Notes from Paganicon’s Inner Critic Corral

This year’s Paganicon was an extension of my Artist’s Way class last year. The intended focus of last year’s workshop was about how the overall Artist’s Way can improve magical practice by helping a practitioner find his/her own voice and truth while using Western thought practices to clear the mind to hear that truth. The topic was very broad and I don’t think it got across as well as it could, so I decided to try something tiny, common, and threaded throughout almost any person’s daily practice. I decided to focus on corralling and retraining the inner critic.

The inner critic is part of that subconscious voice that tries to distract you from meditating, encourages you to procrastinate instead of doing creative work (magical work included in that) and that is extremely helpful in giving you excuses to not do just about anything.

The above is a sample board of common things that the inner critic says, or blurts, when you really are trying to improve your concentration skills or hit that deadline or knit that scarf. I’m pretty sure what people in the class said came through a filter – my own inner critic is incredibly foul-mouthed for someone that dresses like a cartoon granny.

I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t have such a beast within. But the beast is part of ourselves – part of the shadow work we have to do to advance spiritually – and once understood, the inner critic becomes not the insidious boss of us, but our creative employee. The being whose job it is to handle the unpleasant things like spelling checks and grammar checks after we’re done with the paroxysmic joy of creating.

Part of that involves the job description. Once we know what the inner critic is actually for, we can reassign it more easily to its intended task. Then, with that defined, we can start to reassign it.

A major step in capturing and re-educating the critic? Personify it. I didn’t get a shot myself, but I did have everyone take the crayons and tablets I provided and draw a picture of their inner critic. I don’t think I asked to see anyone’s – it’s a private relationship, and seeing what lives inside people’s heads is often a matter of building enormous trust.

Next, I had them sit down and talk to their critics. Write down the wacky things it says. Then, I had each person address the points made by the critic.

The following points, all often used as ethical checklists, were added in this work:

  • Who would be hurt with this? In what way?
  • Will anyone with hurt feelings as a result cause greater pain in the long run? (Writers are the priests of saying uncomfortable things that need saying. The question comes up a lot.)
  • Will this lead to jail time or financial ruin?
  • Will this cause illness or endanger health in any significant way?

These were some mantras that emerged from the activity:

The majority of criticisms/concerns were eliminated by members using these phrases. One person even found she had nothing left except the “optimist” outline of the things she wished to pursue.

If one of these responses did not fit the situation – for example, if “so what” was followed by an already-determined consequences, such as injury if NOT death being the result of falling off a cliff, then it was marked as a valid criticism, and the idea is that those are to be revisited after a given project or meditation has had its structure laid down.

For example, if a meditator believes he/she will “only fall asleep” then the correct response to the voice is: “You can’t predict the future,” followed by “if I fall asleep, then I needed sleep.” “So what?” is also acceptable in that circumstance – natter about spiritual failure is impossible to assess, after all. As an add in, “How would you measure that?” often silences an inner critic – or proposes a new train of creative pursuit in refining research measures.

For those where doing morning pages – the 3 pages of intellectual dump prescribed by Julia Cameron as part of the Artist’s Way – I recommended a mind-map capture. Draw circles and write down the little distractions as they come to you. “I need to wash the dishes,” or “Did he call me back?” are valid, just not important right in that moment. The end product and use should be the same as any morning pages written: you can see where your head is at, see what your mood is and whether you can do anything about it, and you can pinpoint those little things that are nagging at you and address those that genuinely need address.

I daresay I did a much better job this year than I did last year – despite forgetting my notes.