The Inner Critic And The Creative Life
Updated: Nov 19, 2022
I have a mean inner critic, unfortunately, like most of us do. I just heard him (mine's a him most of the time) yesterday at the optometrist during my annual eye exam, right before they shine the blue light so close to your eyeball that you see God.
My sociable and kind optometrist who's known me for about 5 years in our small California town asked pleasantly as a follow up to something I'd mentioned earlier, "so what sort of new business are you starting?" Before I could respond, my inner critic grunted sarcastically, "Go ahead, tell her, tell her what a flake you are and that it's not really a real business but that you're trying to do something completely impossible and make a living as a soooonnnng-wrrrriiiter, haha!" I stammered a bit, unconscious that my mind had just been hijacked by the mean internalized asshole we all acquire at some point to keep us in line, to keep us from being outcast by the "tribe." In this moment, the friendly optometrist was my tribe and I was about to get kicked out in the cold night and eaten by tigers if I said the wrong thing. If I admitted my crazy dream, if I let myself feel the wanting of it, the deliciousness of it, surely I would fall off a cliff into the unknown. So I stammered as my ego quickly crafted a careful response, "I'm returning to my previous career as a song-writer. In my twenties I was a successful touring songwriter and I'm coming back to it now after a long break." My inner critic, laughed, "Successful?!? You only paid for gas and food and lived in parking lots, you're so full of shit! Plus now you’re old, your voice is deeper, you’re not so pretty anymore, your two kids keep you from working more than a couple hours a day, and you’re going to be so embarrassed and broke when you fail at this.” I blushed in the dark room, feeling sweat prickle at my temples as she asked me where she could hear my recordings. My inner asshole went on, “Don’t you dare tell her how to look you up, she’ll hate your young-punk songs, so many of them are offensive and suck and you should just hide them from everyone.” In the waiting room later, while my eyes were dilating, I felt anxiety grabbing at my muscles, making me feel tense and dense sitting there. I wanted to reach for the numbing agent of the times, my phone, but my eyes hurt from the dilation fluid when I tried looking at the blurry screen. Finally, I did what a disciple of meditation of 20 years does when distraction isn’t available and desire for truth finally wins: I closed my eyes and felt into myself. “What’s going on, dear? What are you aware of sitting here right now?” I sense myself, as I’ve learned to do. I let go of trying to change anything or get away from anything. I become aware of tension, pain in my back, dislike of my current experience, feeling separate from the others in the room, feeling dislike for them, feeling like I don’t even belong on the planet with these people. And as I let all of this just be, as I sit with it as openly as possible, under all of that a sadness begins to surface. “What does the sadness feel like? Where do I feel it in my body?” As I feel into the sadness, I notice a heaviness in my chest and an urge to weep. I realize my inner critic has just beaten me down and stomped on my dream and I hadn’t realized it until now. As I become more in contact with the real, alive sadness that is moving in my heart area, I start to feel tenderness and a soft quality which also has a strength in it. It seems compassion is arising in me now, like a gentle cloak of love and understanding. The tenderest of supports is here for me. My inner critic dissolves in the truth of this compassion, which sees everything more clearly. I am called in to finish my eye exam and I feel a sense of light-heartedness as I giggle with the optometrist about something. I’ve spent over 10 years working intentionally to free myself from this mean inner voice. And it’s still yapping away, it never stops. It still gets its hooks into me sometimes. At literally EVERY STEP of my process coming back to my work as a songwriter I’ve had to confront it. It’s pretty fucking harsh, and if I let it, it would have stopped me from writing even one song. What is this “it,” this inner critic thingy? It’s like a muscle we develop, initially to keep us safe. It’s an amalgamation of all the feedback we received growing up about what was ok and not ok about us. It kept us as safe as possible in our family of origin and our society by limiting the amount we leave our safe “box.” The box is the agreed upon amount of room we can occupy, restricting our behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. That sting of embarrassment we feel when we say or do something “stupid” adds another plank of wood that makes up our box, further ensuring we won’t have to feel that sting again. But it also limits us immensely. It even limits the amount of joy we can experience and the amount of vivid-life-richness. Its most cunning tactic is that it flies under the radar, and we don’t even realize it has beaten us down. Another trick it uses is to convince us that what it’s telling us is true when it’s actually taken a partial truth and twisted it in a subtle or blatantly mean way. Real Truth actually feels good. Even hard truths, when you really feel them without the inner critic there, feel good. That’s kind of their signature. The real truth sets us free, while the inner critic voice makes us feel shitty about ourselves and cock blocks our dreams. May we all be free from our inner critic. May we all turn off our phones and feel what is true without numbing or distracting ourselves for just long enough to let the gloriousness of the present moment tempt us into doing it more often! And may the truth support us and set us free in ways we can’t even imagine! Thank you so much for reading my blog! Please comment with kindness below and I’ll do my best to respond. I am not currently teaching this material while I focus on songwriting but if you are looking for support on your inner journey, I highly recommend connecting with my husband Timothy Lin who works with people specifically on the inner critic. Or if you are looking for a legit spiritual path (that is not a cult) and offers incredibly deep teachings around inner critic and the unfolding of the soul, check out The Diamond Approach https://www.diamondapproach.org/. With much love, Jaia Suri