As many of you may know from reading my book, I am keenly aware of my inner critic. I didn’t used to be, but through years of feeling really bad about myself for not having career success and the subsequent pain and suffering from that way of relating with myself and the world…and then a few solid years in therapy and in other fields of self-work, I learned how to hear that inner critic, and I learned how to deal with her.
First, I named her. I called her Sheila, and I don’t know why. That’s just the name I chose. And then I opened my ears and listened for her. Shelia was LOUD. And I realized that she was running my life, megaphone to my brain. I heard her every time I looked into the mirror. I heard her in most every one of my in-between times—driving to pick up the kids from school, lying in bed in the early morning, trying to get to sleep at night, working out, walking the dogs. She was remarkably quiet, however, when I was in the act of creation. When I was cooking, for instance, or gardening, or writing, or playing the guitar, or playing with my kids. That was a place no one could touch, not even Sheila. That was my sacred space.
I started to think about the power of the created moment, and I started to work with the idea that all our moments are created. It’s not about just being occupied—lost in the pressures and obligations of the day. It’s about being aware of the energy which drives us in the first place, deep within us, that must begin in self-love. And it’s about powerfully choosing our thoughts and emotions rather than living into the lie that they control us. We create them, after all.
For a while I wanted to exile Sheila. Nail her into a pine box and send her off to Timbuktu never to be seen again. If she died a violent death by shark, I didn’t care. Good riddance. But that didn’t work. Not at all. Because I had created her. Sheila is me. In wanting to exile her, I was declaring war against myself. So I started to let her talk, the way you do a scared little girl. And I realized she wasn’t even all that mean. I had misunderstood her. Kinda the way people misjudge a shy girl in high school for a mean girl. I like to think that I was someone who knew the difference, then and now, and behaved accordingly. So I gave Sheila that same gift of understanding. I started to love her with maternal comfort. And she got quiet. I guess in a way, I loved her into submission.
Lately, she’s come back and she’s loud and she’s mean—doesn’t seem so shy, after all and she doesn’t seem to want a hug. She wants blood this time. It’s confusing and blind-siding. She’s telling me all sorts of things that have to do with how wrong it is to have written a memoir and to be so vulnerable in public, and that I need to be on “my game” as if I’m playing a game in the first place. Even now, she’s screaming at me to leave this to a journal entry, and not to post it on my blog. Sheila is hollering: chest your cards. You need to be appropriate. You need to not embarrass yourself. Or anyone else for that matter. And maybe she’s right. Who do I think I am?
A new friend sent me this today:
“Many of us feel uncomfortable revealing to others–and even to ourselves–what lies beneath the surface of our day-to-day consciousness. We get out of bed in the morning and begin again where we left off yesterday, attacking life as if we were waging a campaign of control and survival. All the while, deep within us, flows an endless river of pure energy. It sings a low and rich song that hints of joy and liberation and peace. Up on top, as we make our way through life, we may sense the presence of the river. We may feel a subtle longing to connect with it. But we are usually moving too fast, or we are distracted, or we fear disturbing the status quo of our surface thoughts and feelings. It can be unsettling to dip below the familiar and descend into the more mysterious realms of the soul.”
–Elizabeth Lesser from Broken Open
I was so thankful to read this, because it reminded me: I have always known about that river. I have created space for it in my life since I was a little girl and it especially fuels my writing. I went to it and drank even when it looked strange to others. Along the way, I learned that society does not want to consider the river. It lies to us and tells us that the real river is experienced in occupying our minds with things we can control. I have never had any tolerance for that, and I suppose it is no surprise that I have spent the last 17 years in Montana—a place which is all river. Even when I try to deny the river, it pulls me to its side and asks me to drink. To sit beside it. To swim in it. To swim in it on a horse and lift off its back, holding on to mane, riding it all.
I have been quiet for a long time in those waters. Alone and yes, sometimes lonely.
And then one day a year or so ago, I took what I created in that sacred space of writing, and went out into the world with it. It has been disorienting. And it has been beautiful. I have been afraid of what the world of a different river would have to say about my honesty. Family. Friends. Institutions I’ve left. And what I’ve found is that the human heart is hungry for truth. It wants to be fed. It wants to swim in its true river. It needs to be reminded, wants to be reminded about the river. But being a messenger of that is confusing and scary and full of Sheila telling me that I have no business doing this. At all. That I’m an imposter. Or in it for the wrong reasons. Or that I will fail in all my trying.
This morning, I woke to a new early spring-spun light. 5:00. I couldn’t go back to sleep. My heart was racing. I am about to go back out on the road for my paperback’s book tour, (readings will be posted soon) and speak to many people about what I have learned from a time of crisis, how I have become aware of Sheila, how I have committed to the river. And this, from a woman who has been writing fiction for all these years, not memoir. Not life according to me. My characters have full rights to speak, and to speak wisely. But not me as the main character (so sayeth Shelia). I have been pooling my personal power for so long, learning what it feels like in quiet creation. Now to share it…is fraught.
But this quote reminds me of the mysteries of soul. I have always loved mystery. I find it holy. I love reading the work of mystics from different religions because they are in the river finding love, not fear. Maybe my problem is in trying. Maybe the answer that Sheila needs is simply this: get out of the way and let the river flow.