I don’t know if you saw it, but last spring a British sportscaster began commentating his dogs’ daily interactions. With sporting events suspended due to Covid, the poor guy found himself at a loss. He was a sports announcer with nothing to report. It was his job, his lifeblood, and he needed something to call. It’s hilarious. And it got me thinking about how we all have an inner commentator who’s always on the job. It’s that pesky voice in the skybox, watching and analyzing our every move. And I don’t know about you, but my commentator is awfully judgey.
I clearly remember the moment she arrived. It was one of those awkward 7th grade dances. Boys and girls stood in their neutral corners for much of the evening. And then a song came on that couldn’t be denied (probably Journey or Foreigner), so my girlfriends and I hit the dance floor en mass and boogied with wild abandon. A bit later, a very cute boy boldly told me, “I was watching you dance out there. I love the way you move.” And it dawned on me with growing horror that I had been watched and evaluated. And although the judgment was positive, it was also soul crushing. Self-consciousness was born, kicking and screaming. The ecstasy of moving to the music, and being free inside my body was forever tainted by the awareness of potential scrutiny. And once this watcher and judge woke up, she moved right into my head. She put on her jacket, clipped on her microphone, and settled in to report and dissect my every waking move. “It’s a beautiful day in Lynn’s World, Folks! I’ll be bringing you all the action…Live!”
Sportscasters often work in pairs. You’ve got the play-by-play guy reporting the action, and the color man, who’s there to provide context, analysis and background. The duo in my head sounds something like this:
Play-by-play: “Wow, She’s really crumbling in down dog today…yep, there she goes into child’s pose!”
Color: “Well, you hate to see that, although this shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. She is getting a bit older, and has only been on the mat a couple times this week. I’m not sure she’ll be able to recover from this one!”
Play-by-play: “Ouch! That joke certainly fell flat. The silence is deafening.”
Color: “That’s true! You know she’s feeling the sting from that one. She might want to think about keeping her mouth shut a little more often! Remember that time back in college…”
Play-by-play: “She just taught a lovely yoga class that really seemed to resonate with her students.”
Color: “Yes, this was a good one, but considering that she was an early round draft pick, you’d think we’d see her succeed with more regularity. While we’ve seen a hint of her potential today, she rarely seems to live up to the initial hype.”
These two are snarky and rude. They comprise the Internal Critic, whose only job is to analyze and disparage all things ME. They speak with such authority on the subject, and like our bored British sportscaster will find things to report on, even in the off-season, “Seems like she could be using this Covid time to get more things accomplished. What’s with all the resting?” Thankfully, I also have an Inner Cheerleader, but she’s often relegated to the sidelines, and it can be hard to hear her megaphone over the Critic’s booming mic. We all have countless contradictory thoughts and ideas vying for our attention. For some of us the Critic is turned up way too loud. So, how do we turn it off?
We PRACTICE. Yoga and meditation are designed to bring us into the stillness and quiet needed to sift through the crowd of thoughts swirling through our minds. When we familiarize ourselves with our habitual thought patterns, we learn to recognize all the different voices clamoring to be heard. The voice of the critic is subtly different from the voice that truly knows when we’re veering off course, or living contrary to our deepest values. It’s a voice born from all the unflattering messages we’ve absorbed from external sources – society, family, media…all the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”. Once we know what our Internal Critic sounds like, we can pause when we hear that grating voice, and tell ourselves, “Oh, there’s the critic again. I don’t need to listen to that drivel.” And every time we catch, identify, and discard the critic’s unwelcome commentary, we turn the volume down just the tiniest bit, until one day, God willing, we can’t hear it at all.