Sunday, 17 August 2014

‘Mr. Inner Critic’ and the Quest for Solace

Life can be hectic, relentless, almost artificial. Its sometimes brutally-imposed driving force leads us unknowingly to stressful destinations. Feeling pressured, my reflex instinct to wind down became writing. Its magical effect not only unleashes the demons within me and keeps them at bay, but it also channels them, transforms them into creative urges, and sometimes those urges do translate into thoughts and words, which I do my best to transcribe and put ink on paper. Oftentimes turning negative thoughts, spasms, and stomach knots into constructive writing has helped me turn what may have seemed a dark alley into a brightly-lit boulevard; its inspirational lights guiding me further, showing me the must-see attractions and dreams of glory ahead. It may sound clichéd, yet writing is a healing force, and believing in what I do has become my mantra.

Recently I had a delightful conversation with someone who is very dear to me about hope and optimism. The subject became topical because we were reading about self-criticism and how most often that criticism is negative. Within each one of us we have a negative inner voice that constantly judges, criticizes and negates us. That voice is known as “Mr. Inner Critic”. Mr. Inner Critic makes us humble, asks us to step back and reconsider the bold and spontaneous ideas we might think of voicing out. You end up feeling bad, blaming yourself for whatever reasons. Mr. Inner Critic says you are weak and inspires shame. Mr. Inner Critic loves to highlight what you didn’t do right instead of what you did right. He lives in your brain, and sure as hell doesn’t pay the rent. The question begs, how do you get rid of such a parasite? I’d say you need a combination of hope, optimism, but above all self-acceptance. Negate Mr. Inner Critic’s power which stems from the belief that you are not okay the way you are, by starting to feel compassion for yourself and by considering self-forgiveness. Let “Mr. Hope” co-habit with Mr. Inner Critic for a while. It might feel a little crowded up there, but after a while Mr. Inner Critic might want to change his bachelor’s pad into something more harmonious, inspired by Mr. Hope. Sure, outside factors have their role to play, but to meet such a state of inner calm you must bear in mind that the lion’s share of the job is yours.

It’s important to stand back and look at the picture you have painted thus far. As I write my new novel, I am aware that I reach symbolic milestones, and when I reach their thresholds I force myself to study what has been accomplished and what is left to do. End of last week I reached the 100,000 word mark and only a handful of chapters remain to be written. I reached what may well be the penultimate hurdle in the manuscript. Rather than write some more, I studied my synopsis carefully and gave thought to how I would shape my concluding chapters. On Friday night I felt like writing, but fended off the urge, knowing that Mr. Inner Critic could at any point take over and tell me that what I would be writing wouldn’t be worth a hill of beans. I needed a simpler, quieter, and more natural environment. My mind had other plans.

I took my daughter to the mountains the next morning instead. She wanted adventure; I sought solace. We drove two hours south, packed lunch and camera at hand. Villages got smaller and smaller as we approached the foot of the mountains, temperature dropping as we climbed the mountain side in the Renault Twingo. I tried to share some of my optimism with the Twingo, reassuring her that she was capable of dealing with those winding, narrow and treacherous roads, and taking us to the top albeit in second, sometimes first gear. She made it; we made it. And there we were, at the summit, glaring at the fullness of the natural world: the vast blue lake, towered by rock-crumbling mountain sides, like a swimming pool in a closed-off fortress; the mountain sides themselves looking like imposing amphitheatres of green, gray, and white of their spiraling, trickling waterfalls; vast, gray skies, seemingly brooding over what weather they intended to produce next. Our senses were heightened as we embarked on a day’s adventure of hiking, stream crossing, and constant discovery. Breathing pure air, and in tune with the ebb and flow of this natural spectacle, I felt humbled by nature and by how insignificant a human life can be in comparison. My inner peace was nothing compared to the majestic silence of the greater world surrounding us. Solace I was looking for, solace I found.

I returned to the manuscript this morning, fuelled with renewed hope and hunger. I added another couple of thousand words, made a radical character change, and made a few adjustments to the events of the final chapters. The mountains, the lake and the waterfalls still loom over me, teaching me the greater peace, the peace so crucial to my undertakings, the peace within me.

Mr. Inner Critic predicts a storm after I finish the manuscript, and that what I feel is the calm before the storm of finding an agent to represent me and facing the possibility of rejection again. Yet Mr. Hope has his word to say and he’s here to stay. ‘Believe in yourself,’ he says. ‘For no-one else will do it. Persevere and you will do fine.’ Certainly words of wisdom and of renewed optimism for a man of thirty-five with a whole new life ahead of him.