There is a voice inside our heads that, believe it or not, usually wants to help. It comes from the places of old and is reptilian in nature. Karen Armstrong simply calls it “old brain.” Martha Beck names it our “lizard.” It also goes by such pseudonyms as the inner critic, devil on your shoulder, or possibly your mother. It is the voice that keeps us in check and goes back to primordial times when all we needed was to be safe, fed and procreate. Since there are no saber-toothed tigers stalking us today, our brain has a tendency to make stuff up that emulates danger.
Since it is an old brain, it is both sophisticated and naive in a very primitive way. My inner critic says things like Who do you think you are? No one will read this drivel! Stop while you’re ahead, fool. It doesn’t sound very helpful, does it? I want to shout back and name call, too, in a display of my own unevolved self. Experience, however, demonstrates that what we resist persists. Fighting, pushing, ignoring and shouting back – all feel like resistance to me. Perhaps a new tactic is in order. Pause. Breathe. Listen a little more closely.
Hey, Lizard, what do you really want? Like a sultry teenager or a petulant child, she pouts and whines and calls me more names. By engaging in the name-calling, the drama escalates and no one wins, so I choose to listen a little more deeply. What she really wants is to simply keep me safe. By convincing me to back off from my goals which entail taking risk, she thinks she’s performing her job successfully. Counterintuitive to my basic instincts to battle her, I’ve noticed responding with laughter, kindness, humility and confidence is much more effective in quieting down this petulant child.
What do you really want? Could there be something helpful beneath all that brain noise? Probing a little deeper, I understand my lizard also wants to be heard – just like me. Hmmm. Perhaps a compassionate bent is the best choice, even though placing my fingers in my ears and screaming, “I can’t hear you” can be quite appealing. Petulance or compassion – which will I choose today?
Today's ponder is inspired by Laura S. Her prompt: How does our inner critic serve us, and how do we best relieve her of her duties?
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