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Messages from the Past

Recently, a writing friend told me a story she'd read about a woman who, as a teenager, submitted some writing to a well-known author/teacher. This person responded with a letter saying that the young woman's work was basically worthless.

The young woman never questioned the validity of this criticism. She was so devastated that she decided she couldn't write any more. Instead, she kept that letter for seventeen years to remind her to never humiliate herself that way again.

At last, she violated her vow enough to go to a workshop with another writer/teacher. She told the woman her story and gave her the writing for critique. This author gave her an honest opinion that contained both criticism and praise. Her words lifted the death sentence the woman had pronounced on her creativity. To symbolize her artistic rebirth, she gave the author the original letter, saying she didn't need it any more.

What Does Your Letter Say?

For me, the key element of this story isn't that some people do mean things, without any thought or concern for the impact of their remarks. The author didn't suppress the young writer; she did it to herself. She had a choice, as we all do when negative opinions come our way.

We can:

  1. Decide the opinion-maker has a problem and forget about her.
  2. Listen to the opinion objectively, pay attention to what seems valid, and ignore the rest.
  3. Carry the weight of a criticism for seventeen years (or longer).
The Poison Pen Letter

If someone tells me he thinks it's totally insane and stupid to believe that crystals have energy and consciousness, I'm indifferent to his opinion. I may spare a moment to think that he's WRONG, WRONG, WRONG , but I'm not going to dwell or brood on his remarks.

If someone writes to me and says that I made a mistake in saying that charoite comes from Tanzania (which it doesn't; it's from the Charo Valley in Siberia) I'll check my facts, get back to them and confirm that they were right. The mistake won't ruin even five minutes of my day.

If someone were to send me a message or tell me that my writing is incomprehensible and I should change careers, the situation gets a little more dangerous. If I never heard of that someone, I might devote a few disgruntled moments in wondering where he got off writing such a thing to me.

If, however, that someone (this hasn't happened) were well known and respected as a writer, I might indeed brood and worry. I might feel very desperate. Chances are, I would think about that remark more than once.

Because I'm an allegedly mature adult who's been writing for many years, I would keep on writing. I would ask other writers I respect for their opinions. However, if I were young and new at this, I might give up.

The Secret Messages

With a direct message, you have some idea of what you're dealing with. Other messages are more subtle.

The other day, my partner, Joyce thought the computer technician who was helping her through a problem was calling her stupid. She exploded, and the technician exploded with equal volume. It all turned out fine (as anger, when allowed its course often does). He even gave her a discount on the bill for the primal therapy he received from venting.

When I heard the story, I asked Joyce who called her stupid when she was young. I suspected her older brother, but she couldn't pinpoint an incident. He didn't hand her a note saying "You're stupid," but some messages get delivered in pieces and not always in words. Gestures, looks of disgust, impatient sighs can accumulate until the issue of intelligence (or any issue) becomes a highly sensitive one.

Messages may be even less direct than that. Often, our only sense that we're moving into an emotional danger zone comes when we realize we're feeling badly or that something we want isn't happening or that taking risks feels like a sure path to humiliation.

Getting the Message

When you feel emotional discomfort or a sense of blockage, stop and ask yourself what you were thinking about (or trying not to think about). If an incident triggered the negative emotion, what was it?

"My kids are acting up."

Okay, run with that. It's very important to let yourself think thoughts you consider may unacceptable. Much truth lies behind doors marked "Do Not Open."

Speaking or writing about this is very helpful. Sometimes you need to repeat yourself a lot, intersperse four-letter words, and generally take the long way round to get home. My following example is highly condensed.

"My kids are terrible, rotten kids. They don't clean their rooms, they don't do their homework, they're going to grow up to become juvenile delinquents. Their purpose seems to be to ruin my life."

Listen to yourself as you speak or write. Ask if any of this sounds familiar. Keep on writing or talking until a bell, however distant begins to ring. You might hear and begin to write this:

"My mother had the same complaint about me. She used to say, "You kids are killing me."

And what if two, or five, or ten years later your mother died? You didn't kill her, but for years you've carried around the message that you did. You deserve to be tortured by your own kids.

Shred the Letter

Whatever you discover about any major issue that rings true is the note you've been carrying all these years. It's time to rip it up, but how?

Your life consists of ongoing acts of creation, whether you're writing computer code, figuring out the best ways to raise your children, or writing a short story. From time to time you may want to ask the opinion of others, but you need to decide your opinion of their opinions.

It's important not to let their opinions define who you are. Don't interpret a teacher's opinion that your child could be doing better in math as a condemnation of you as a mother, and don't let it revive memories of math troubles that shadowed your own academic career. Do, however, revisit that time in your life and congratulate yourself for surviving it. If you have any old, terrible report cards, you might want to rip them up.

Balance all criticisms from others with your own intuitive sense of the best thing to do. Maybe someone criticizes a project you want to initiate. Look deep within to find the spark or flame of inspiration that gave birth to your idea. Let it warm you and remind you not to give up because of an opinion. See if any part of the criticism can be turned into suggestions to improve the project. Keep going and keep the connection to your inner source of creativity strong by asking it for advice on a regular basis.

Self-Esteem and Self-Love

In terms of crystals, rose quartz comes first to mind. It helps to nurture love and appreciation of oneself. If you are going through a "Down on Me" period, I recommend wearing or carrying it on a daily basis.

Citrine helps to foster self-esteem and a sense of confidence. It can be especially valuable when you're stepping out into an unknown area: new job, new ideas, and any untested ground.

Many flowers essences might be considered related to the question of self-love and self-esteem find the most generally apt choice to be Larch (BFR), which helps one to take a sense of self-esteem from inner knowing rather than outside opinion.

Hematite is helpful in deflecting the negative emotions of others. It helps you to get clear on what's theirs and what's yours.

This stone has two counterparts, both from the FES repertory. Yarrow helps to diffuse the negative opinions of those not to close to one. It would have been the ideal recommendation for the young woman whose talents were trashed. Pink Yarrow is more appropriate when someone close to you-for example, the mother who wonders why you don't train for a regular job instead of writing. Both essences can also be used for deflecting any kind of external negativity.

See The Emotional First-Aid Kit for references to crystals and essences related to specific emotions.

Beyond the Rainbow
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