Jane Arie Baldwin

Personal Tools for Living at the Highest Levels of You

Instead of Silencing Your Inner Critic, Find Your Beginner’s Mind

Listening to the critic within generates a series of negative thoughts that when believed as truth can be detrimental to your performance, your relationships, and your health. Ignoring or reprimanding unwanted thoughts, the shoving them under the rug technique, can cause them to intensify. The solution to overcoming the inner critic is to have a beginners mind. To bring curiosity and play into the mix and find your flow within the chaos of the moment.

FOCUS

Just the other day, I stood in front of a room full of people reciting a lengthy poem I had memorized by heart. Many times in my living room I practiced my lines, with only the sleeping cat as a witness. Driving in traffic, I linked the words and phrases together in perfect cadence. Alone, the lines poured out of me with no problem.

In a banquet room with women seated at round tables after lunch, the lines would flow and then sputter.  Not in the ideal manner I had planned but in the messy, perfect way that so often accompanies creative work. I held the pages of the poem in my hand in case I needed them for reference. In the end, I did need to glance at them three or four times. I kept my focus on the message I wanted to transmit, the big picture of how pain and redemption move through a lineage. All the while, batting away the critic with stealth, Tai Chi-inspired movements.

 

CONTEMPLATION

Of course, moments where the words did not come, my inner critic gladly showed up to fill the vacuum. These days I see the judgment that wants to take over as John Goodman’s character, Sulley, in Monsters Inc. He’s big, colorful and at the end of the day, he doesn’t want to mess up the process. He’s just doing his job.

Contemplation, from the Latin meaning, “To gaze or behold,” is like thinking with your feelings. Where rather than words and concepts coming up and being put together like a puzzle to be solved, thoughts merge with feelings to create a blanket of experience from which to act. Contemplation offers you options other than the inner critic to feel or think.

The inner critic, guided by the ego, is not an excess piece of flesh that can be lopped off on a whim. The ego wants identification with the self. Being empowered in the ego is not sustainable because it leads directly down the path to suffering. I can hear my mom’s voice in my head quoting the Book of Mathew, “The path to hell is wide but gets narrow, the path to heaven is narrow and then gets wide.”

Personal development techniques so often focus on the ego as a problematic. We think that if we could only calm our egos, trick them, or get rid of them all together we could be a better, stronger, more enlightened humanity. If subordinating the ego worked then we would have abolished suffering long ago.

 

MEDITATION

When I first began to write poetry and short stories the inner critic was the mayor of my entire internal space. I judged everything. Only the most exemplary and perfected works of others that had received the highest accolades were deemed any good by the standards I had set. I was frozen, unable to even finish writing a sentence without pressing the delete button and erasing every single word. “Who was I,” I wondered, “to think that I had anything to say.”

Meditation, sitting in stillness while focusing my mind on my breath provides a supportive place from which to watch what’s going on around me minus the negative filter of the inner critic. To practice observing my thoughts and then letting them go without identifying with them has allowed me to reclaim the real estate of my mind that the inner critic once lorded over. Softening my attachment around what I define as me and who I am has given me the freedom to express myself creatively that I would not have been able to do without meditation.

A developed inner critic, much like a wild animal, needs focused attention, compassionate understanding and a little playful curiosity. What you have to say is essential. Your words need to come out, and when expressed fully they can be transmitted to others in a way that touches the heart of each person who hears them. Creativity takes courage. It takes a willingness to try new things without the filter of the inner critic, or at least an inner critic that you tame through committed focus, intent contemplation, and consistent meditation practice.

 

Let’s Make “Thoughts and Prayers” A Call to Action

“I don’t want to survive, I want to live.” Wall-E

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:14-17

You know the image. A soldier, in the foxhole, at the edge of the battle. Destruction is all around. Worn-down and haggard from months of fighting, he grasps the locket around his neck. He seems to be praying, offering thoughts and prayers to the existence of God, home, and country. Then he let’s go of the locket, with renewed strength, he jumps out of the foxhole into battle.

Every call to action is a battle. Whatever the cause. Whether it’s standing up for gun control, bringing awareness to mental health issues, fighting for veteran’s rights, or ending world hunger. It is the action that is important.

It’s easy to confuse non-violence with inaction. Thoughts and prayers are not inactions. It just takes more than that. Mohandas Gandhi led an entire independence movement with shaking speeches that motivated millions, a hunger strike, and consistent thoughts and prayers.

Meditation is another word for the phrase, thoughts, and prayers. Focusing one’s mind in silence is done in both cases as a method of finding peace. Meditation, like thoughts and prayers, is often seen as a spiritual endeavor. For the place of solace is considered to be in the realm of spirit.

Thoughts and prayers, meditation. These practices buoy the resolve it takes to fight the battle. There is a natural balance between the inaction of quiet, focused solace and actively fighting to protect our core beliefs. The higher power that lives within us, God – if you will, is not separate from our core beliefs. It is our core beliefs.

Can we please stop imagining that God is outside of us? Please!

An anthropomorphized man/woman, god/goddess, Justice League that’s going to save us. It is us – the highest expression of our most profound beliefs. Not the ego-driven, “King of the world,” us.

We love thoughts and prayers because we feel the love, hope, and faith in the stillness. Those feelings light up our soul. They remind us who we are, powerful beyond measure.

Some kind of action is always required for us to experience God’s presence. Thinking, praying, and meditating are actions that reinforce community oneness. That’s why we push the buttons to like and share them.

To make the changes we want we have to stand in the faith that oneness already exists. And then fight like hell to create the existence we want to see in the world in which we live.

Should You Risk It All (or even just a little)? 4 Things to Consider

There can be no great accomplishment without risk. — Neil Armstrong

THERE’S A SUBTLE ART TO ACHIEVING WHAT YOU WANT

Think of something that you want or want to do that seems just out of reach for you at this moment, an idea that sends butterflies rushing through your belly.

For me, it is standing in front of a group of people reciting my poetry by heart. To stand in front of a crowd reciting poetry from a sheet of paper? That’s doable. By heart? No way.

“I could never do that!”

This thought shot through me and sent butterflies in a spiral throughout my body the first time I imagined reciting my poetry by heart in front of an audience.

“I could never do that! Just hand me the sheet of paper, please, and I will be fine.”

A few days ago, I attended a poetry slam. I watched many poets recite pages long verse. I saw how they became their experience, lived the moment in real time. I noticed the deep connection that they made when spoken word came out of a mouth on the stage, hit the air, and showered down on the audience. I could almost see the goosebumps form on the arms of audience members as I felt those pop up from my skin. At that moment we were all one, with the same urgent need to connect with each other and have a communal experience. To understand and be understood together.

That’s when I knew it was time for a change. I needed to embrace the art of taking risks.

ALERT: POSITIVE CHANGE MAY BE REGISTERING AS DANGER

 

We live in a dichotomy. Our brains register all change, positive or negative, as a threat. We tend to go about our day-to-day business without taking note of what’s happening in our bodies. Meanwhile, our bodies are processing our experiences and sending us alerts such as physical aches and pains, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, mental images and phrases. These signals alert us to possible danger. Because of our auto-pilot nature, we often miss opportunities for positive change.

This dichotomy means it is crucial to stay alert to the body, the breath, the thoughts and feelings that are happening in each experience. Positive change requires awareness of and attention to what’s going on at many levels or planes: physically in the body, mentally in thoughts, emotionally in neurological pathways, and spiritually as an opportunity to open your heart and connect to others.

OUR FOUR PLANES OF EXISTENCE

When our deepest desires do not match our actions, negative rumblings under the surface show up in our lives. We feel irritable, insecure, and we can even become physically sick. Our minds play tug-of-war between our basic instincts, which are ruled by emotion in the ancient part of the brain and what we think is reasonable, located in the more modern part of the brain. This heave and ho causes procrastination, indecision, and even stasis.

Focusing awareness on each of the four planes of experience can help to alleviate the stress that causes procrastination or stasis. To flow or to surf with our deepest desires we have to tune into the what we want above all, with laser focus.

THE TRICK: RUN A CHECK ON YOUR FOUR PLANES

Physical level – the breath is the key to regulating the physical level. Find it and follow it through your body. Guide your breath to places that seem stuck – your lungs or diaphragm, the back of the lungs, even your feet may need some. The stress of taking risks tends to get us in our heads. Connecting the breath throughout the body can balance out this feeling, much like you would spread butter evenly over a piece of toast.

Mental level – our thinking patterns can make or break us in an instant. Notice your thought. The best brain training for this experience was created by Byron Katie who asks,

  1. “Is this thought true?”
  2. “Is it absolutely true?” After a couple of tries, your thought process will begin to question its thinking and release the vice grip on what it thinks it knows.
  3. Then you can ask, “How do you react when you believe that thought?”
  4. And finally, my favorite question, “Who would you be without the thought?”

Mind games keep the mental level on its toes.

Emotional level – We have to give kudos to this level, the level of our instincts, because this reactionary level has kept us safe as a species, until now. We are living in a time when we are beginning to understand that the body is not separate from the mind. The body is the mind. Emotions are brain chemicals that communicate information throughout the body and the brain. They help us make informed decisions based on we are feeling.

Spiritual level – What does the heart want? It wants a compassionate connection to others from a place of love and gratitude.

WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO RISK?

The question, “What are you willing to risk?” is not synonymous with “What are you willing to give up?” Instead, think of it as, “What are you willing to gain?”

I used to think that I was being asked to give something up when I heard the above phrase. I hadn’t been ready to give anything up until I remembered how much I loved being on stage as a child, unencumbered by holding white pages in front of my face so that my hands would be free.

At that moment, I realized that it is my thin sheet of paper full of carefully crafted words that ultimately separates me from the audience. The only thing I would be giving up by memorizing my lines is playing small by hiding behind my paper. It’s not stage- fright I’m risking, it’s messing up.

When I check in on my four planes of existence, I acknowledge the particular thought on the mental plane that’s got me stuck.

I’m not even on stage yet, and my thoughts are judging my experience, judging my performance. Judgment, masked as a protector keeping me safe from harm, is in truth keeping me in hiding.

“I could never do that!”, Has a message, it is an excellent indicator that positive change is afoot, an opportunity for positive change came when I took the time to notice what unacknowledged feelings lurked beneath.

The real message is, “Shit! I want this. I desire this! Wait…how do I get there?”

That’s when I focus on my desire: to create work that connects with an audience. Let the experience be what it will let the performance be imperfect. I want to bask in the joy of the creative flow.

How to Make Fear Suck Less

Whether it’s a jolt of adrenaline that sends chills down your spine or a sudden freeze that stills the breath in your lungs, fear sucks. The anticipation that something awful is going to happen looms on the horizon like a ship about to drop into an unknown infinity. This old album illustrates one of the many terrors that humans used to imagine as real.

Fear’s not all bad. Simply put, it is the reaction that occurs when we feel threatened. In the Pleistocene, fear kept us out of the mouths of saber-toothed tigers. Fear senses danger for us so that our body can react, putting necessary protections in place for the survival of the whole human organism.

The problem is with chronic fear. The act of planning for and thinking about the future every single day puts our minds in a loop of overthinking. Thoughts focus everywhere but the here and now. They’re either remembering the past or creating hypotheticals about in the future, setting up scenarios to avoid risk and failure. Soon we can no longer remember what it feels like to be living without a sense of urgency.

Chronic fear is very good at hiding in plain sight. It exists in the frenetic pace of life hitting us at all levels — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The phrase “I’m crazy busy,” is an excellent red flag to indicate that we are not responding to fear but holding onto it.

NO MORE HESITATION

Those things that are crazy busy in your life are going to stay that way, just as the carousel keeps on spinning long after the children have gone. Shifting out of the overthinking loop will not happen on its own. The mind is moving so fast all the time in so many directions that you feel very active, even when you are lying down and feigning sleep. Overthinking is working its smoke and mirrors magic on you, making you believe that plotting and planning are protecting you when the truth is that you are stuck in hesitation mode.

“Hesitation sends a stress signal to your brain, it wakes your brain up. Your brain goes to work to protect you, to pull you away from something that it perceives to be a problem.” — Mel Robbins, The 5 Second Rule

You are seven years old on the high-dive again with a hundred water-treading friends egging you on from the pool below.

You are at the edge of a cliff in a hang glider, waiting for a gust of wind.

You are a deep sleeper hitting the snooze on the “Crazy Busy” alarm, one more time.

IT’S YOUR TIME.

At the snap of a finger, one decision can unfold an experience into a whole new set of awareness and observations. It’s difficult to imagine that the opposite of crazy busy, sitting in stillness, can elicit the butterfly effect, until you practice it. Slowing the mind can open and expand the parameters of the current thought bubbles that so aggressively fill the space.

Simple Guidance for Getting On With It

 

From a very early age, those in control told us to, “Hold it in.” “Don’t take everything so personally.”, “Act like a man!” These phrases were programmed into us during our early imprinting, teaching us to ignore our emotions and numb any sensation of feeling.

KNOW THE SCIENCE
Feelings and emotions once touted as the realm of hippy-dippy, touchy-feely types, are now part of the neurobiological research mainstream. The science is clear. Neuroscience research has identified the limbic system in the brain as the place that processes incoming information and outgoing reactions. The amygdala is the information hub that receives messages and stimuli from our five senses and organs and also, in part, determines our emotional responses.

Our brains are exploding like fireworks with all of the outside stimuli we absorb and process daily. We’ve been programmed – for lack of a better word – to “Hold it all in.” When someone asks us how we feel we say “fine.” The truth is, we don’t know what we feel.

TRACK YOUR EMOTIONS  

We play a game of avert and pivot, looking happy so others will keep their distance. Meanwhile, we crave connection. When we do unload, we dump onto our nearest and dearest confidants, asking the ones we love most to help carry the heaviest of our loads.

A standard response when emotions get triggered is to stuff them and keep them inside you. When they get stuffed, they get shoved deep down like the batting in a bear at Build-A-Bear Workshop. There is no room for emotions happening in real time because we are still holding on to those from last week, last year, or even as far back as childhood.

Those emotions and reactions then trigger and activate many different areas in our brains, traveling through our bodies affecting millions of sensory responses from body sweats, to stomach cramps, to eye twitching. Notice what happens to you physically and mentally next time your emotions surge. Follow them. Notice where you hold anger and anxiety in your body.

REMOVE YOUR ARMOR

We wear the armor of protection against having to feel. How can we feel, after all? There’s no space. We’re like voodoo dolls that have been poked and prodded by life’s unavoidable circumstances.

At least at Build-A-Bear, they remember the love part, having a child kiss the little red heart before inserting it into the bear’s chest.

Acknowledge the protection you once needed, the reason you put the armor on in the first place, and then get on with it.

The key is the breath. Like a pinball hitting all the marks and lighting up the board, the breath moves through the body and activates places in you that have been dormant. Notice, how is my breath flowing? Is it evenly going in and out of my body? Or choppy? Do I have a deep inhale and exhale? Or is it shallow? The breath, like wind patterns in the weather, moves with the currents that guide our day.

A thick shell of armor keeps us from being vulnerable to attack. We wear masks or develop elaborate facades that we hide behind. We create these metaphorical expressions of ourselves to help us cope. The thoughts and internal images we build guide how people perceive us out in the world. We wear around so much of this armor that we’ve even, for the most part, forgotten how to feel.

What is the armor you wear?

It took me many years to recognize my armor and to see how I hid behind its cover, averting people or any deep, meaningful connection. I could not see it clearly until cervical cancer reeled me into myself. Then I saw that the person I projected into the world was an imitation of the person I left behind at about the age of thirteen.

BE BRAVE! PRACTICE VULNERABILITY

Vulnerability, feeling your feelings, is a vital power center, a key to experiencing the kind of authentic connection that deep down we crave, even as we deny love because we tried it and it didn’t work for us before, in the past.

We need to brave feeling the vulnerability so that we can shed our armor, take off the mask, tear down the façade that we created in the past. There is so much to feel that is good, full of love and joy, hope and happiness. Herein lies the key to your power.

 

 

 

 

EXPERIENCE YOUR AUTHENTICITY 

Now is the time to see the internal connections that have been there all along. Empirical evidence is coming forth to substantiate claims that were discovered long ago by many ancient cultures. Updated ideas in neurobiology research prove these claims and continue to show us how much more we have to learn about our bodies and minds and their inextricable connection.

At the heart of these what we are now learning from science is to experience authenticity by being true to yourself. Know yourself, and you will not have to dump your troubles on your best friend, you will not have to remind yourself and others of the pain you suffered as a child and continue to suffer. You will feel your feelings in real time, at the moment, and you will be free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Love Still Conquer All?

Flower-Gun

DOES LOVE STILL CONQUER ALL?

Monday morning, I took my time waking up. I’d spent the weekend in the Sierra National Forest of northern California outdoor adventuring with my friend Corrie. As I peeled off my eye pillow and arranged the comforter on the couch I noticed Corrie standing over me. She was announcing the horrific events that took place in Vegas the night before.

The more I tried to make sense of the tragedy, the more uncertain I felt. None of the pieces fit together. The gunman didn’t fit any preconceived profile. The reason was not clear.

This feeling of uncertainty seems to be becoming more familiar, on a grand scale. Natural disasters seem compounded – hurricanes, earthquakes, one after another. Sometimes it even seems as if uncertainty is the only thing we can be certain of anymore.

If this is the age of uncertainty, how can we be sure that we are living in total freedom? How can we trust that love will conquer all?

Uncertainty is in the head. Freedom is in the heart, the seat of love. There is no uncertainty where there is love. Ask the heart. The heart knows this truth and reminds us with every pulsation, at 30, 60, 120 beats per minute, an inner reminder with every beat. Tuning into the heartbeat and the breath is the key to connecting to what is certain, to the stillness inherent in the pulse of life itself.

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