Overcoming Awkwardness: How to Let Go of Self-Criticism and Open Up to Self-Expression (Guest Post by Anne Haley)
Self-criticism is not necessarily a bad thing. That little voice which tells us when we’re doing something wrong is essential to give us some self-awareness, to ensure that we learn from our mistakes, and to prevent us from becoming narcissistic, over-entitled individuals. However, sometimes that self-critical inner voice gets a bit over-active. It starts shouting us down when it doesn’t need to, telling us that we’re going to fail, to make fools of ourselves, that everyone is going to hate us - so we should reign ourselves back and simply not try. Quite obviously, this can be very restrictive. Many who come to dance workshops may find themselves hindered by their self-critical inner voice - unable to express themselves as freely as they would like because they’re pre-emptively criticizing their performance. If this sounds like you - don’t worry! There are ways to conquer and incorporate your self-critical inner voice, so that it helps rather than hinders you. You can then unlock your full self-expressive potential, and feel the benefits of mindful dancing as you should. Here’s how:
Remember What Your Self-Critical Voice Is For
If you suffer from an excess of self-criticism, it is important to remember what purpose self-criticism actually serves. Self-criticism, if it’s working properly, should be a teaching and protecting tool. It’s not there to beat you down and make you hate yourself. Far from it. It’s there to flag up when something’s going wrong, and to help you think of ways to put it right or to do it better next time. The self-critical ‘teaching’ voice helps you develop self-awareness, which in turn helps you to navigate your way successfully through the world.
It’s also there to protect you from negative outcomes. If you have an overactive self-critical voice, it’s likely that you’re vastly overestimating (or misunderstanding) the importance of certain situations to your life as a whole. This is likely to be because you’ve been bullied in the past, mocked and abused until you started analyzing every tiny action for any potential it presents others to pick on you. When your self-critical voice starts up, what it’s doing is trying to protect you from the bullying you subconsciously expect to follow whatever action you’re contemplating. Of course, in practice, your self-critical voice has basically taken over the task of bullying, pre-emptively.
So what can you do? It’s simple: remember that your self-critical voice is about protecting and teaching you. If the situation it’s trying to muscle in on is not one from which you, realistically, need protecting, and not one from which you’re going to learn any ‘negative’ lessons, there is simply no need for it. In a dance situation, nobody is going to mock you - however ‘badly’ you dance - and you’re unlikely to encounter any ‘negative’ lessons. So, when your self-critical inner voice pipes up, acknowledge its input, but don’t pay undue attention to it. There’s no need to take what it’s saying too deeply to heart - it’s just not relevant in this situation.
Treat Yourself With Compassion
We’ve said above that self-criticism serves a useful purpose when used correctly. This is true. However, self-criticism only really operates correctly when it is working in conjunction with self-compassion. Without the compassionate side of the equation, your learning and protective mechanisms will be terribly lopsided, with the self-critical element of the mechanism grossly swollen out of all proportion. Self-criticism tells you where you’re going wrong. Self-compassion helps you to put yourself right. When things are operating as they should, the whole mechanism should be something like a kindly teacher. “Look, you got this sum wrong. But it’s ok! Here’s where you went wrong, it’s an easy mistake to make. Next time, you’ll know how to do it right, and you’ll get better and better!” Without self-compassion, however, you end up with a hectoring bully. “Look, you got this sum wrong. You’re so STUPID! You’re awful at math! How did you ever think you could do math? Why do you even bother to come to this class?”. To get things working as they should, start fostering your sense of self-compassion. Understand your humanity, learn to forgive yourself, and change your restrictive, self-hating narratives to ones of self-compassion and growth. Self-compassion leads to positive change, learning, and personal development. Without it, you’ll find yourself stuck in a particularly horrible rut.
To truly express yourself through mindful dance, you need to let go of the self-criticism which is holding you back. These classes are safe spaces, you have nothing to fear. This is a good opportunity to exercise your self-compassion, and let it help you to develop greater self-expression. Which in turn will lend you greater self-awareness and bring forth a good deal of personal development. Taming an overactive self-critical voice is often a tough process. It needs work, it needs vigilance, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But, trust us, it’s very much worth it.
POEM OF INSTRUCTION: SEASONAL RHYTHMS
Every winter when the snow gently falls,
take some time to walk in it.
To smell the crisp air companioning the journey
To play, making snow angels as you did in seasons past
To hear the crunch, the music beneath your boots
Every spring when the flowers follow rain,
take some time to dance in it.
To feel the warming water glisten your skin
To move through the earth with renewed wonder
To sing in harmony with the birds newly returned
Every summer when the sun warms your face,
take some time to relish it.
To savor the blessing of heat and warmth
To swim in the lakes and oceans craving life
To taste the freshness of the seasons' fruits
Every autumn when the leaves golden and shimmer,
take some time to breathe in the festival of transition.
To soak of the color and feed on their wonder
To dance along with the leaves as they journey to the earth
To thank Divine order for this blessed circle
The American experiment has long intrigued me--
Although as I return after another sojourn abroad
I can't help but conclude that the experiment failed.
Although I've never swallowed the rhetoric that
America is the greatest country on earth
I now feel great shame for what we have become.
I own my part, take responsibility for my role in it
As I travel home I notice that the skies are still beautiful
And in this beauty I can draw hope.
Drawing hope from the beauty of the skies--
The same skies blanketing places far more magical
I can perpetually visit this veil of wonder.
To nourish myself with strength--
Strength from her healing majesty
Gifting me breath for the journey ahead.
Works of art in gestation
Are often called
Works in progress
The slogans and inspirational
Cliches call for
Progress not perfection
We judge students and employees
With the metric of a
What if we were to change
Every use of the work "progress"
With the word "process"?
What if works of art in
Gestation are called
Works in process?
What if we encouraged
People to focus on
Process not perfection?
What if our metrics of
Evaluation took on the tone of
What if we were to live our lives in process?
All life could transform
Into a journey of art making,
Fueled by the expressive spirit
We could refrain from
Judging ourselves so harshly
And instead savor the unknown
From the unknown and yes,
Even from our mistakes
We can discover a new way of being
From what we once labeled failures
We may unearth a new solution,
A new way to solve a problem
By creating in the moment and
Not forcing the big picture
May we encounter the essence of meaning.
Photograph by David Reiter
Follow the heart when
The heart calls
Even in circumstances--
Especially in circumstances
Where it seems challenging
To answer the call.
Follow the heart where
The heart leads
Even in situations--
Especially in situations
Where it seems easier
To play it safe.
Follow the heart as
The heart guides
Even in seasons--
Especially in seasons
As awakenings may startle,
Jolting you too far.
Follow the heart always
The heart's wisdom is pure
In every season, situation
Like the lonely north star,
The heart will lead you home--
Home to the truth of your being.
THE THIN VEIL
Where every step, every motion, every stillness is surrounded by magic, by mystery
Where all of the senses--including some you didn't even realize you have are engaged, enraptured
Where all four elements are constantly intertwining, interweaving, allowing for a deepening in spiritual practice, spiritual joy
Where the air seems cleaner than one has ever breathed air, as the Divine inspired, intended
Where food tastes fresh, nourishing abundant with energy, with life-giving force
Where the colors are vivid beyond the powers of imagination, of daydreaming, and the combinations send chills through the body, warming the heart
Being on the thin veil prompts the great brainstorm of how you will return here again--or even better--
How you can live your life fully and vigorously, each day, each moment as
as a thin veil experience?
ODE TO A HOT SPRING
Liberates the spirit from depletion.
Releases sensuality from her prison.
Carves away harshness no longer in service.
The grey mists
Clouds of night
I see the
Of the day
Searching for spirits on land
traversing the winter terrain,
we look up and behold
Divine Mother dancing.
The brilliant green thread
with beauty as the victor.
Our ancestors, our divine female warriors
from the other side of the veil
allowing us to embrace the fullness
Of love's magic fire.
The earth and heaven and the sky are One,
practicing yoga in harmony,
casting their extraordinary blend of magics,
restoring our faith in the promise of dawn.
Thanks to Rebecca Douglas of Rebecca Douglas Photography for granting me persmission to use her photograph of the Northern Lights from New Year's Eve 2016-2017. This is the night that my husband and I "chased" the Northern Lights in Iceland seeing them three times, inspiring this poem. I was not able to get a great photograph and was grateful to connect with Rebecca on Instagram and share in her experience of the aurora that evening! -Jamie
When my yoga meets the water,
Encountering the clean
Scent of eucalyptus
My entire being floats
In the balm of nature's renewing force.
When my meditation touches the earth,
Sensing the sureness of
Rock beneath my pilgrim feet,
My mind takes comfort
In the security of Mother Earth's assurance.
When my dance moves with the wind,
Gliding with Divine Mother's
Holy breath on my body,
My soul is both exhilarated and terrified
In the uncertainty of how this force will beckon.
When my song greets the fire,
Rejoicing with the pure beauty
Manifest before me,
My heart is warmed by the creative force
Of my human ancestors immortalized in flame.
Poetry and Photography by Jamie Marich
The Glacier Lagoon (Jökulsárlón), South Iceland
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity
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© Mindful Ohio & The Institute for Creative Mindfulness, 2019
Dancing Mindfulness/The Institute for Creative Mindfulness is an organizational member of the International Association of Expressive Arts Therapists, the Dance First Association, and NALGAP: The Association of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Addiction Professionals and Their Allies; Dancing Mindfulness proudly partners with The Breathe Network and Y12SR: The Yoga of 12-Step Recovery in our shared missions.