A friend gave me a Skylight photo frame that allows me to upload photos to the Cloud and then watch as the device takes me through the sequence I have uploaded. We have over forty photo albums, and each time I take out the aging pictures, I am thrown into a moment where I see myself as I once was in a world that has passed. It is haunting. It is holy. There are moments when I can’t help but smile and stare, and others when I can’t hold back the tears.
There are so many people we love that we have not seen in decades. There are people we loved that betrayed us and assuredly believe we betrayed them. It is impossible to look at these photos and not hear the voice of my inner-Satan faulting me for my failures and accusing me that I had a cold heart that lacked grace.
It may seem too intense to use the phrase “inner-Satan,” but the word Satan simply means “accuser.” I could live more easily if all I had to contend with was an internal critic because I am a nine on the enneagram and am quick to please and to “peace-make.” However, my inner critic is often cruel, mocking, and knows exactly the softest square inch to insert the blade.
When I feel the knife enter, it is impossible to know if that accusatory voice inside of me came from a mocking mother, an angry young Becky, or is an assault from the kingdom of darkness. On most occasions, I know many voices are in operation, and I am equipped to do battle.
We all have different parts within our personality. Brain science has helped us understand that it is a myth that we operate in the world as a single self. We know there is an autobiographical self that holds the key memories of what has formed our various senses of being a self. There is also an internal critic.
Our internal critic is often very helpful. It’s hardwired into our brains and works great when danger is nearby, utilizing our past failures to help us make better decisions. Our internal critic has much to teach us, and it is humbling to receive the input and learn from where we have previously failed.
It is when this voice becomes a bully and lords our failures over us with cruelty that we become depressed, anxious, or numb ourselves with addictions to soothe our body. What happens in our brains with a viciously loud internal critic is not good. Researcher Dr. Richard Davidson says that too many self-condemning voices can impact our bodies by increasing inflammatory mechanisms that lead to chronic illness and accelerated aging. Our inner-Satan can literally be the catalyst of a movement toward our death.
How do we quiet our inner-Satan? After many years of being unkind to myself by listening to a cruel and demanding inner voice, I found relief through two practices: engaging my story with others and yoga.
My body and my story are inseparably linked.
I need to dismantle the minefield my family of origin unintentionally created as I learn to grieve and celebrate who I became during a great deal of heartache. In the presence of facilitators at The Allender Center, I have learned a new level of kindness that has helped soften the cruel internal voices and has given me power to shut down the kingdom of darkness.
When other people speak with compassion into my story, it allows a re-wiring of the neural pathways in my brain! Kindness is life-changing. Kindness is healing. Kindness changes our brains.
One of the most powerful ways to strengthen our brain’s self-compassion is to be present in our bodies. Twenty-three years ago when we moved to the Northwest, I decided not to join the tennis club but to find a yoga studio instead.
Breathing and being present in my body has brought new life. “Ahimsa” is one of the most important teachings of yoga, and it simply means “to do no harm to oneself or to another person or living creature.” I began to realize that my judgment towards my body during practicing was in violation of ahimsa.
Instead of running from my cruel internal critic and trying to silence her, I started listening and responding to her with less anxiety and more peace. It is not enough merely to know the voice is not true. I have to engage the voice with my body’s kindness.
Resmaa Menakem writes, “The body, not the thinking brain, is where we experience most of our pain, pleasure and joy, and where we process most of what happens to us. It is also where we do most of our healing, including our emotional and psychological healing. And it is where we experience resilience and sense of love.”
The more I bless my critic and dismantle the power of my inner-Satan, the more my practice of redemption becomes ahimsa. Resilience and compassion grow in the soil of kindness.