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Comfort and Joy

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In the October 1997 newsletter I wrote about the Inner Critic, that voice within us which has nothing good to say about any of our efforts and is very rude about our failings.. It says:

"If you eat that brownie you're going to gain five pounds."

"If you try anything new you'll only get into trouble."

"If you don't listen to me you'll regret it."

Although you may hear the Inner Critic in the course of ordinary living it it has more to say when you contemplate doing something new, especially a major change. It sounds just like your parents did when they'd decided that you were hopelessly irresponsible, immature, and needed a massive dose of adult-style reality to bring you to your senses.

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Turning Down the Volume

The Inner Critic isn't the only voice which warns you against change. There is another voice inside most of us, which we've named the Inner Comforter.

The Inner Critic is easy to hear. It speaks its mind with great bluntness, unlike the Inner Comforter, which often speaks softly (it doesn't want to hurt your tender eardrums). If the Inner Critic is the harsh parent, the Inner Comforter is the loving parent who tells you that there's no need to frighten yourself by going through changes, that life is perfectly fine the way it is.

This voice says:

"Go have another brownie if it'll make you feel better.

"You're right, meditation really IS boring."

"Don't ever tell people if they hurt your feelings; you'll only make them--and you--feel bad."

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Hard Cop, Soft Cop

Though one seems like your worst enemy, the other like your best friends, these two voices are partners who conspire to keep you from doing anything even moderately drastic with your life.

The Inner Comforter is far more crafty and less tamable than the Inner Critic--if only because you'd never dream of wanting to tame a voice which is so soothing and understanding. And sometimes it's so quiet in its reassurances that you don't even consciously hear it.

Painting is one of the ways in which I step out into the danger zone. I hear from the Inner Critic on a regular basis, but the Inner Comforter is far more subtle. Sometimes when I'm struggling with a painting there are no words, or even sounds, only the feeling (sometimes commencing the moment I pick up a brush) that I'd rather be reading a murder mystery, or washing my crystals, or staring out the window at nothing in particular--that I'd rather be doing anything but holding a brush and looking at the threatening blankness of a piece of watercolor paper.

I don't have to paint, after all. I don't have to prove anything, and why do something if it isn't any fun at all? If I stop now I'll never have to hear that mean Inner Critic again.

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They Mean Well

Now that I've made much of the sinister and sneaky aspects of the Inner Critic and the Inner Comforter I want to emphasize that they are simply those parts of us which wants to be comfortable, to avoid challenge, pain, and humiliation, which seek only to guide us to that haven known as the "Comfort Zone."

Comfort zones are the areas of our lives which are safe and familiar. In some cases this area may be physical, as for people who never leave their houses (town, state, country). Others may be easy with physical travel, but find other deviations from the normal threatening.

A comfort zone feels like a cozy living room. A friendly fire crackles in the fireplace; the lighting is soft; you sit in your big, comfortable chair, your cat purring on your lap as you read your favorite book and eat your favorite flavor of ice cream, completely at easeãbecause in the comfort zone we don't feel anxious or threatened, and we don't expect any unsolvable challenges to appear within its boundaries.

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Settling In

Comfort zones are truly lovely states of heart and mind. They answer our need to retreat from the stresses of living. Other animals have them--watch a bird sitting quietly on a branch. The average cat seems to spend ninety percent of its time in a comfort zone.

The greatest danger of comfort zones occurs when their boundaries are invisible, when you don't know that you've stepped into one and are settled for the duration. That was part of my painting crises. In rendering familiar subjects in familiar ways I'd unknowingly slid into long-term occupancy of a comfort zone. Once I discovered it in this realm of my life I soon saw that I crept soundlessly into the comfort zone when other areas of my life seemed threatening.

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Finding the Boundaries

There are a number of clues which can help you realize that your comfort zone has become habitual.

  1. You feel bored. You can't find a book you really enjoy reading; you're eating too much ice cream (or whatever your favorite comfort food is).
  2. When someone proposes doing something new you think that it doesn't sound as if it's worth the effort and bother.
  3. You sleep a lot, but it seems as if you never have dreams any more.
  4. You worry often about growing old.

The above warning signs describe relative states of inertia; the ones below when you're doing your best to move forward, but something always seems to go wrong.

Sometimes they're seemingly small things.

  1. You're going to call about that new job, but the phone is always busy (or you mysteriously misplaced the number).
  2. You've been looking for a new apartment, but the landlord always chooses someone else.
  3. The day you've sworn you'll call about driving lessons you hear about a really terrible car accident.
  4. You've met someone you really like, but the first time you go to his feline-filled apartment you suddenly discover that you're allergic to cats.

The next category brings us closer to the source of resistance.

  1. You've been talking to all your friends about how you need to get out of (or at least do something about) a relationship which is going nowhere, but every time the opportunity arises to end it (or at least talk about what needs to be changed) you think about how terrible it would be to be alone, and the two of you end up watching a video instead.
  2. You want to move. Your apartment/house is too small, and you've been looking around, but this place is your home; it has so many comforting memories. It would really be a huge trauma to move.
  3. You want to meditate more often (or practice yoga or give yourself regular Reiki treatments), but you're feeling really vulnerable right now, and it doesn't feel safe to stretch yourself in the psychic/spiritual department.
  4. There's a workshop you'd like to take, but you're really afraid of what you might find out about yourself.

Rejoice if you've reached this point, because you're no longer sinking numbly into a comfortable chair or a good book. You know what the problem is.

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Fear

This is what the Inner Comforter, with all kindly intentions, is trying to keep you from knowing about yourself. (The Inner Critic has no qualms about calling you a coward, etc., but this causes many of us to throw back our shoulders and say, "I'll show you how brave I am," and march off into disastrous battle against an unacknowledged adversary.)

The first thing to tell yourself is that it's all right to be afraid. It's not shameful, unspiritual, cowardly. It's human.

The next step is to look at the fear. A helpful way to do this is to imagine what will happen if you make that phone call, move into a new apartment, etc. If possible, imagine both the worst and the best that can happen. Our fear of failure is equaled only by our fear of success, and both are dwarfed by the fear of change, which means discomfort, uncertainty, and possibly making a fool of oneself.

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Changing One Step At a Time

Some people shrink from change; some charge at it with the idea that they can get rid of its effects all at once. We recommend a more deliberate course of action.

  1. Decide what you're going to change about your life (and please don't decide that you're going to change everything). Choose a date by which this will be accomplished. Don't choose a target date which sends tremors down your spine.
  2. Decide what you need to do to achieve the change, and break it into a series of actions (which don't have to be physical; they could be meditating, saying affirmations, washing your crystals, whatever supports the overall change).
  3. If these actions are sequential, assign interim target dates for each., i.e., "On Tuesday I buy the crystals I need; on Wednesday I program them . . . ."
  4. Think of everything you can possibly do to make the change as comfortable for yourself as possible. See if there are any helpful flower essences; get a friend to coach you, etc.
  5. Do it, and if your target date comes and goes set yourself a new one without flagellating yourself.

As you go through these steps your Inner Critic and Inner Comforter will try in their own ways to talk you out of such rash behavior. Talk back, not by resisting them, but by engaging in dialogue.

The more you communicate with them the more quiet their voices will become, and soon you'll hear a new one. You may call it your Inner Guide; it's the one which will not only encourage you to step out of your safe cocoon, but will accompany you every step of way.

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Other Guides

Crystals

When you decide to move from the "here" of comfortable, easy (and let us not forget, unchallenging and sometimes boring) existence, a tabular crystal (one which is flat) can serve as a bridge over the sometimes abysmal-appearing depths over which you need to cross to get to the "there" of a life which offers challenges, surprises, and growth.

Those who experience known or unknown fears about launching a new way of living can benefit from charoite. Rhodochrosite is helpful for anxiety. The difference between the two feelings isn't always clear, but we think of anxiety as a fear which expresses itself physically.

Grounding stones are always beneficial to those who are moving away from home base. These include black tourmaline, onyx, hematite, tiger's eye, carnelian, red jasper.

Flower essences

Walnut is the foremost flower remedy for those who want to create change and growth in their lives. It gives one strength for the journey, including the ability to not be swayed by those well-meaning people who tell you, "Better safe than sorry."

Aspen is valuable for fear of the unknown; while Mimulus helps those who know what they're afraid of. If a fear of breaking away from the traditional way of doing things haunts you, Purple Monkeyflower may be helpful. Mullein helps you to connect to your Inner Guide.

Beyond the Rainbow
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