To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make
you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last week we celebrated Independence Day, a time for family and friends, barbecues, swimming, fireworks, and whatever makes you feel good.
But what if you don’t feel free and independent? What if finances, health issues, time, difficult family members or inappropriate living situations weigh on you? How do you celebrate your independence then?
It might be just the time to stop seeking solutions in the outer world and consider a walk down the inner path. Instead of traditional group activities, you might get more out of a quiet day of hiking in a beautiful place. Or reading an absorbing book, painting, playing with your pets, learning something new, calming your mind.
But what about that picnic everyone else is going to? Won’t you miss out? Not if you’d rather do something else. Not if your inner self is pining from lack of attention.
It takes strength to say no to the crowd. You risk being branded as strange, anti-social, a trouble-maker. The impulse that leads you to forego the picnic for a solitary walk may result in the happiest unforeseen events. A new friend met by happenstance. A stray dog that longs to comfort you. Perfect light on the river illuminating a fish swimming upstream. The book that will change your life at a garage sale for only a dollar. You could miss a lot at that picnic with people you’ve known your whole life.
If you long to answer the question posed by the whispering Self/Soul/Spirit, you want more than the easy answers provided by popular culture. Instead of Superman flying in to save us from our enemies, we seek the true myth, personified by the age-old gods and goddesses that sing through our blood and inhabit the nether regions of our minds.
One of my heroes, late writer Ursula K. Le Guin, talks about the difference between true myth and sub-myth, between Zeus and Superman, in her book, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction
She quotes a story told by the poet Rilke who, when he gazed at a statue of Apollo, it spoke to him. “You must change your life,” Apollo said.
“The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The fake one is. You look at it, and it vanishes. You look at the Blond Hero—really look—and he turns into a gerbil. You look at Apollo and he looks back.”
Every writer, artist, mystic, and seeker knows that when the true myth rises into consciousness, that is its message: you must change your life. But that’s hard. Maybe you don’t want to. Maybe you’re happy the ways things are. If so, I salute you. But if you wonder what treasure lies buried behind that door you’ve never opened, then consider, what will make you free and independent?
Go ahead. Open it. Try. All you have to lose are the chains binding you to the past.
An exercise I use with coaching clients moving through transition is to write their own epitaph. Some are put off by this exercise, but others embrace it. Some find it validates their choices, while others realize their current life does not reflect their true aspirations.
Since we’re all different, what is important to us varies by age, sex, education, income, values, and abilities. And, as we age, our values and perceptions change.
The first half of life is about learning who we are in the world, choosing and establishing careers, and starting a family. For artistic souls, how to express themselves is critical. For security-minded folks, long term safety trumps risky challenges.
Later, as careers progress and families grow, we may find that what was once satisfying has become humdrum, maybe a little boring. At this point, many explore career transition, or develop new avocations.
Difficult life circumstances influence all our decisions. Victims of trauma and abuse who do not receive treatment can find their goals out of reach. They may have financial difficulties, trouble maintaining stable relationships or jobs. They may suffer from a nagging sense that something is wrong but can’t pinpoint what.
Anger and fear not processed block the creative energy that is our birthright. People who want to write, paint, design, or express themselves in any way may find resistance a formidable force.
- I don’t have time.
- I don’t know where to start.
- I don’t have the right education to do that.
- How do I know my work would be good?
These thoughts are negative programming held in the brain below the level of conscious awareness. We can hold beliefs from early childhood to old age without knowing what they are. All we know is that we don’t do what calls us. Not until we learn why we do what we do, can we uncover the beliefs that hold us back.
When asked how they want to be remembered, which is another way of asking, are you on track with your goals? Most people mention:
- Creative Work
- Personal Traits
If you try this exercise, and find you’re not engaged in activities related to your goals, this is a clue that it’s time to work on that negative programming.
Like the ancient goddess of crossroads, Hecate, with her ability to look both forward and backward in time, we can use past experiences to guide change in the present, so we can be more confident about how the future will unfold.
How do you want to be remembered?
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?