Such a smart student. So good with her hands.
Even something as seemingly objective as our physical appearance is shaped by beliefs.
You have big hips. He’s small for his age. Red haired people have hot tempers. You’re too fat/thin/freckled, pale. Your hair is too curly. Rich people have straight hair.
We describe ourselves, first, as others have described us. Judged as children, we take the words to heart. The judge takes up residence inside our minds, and from there rules us. Later in life, we wonder why we never feel good enough, smart enough, and capable of making our dreams real.
How we talk about ourselves has a lot to do with what we’re willing to try. I had a student who was bright, attractive, and a single parent receiving public assistance. The class was on how to find a job. Marie was a high school graduate and well qualified to work as a hotel receptionist, but when I told her about a position in a downtown hotel, she said, “Oh, no. I couldn’t apply for that.”
I asked why, and she said, “People like me don’t go there.”
The hotel was upscale in an urban area. She was qualified. The job did not pay well enough to attract applicants with college degrees. What stopped her was the story running in her head. She was poor, Hispanic, “second class.” If she had applied, she would have been seriously considered, but I couldn’t convince her to make the appointment. She felt more comfortable in the fast food job she took.
Now when I teach journaling, creativity, and writing for healing, I ask students to examine their beliefs, the tapes running in their heads that are stopping them from reaching out. It comes down to words. Change the words, change your life.
If you’d like to try it, look at your life as a timeline
1.Draw a straight line across a blank piece of paper.
2. Below the line, group your age anyway you like. By school grade, decades, whatever works for you.
3. Above the line write three words that best described you at that age.
Do this quickly. Do not mull. Your first responses are best.
When you finish, look at the words.
• Are the words from your younger years still true?
• Would you like to change any of them?
• Looking forward, what new words would you add to describe yourself?
• Write them in the future portion of the timeline.
Did you notice any patterns? Any changes with time?
If so, I’d love to hear your reactions in the comment box.
Do you ever wonder why you feel like you do?
If you’re happy and satisfied with your life, the question may not come up.
But what about when you feel:
- out of sorts
Or maybe you can’t pinpoint why you can’t get going on that creative project, stick to your exercise or diet plan, or start looking for a better job.
It could be that you’re ignoring the messages from your own body.
If you’re a creative type, things can get more complicated. Creative people often live in their heads. Exciting ideas drop in and swirl around, but they have a hard time devoting the time and energy to produce their art, writing, or music. They wander in circles, not sure how to begin, or where to find resources. They think about the future (Who would buy my book?) and don’t finish writing it.
We have ready excuses for not moving on. “I’m stressed! I don’t have time. I’ll feel better after the holidays when the weather’s warmer, when my mother-in-law goes home.”
All these may be true, but they don’t answer the question, Why do you feel the way you do?
The eastern metaphysical traditions don’t perceive the mind and body as separate systems. Healing modalities like yoga, acupuncture, t’ai chi and meditation assume that mind affects body and body affects mind. A two-way street.
Many of us have adopted this belief because we got positive results when we tried them. But the medical establishment did not give up its insistence on the separation of mind and body until Candace Pert, a molecular biologist, discovered how peptides, a protein found in every cell of the body, carry information from and to all our organs including the brain.
Her research showed that the body works more like an information processing system than a clockwork. The peptides which carry glucose to our organs, are biochemicals which Pert called the molecules of emotion. They form a network of communication, the means by which thoughts affect the chemistry of the body. As the chemistry changes, so do our feelings.
It turns out that the mystics were right. The mind of the body is in every organ and every cell. The seat of emotion is not in the brain or the heart. It is in our cells, each and every one.
Like information, emotions travel physically between body and mind as the peptides and their receptors. In the subjective realm, we experience changes in feelings and emotions.
Pert agrees with Carl Jung’s intuition that the physical body itself is the unconscious mind. Which is why we often don’t know why we feel as we do. When we repress or discard uncomfortable feelings, we literally push them into our bodies. Held long enough, they eventually produce stress and illness.
If we want to feel better, we can start by acknowledging and releasing our emotions from the bondage of the body. Energy therapies, yoga, acupuncture, any healing modality that involves therapeutic touch, and learning to clear the mind through meditation or prayer establish new pathways so our bodies can let our minds know what they need.
Expressing emotions in a safe environment results in more glucose being available to all the organs. The peptides spread the word, and emotional blocks that have formed into physical blocks begin to dissolve.
Another way to open the lines of communication with your body is very simple. Journaling about what’s going on in your life and how you feel about it is a powerful tool. It can help you get unstuck, boost your immune system, and improve your ability to make decisions and act.
All you need is a notebook and a pen!
Our hearts are amazing organs of light and matter. On one level they pump blood to keep us alive. On another, they are the seat of empathy, of love for self and others. On a third, they bridge the gap between thoughts and emotions. The heart mediates conflicts and allows us to find the middle ground.
When a heart is open and free, it reconciles disparate energies from our bodies and spirits. An open heart feels soft and powerful. It is willing to trust and can make appropriate boundaries.
When judgment, fear, trauma, or over-reliance on rationality interferes with the free flow of energy in the heart, it starts to close. It can’t fulfill its function and loses flexibility. A heart of stone is not just a metaphor. A closed heart is judgmental, unforgiving, jealous, and often gives itself up for crumbs.
Most people living in our fast-paced, confusing world experience some level of heartbreak. Some symptoms are:
- Compulsive behavior
- Fixated on the future or past
- Eating disorders
- Abuse of drugs/alcohol
- Physical symptoms of stress like worry, problems sleeping, unable to focus, hopelessness, low energy, headaches, frequent colds, muscle tension.
We know we’re supposed to eat right, exercise, control our emotions and not get caught up in the daily drama, but it’s hard. One reason is that our minds and emotions are not communicating with each other. The body is not getting the mental message that this difficult situation will pass, and the mind is not hearing the body say it’s scared and needs reassurance. Without healing, the broken heart cannot bridge the gap between what we think and how we feel.
In ancient Greece, the goddess Themis served as a bridge between the older Titans, who were all sound and fury, and the more rational Olympians. The child of Ouranos and Gaia, she represented the heart between spirit and earth, and her ancient function is being remembered today as a symbol of inner healing.
Her image is used as a symbol for justice and appears on the buildings of many courts. She carries the scale of justice and a sword, which reminds us that when justice is not served, there is a price to pay.
To reconcile opposites is to gain wisdom and consciousness. On a conscious level, this means we search for what connects the opposites. Subjectively, we allow ourselves to perceive, without judgment, the feelings and emotions that arise in response to our thoughts and actions.
Instead of listening to the culture or the common wisdom of family, clan, and country, Themis energy points to another way. We can make our own decisions based on discrimination informed by our feelings. Instead of bouncing from mind to emotion, from reason to gut, we can marry these aspects in the heart. We can learn to listen to Psyche, the spirit soul, and to Thymos, the passionate life of the body.
In the west, we have lost the idea of the body having intelligence and the ability to communicate, but new research in neurophysiology presents us with information that echoes the wisdom of Themis.
The Heart Math Institute offers research on how the heart mediates between our minds and emotions and how to reduce stress, gain balance and feel more at one with ourselves.
A great way to start on this journey is to practice a simple technique you can download at Heartmath.org. The Quick Coherence technique for adults is free at this link:
In future posts, I’ll be talking about how to make friends with the mind of the body and the practical things you can do to find heart balance. I teach a simple method of using journaling to reach heart integration in my Writing for Healing course which starts on April 18.
Does your inner critic stop you from accomplishing your goals? Maybe with sabotage?
There’s no time. I’m too old to start. Too busy to make time. Too involved with my job to exercise, eat better, start a journal, follow my heart.
The voice of negativity can be a harsh critic. Or, it can be the voice of guilt.
Why waste time on your development when your friends and family need you to care for them?
It might be mildly reproving.
You want to stay safe, don’t you? Have enough money for your retirement? Avoid potential disaster?
The voice of the critic is the voice of resistance.
Resistance does not always have bad intent. Mostly, it wants to keep us safe. Which means, taking no risks, not trying for anything better.
As long as we go along with the program, it bubbles along below the surface like an underground stream.
The minute we have an idea to change our life for the better, it rears up and spouts its negativity into our ears. Suddenly we get busy with worthwhile projects. People need things. The car breaks down. The refrigerator starts making an awful grinding sound.
We have to take care of these things, right? Wouldn’t a responsible person do exactly that?
If you are not doing what you want to do.
If you make decisions to change your life, but don’t follow through.
If you want to be more creative, but bog down due to time constraints, overwhelm, or conflicting demands, it’s time to look at your relationship with your own intention.
It’s time to clear the decks.
Intention is a habit. All habits are formed through repetition. What we hear all the time becomes familiar. What we get validation for, we repeat.
Maybe it’s time to allow our creative, life affirming part to lead the way and validate us for what will move us forward in the larger sense.
The first step is to clearly state our intention.
Take a few minutes and think about what, specifically, you want to do. Then write the statement in the present tense, first person.
I write in my journal for fifteen minutes every day before I go to work.
I walk four times a week for thirty minutes.
I no longer eat sugar.
I finish a chapter of my novel every month.
I take a painting class every Saturday afternoon.
If you have a robust inner critic, you might hear the voice complaining, protesting or arguing with you. You can ignore it. Or, you can simply tell it that you are developing a new habit and would appreciate its support. Whether it acquiesces or not, you go on.
It takes thirty days to develop a habit, so give yourself at least that amount of time.
It can help to track the days when you complete your goal. Post the list in a place where you see it every day.
Is Intention a Force I Can Call Upon?
Many people believe intention as a force in the universe. Lynne McTaggert calls it The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe, the energetic, invisible connection among all living things. Many spiritual writers refer to it as an aspect of Source, the divine, the creative self, the superconscious mind. I think of it as an aspect of myself that Knows.
From this perspective, intention can be called upon. Once we understand that we are more than our ego-mind, more than the physical, more than the inner voice of the critic, we can take active steps to connect to the force of intention. It will help us stay on track when the inner voice advises us that we’re too busy, too tired and too overwhelmed to do what we decided to do.
Writer McTaggart’s studies of the field resulted from interviews with scientists who relayed experimental results that could not be explained by “normal” means. She went on to develop The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World that enlists people via the Internet to change the world through their thoughts.
Scientist Emoto discovered that intention clearly stated, thought or written, changes the molecular structure of water. The Hidden Messages in Water
Physician Larry Dossey writes about how prayer can assist in the healing of physical illnesses. Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine
Intention is powerful. It is available. You too can use it to change your life.
What about you? Do you have an example of when you used your intention to make a positive change?
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now!
We all have an inner critic. It’s a function of the conscious mind. Some have huge, robust, well-developed critics that comment and decide on every aspect of our lives. Others, more fortunate, have milder critics who appear only once in a while.
Every spiritual and psychological system of personal growth has ways to deal with the aspect of mind that criticizes, blames and judges to keep us where we are. The critic believes it is acting in our best interest.The critic wants to keep us safe.
Deciding to use forgiveness to work with the inner critic is a radical method that I have found works. This is not seeing the critic as an enemy in a war. While many are comfortable and energized by doing battle with what needs to be changed, I have never liked the idea of war. More useful is the idea of inquiry. The most severe critic is still part of us. It may sound like Mom or Dad of our second-grade teacher, but it lives inside our heads.
The ancient Hawaiian prayer of forgiveness, the Ho’oponopono, is a compassionate tool for personal work. It seems almost too simple to be effective, yet that is its beauty. Ulrich E. Dupree, author and teacher, wrote a little book about the Hawaiian ritual of forgiveness and how it can affect your life, your family relationships, friendships, even the environment.
The simple prayer is:
- I am sorry
- Please forgive me
- I love you
- Thank you
That’s it. A short prayer with roots into antiquity, it is part of the Hawaiian Huna tradition which teaches there is one power in the universe, the power of love. Ho’oponopono is compassion in action.
Its practice is a way of returning to unity, releasing judgment and condemnation toward the self and others, and finding harmony. Since it requires acting from the heart, it could be seen as a way of returning to the divine plan, which has compassion for all that exists.
This may be the opposite of what you learned. From infancy, we learn dichotomies, right and wrong, good and bad. All our institutions follow the hierarchical model. We move up or down, in school and then in work.
What stops us from experiencing the harmony and freedom from pain is our thinking minds. We come to adulthood attached to cares, fears, comparisons, standards, and beliefs about what we need to be happy.
The Ho’oponopono method of working with unease or distress takes a different approach. Instead of figuring out what we need to do, learn or achieve, these are the steps:
- We ask to reach within ourselves a place of recognition, courage, power, intelligence and peace.
- From that place, which can be described as sitting in the heart, we describe the problem and then search for our share in it. That could involve, for example, a judgment we’ve made, or an action, or a memory.
- We forgive unconditionally and speak the four sentences: I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.
- We give thanks, express trust and let go.
This method of personal change implies acceptance that we are co-creators of everything in our lives. On some level of awareness, we have accepted all we encounter. That does not mean we need to keep accepting it. Once we become aware enough to notice an issue, it is usually ready for healing.
I have found this method works, not only to forgive myself and others for making judgments, but to forgive my judgments of aspects of myself.
I find self-marketing challenging. I resist it. My inner critic tells me I’d be better off spending more time creating my fiction, not developing a platform to sell it.
That does not take into account the realities of today’s publishing world. Therefore, I can forgive the part of myself that does not want to spend time on marketing. As I do that, I can delve deeper into the issue and discover what I’m really afraid of.
This simple technique works wonders with resistance, with any form the inner critic takes.
I’m sorry. Forgive me. I love you. Thank you.
Everything has a right to exist. Even resistance.
The more we battle with what we don’t like, the stronger it gets. Forgiveness softens the hard, unyielding parts of ourselves that reach from the past to fasten their tentacles into our minds and keep us from living fully.
Even if you’re not convinced, try the Ho’oponopono prayer. It has worked wonders for many people.
To learn more about this method of forgiveness, read Ho’oponopono: The Hawaiian Forgiveness Ritual as the Key to Your Life’s Fulfillment
Do you have an inner critic? Do you recognize its voice?
You know the one I mean. It whispers, “How could you be a writer? Start a business? Stay on a diet? Stick to an exercise program?”
It murmurs in the background, always on alert, ready to stop you from moving forward.
Or, maybe you don’t even hear it. Maybe you stall out in the middle of a new venture. Lose interest. Get too busy. Decide it wasn’t important.
Resistance is a force. It’s human and it’s normal. Everyone resists change. Some a little, some a lot. Resistance seems to be a function of how our brains work, so it’s nothing to judge yourself for. The point is to recognize it, and learn how to work with it.
The inner critic is a form of resistance that is especially virulent because it mimics our inner voice. We listen to the critic and believe we are hearing ourselves. In fact, we’re hearing an internalized judgment from parents, teachers, friends, the community or the larger culture.
You can think of the inner critic as a recalcitrant child, a part of us that has not evolved. It’s stuck in the past. Something hurt it, and now it wants to protect you from experiencing more pain.
Better safe than sorry. Why rock the boat? What if I try and fail?
The problem with this approach is that we stagnate. Potential goes untapped, hopes fade, creativity withers and enthusiasm is lost. All because we weren’t willing to engage the inner critic.
Something as simple as asking yourself if its messages are true TODAY can work wonders. If you engage it, you can find out what it wants. You can help it evolve and come into the present.
Instead of seeing the inner critic as a force to be ignored, defeated, boxed in, argued with, silenced or stomped on, a gentler approach could transform it into an inner ally.
An inner ally supports, encourages, focuses on the positive, sets goals, makes plans, knows that growth is process, is a learner, and remembers that others are more focused on themselves than on judging us.
There are many ways to change your relationship to the inner critic. I have found this simple process to work for me.
1. Sit quietly. If you meditate, pray, or quiet your mind in nature that’s the perfect time for this exercise. If you journal, you can engage your critic with free writing.
2. In your mind or aloud, say “hello.” Allow an image, a sensation or words to appear. Say “hello” again.
3. In your mind or your journal, ask your critic if she is willing to talk to you. (this may be a little unfair, since she’s doing it all the time, but it’s polite, and often changes the dialogue).
4. Ask her why she is giving you negative messages.
5. Listen. Do not argue. Simply listen.
6. Conclude by writing and/or drawing what you asked and learned from your critic.
You can repeat this exercise with any question. You can offer the critic alternative ways of looking at the issue at hand. When you hear a negative message, you can turn it around.
For example, if your critic say, “It’s too cold to go for a walk today. Just stay inside.”
You could say, “Yes, it is cold. But I’ll wear my heavy coat and I’ll feel better if I complete my goal of exercising four times this week.”
With practice, you can turn around any negative programming that’s stuck in your brain. As you realize that your beliefs can be changed, your inner critic will gradually transform into an ally.
7. The last step of this exercise is the most powerful. Conclude each session by forgiving the critic and yourself.
My next post will be about a simple, yet profound method of forgiveness that has helped me shift my critic into an ally.
What about you? Does an inner critic hold you back?