Revisiting the Children’s Table
In the morning I try to write. My mind is blank except for the usual blather.
I hate my belly.
I’m a terrible housecleaner.
What if my client doesn’t like me?.
I am somewhat practiced at removing myself from these inevitable unsilencable voices, exiling them to something akin to the children’s table at big family gatherings, where we would pout at not being allowed to be with the grown-ups.
The adults would periodically tell us to be quiet or to clean our plates. Similarly I sternly remind my recalcitrant voices to quiet down.
Life can be one long struggle against the meanness of the violent chatter of the mind. We drink, we smoke, we meditate, we take ridiculous risks, all to distract us from the stern voices of our internal parent.
We learned in couples’ therapy to call my husband’s mean voice the Taskmaster. It was helpful for me to have a name for Him and learn to differentiate my very sweet husband from the cacaphonic derision he lived with day to day. His seventy three years have greatly muted the Taskmaster, but certainly not eliminated Him.
We never gave my noisy voices a name, but my family refers to their manifestation as Negative Nancy, she who first imagines the worst thing that could happen, and then assumes the absolute worst of herself. She, NN, admonishes me to try to have control over uncontrollable situations, and then taunts me for failing. She’s a piece of work.
I have empathy for those who get caught believing such voices are telling the truth. Years ago, I came across a quote: “Don’t believe everything you think.” I use it often with my leadership coaching clients when they reveal the nastiness of their inner critic.
One of the amazing manifestations of the dream community I participated in for a decade or so was the way we used psychodrama to demonstrate the incoherence of inner voices to the dreamer. A small group of volunteers would play the parts of different characters in someone’s dream. Uncannily, the various actors had a knack of finding the right tone and language for a particular inner critic and repeating it endlessly in the dreamer’s ear. Sooner or later, it became obvious what a meanie that voice was, how extreme, and how patently untrue. Since we all had such voices, we were eager to throw ourselves into those roles.
Contrastingly most clusters of dreams also have a true and transcendent voice, sometimes subtle in the dream, but as we gave voice to it, the dreamer would eventually recognize its authenticity.
Another favorite quote is from Swami Kripalu. A cult leader who abused power, he did not live an exemplary life, but he did say this:
“Every time you judge yourself, you break your own heart.”
Why would we do such a thing over and over? It is a stark and potent reminder that some thoughts have devastating consequences, especially when they are given front and center stage over a lifetime.
My personal Reiki practice helps me find a quiet place to shelter. This sanctuary slowly becomes more and more of my inner world, where I can notice the wind on my skin and the moment when the red maple unfurls its leaves, backlit by the setting sun. I can listen to others without being distracted by Negative Nancy.
I can go astray again and again, and then rediscover the welcoming voice of my own grateful heart.
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Thanks for a great rread
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Nancy Mosher is a consultant in Montpelier, Vermont. Read more here.