We have all experienced voices inside our heads. Our own voice, voices of our parents or teachers from when we were a child. A voice of conscience. A voice of reason. Very much like the little old school cartoon with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, we also have the critic and the muse.
In my interpretation, I see the critic as a voice of judgement, fear, and shame. It puts us down, resists change, and tries to prevent us from taking chances so that we don’t risk failure. The critic may also be referred to as the nerd, or even multiple voices of the gremlins.
The muse, on the other hand, is our inspiration, driven by passion and purpose. It is a visionary, always intending to lead us to pleasure and joy. It encourages us to take leaps of faith, and trust the universe, and spread our wings because it believes that anything is possible for us.
I have an idea I would like to invite you to think about. An inquiry. Something to ponder. This is not fact nor science. It is an idea spun off from a theory that another artist and teacher shared, and I’d like to start a conversation and dig a little deeper.
What if the muse wasn’t the opposite of the critic, but actually lived along the same spectrum? This idea was first introduced to me by Shiloh Sophia McCloud, and I have been curious ever since.
Imagine, if you will, a radio…and old radio, not a digital one. AM, FM, doesn’t matter, to choose the music you listen to, you move the pointer up and down the line of stations. This is how I imagine this working. The critic voice is at one end of the spectrum, say a low number station. And the muse at the other end, a high number station. And we get to choose which station we tune into!
What if we got use to listening to the critic, and ignoring the muse? Forcing the muse to stay small and hold back, the same way the critic tells us to stay small and hold back.
In order to stay safe, we tune into the critic’s station. The purpose of the critic is actually to keep us safe. When something feels scary, our body doesn’t actually know the difference between a real and life-threatening versus imaginary and challenging. So, our fight-flight-freeze response is activated at any perceived risk. The reason of our gremlins tell us that we can’t do it is to prevent us from trying, so that we remain safe. They want us not to fail, because in the far past, failure meant probable death.
The problem is that in today’s time, we experience stress all the time, for many things that don’t really even matter in the grand scheme of things. And our critic voice is on overdrive, constantly chirping at us about every little thing that we do, or don’t do. Sometimes it seems like the station is stuck on critic all the time!
Why would we do this? Because following the muse’s voice requires us to get uncomfortable, to stretch our boundaries and challenge our limiting beliefs. The muse is passion and inspiration, and asks us to follow our hearts and trust without question. Which is really hard for most of us given our worldly experiences up until now.
If the we consider the critic and the muse as being on the same spectrum, like a radio station, we get to recognize that we control where we focus our attention, and what volume we hear each voice. This is incredibly empowering!!!
As I was thinking about this analogy, I got curious…what are the voices between the critic and the muse? If they share a spectrum, then there are in between stations. And then, it struck me. What if the in between stations had to do with self-compassion?
Dr. Kirstin Neff talks about three elements of self-compassion.
- Self-kindness vs. self-judgement
- Common humanity vs isolation
- Mindfulness vs overidentification
These elements also lend themselves well to existing on a spectrum rather than independent and opposite entities. Let’s take self-kindness vs self-judgement for example.
Self-judgement is on it’s way to criticism but not as far. Therefore, self-kindness would be on it’s way to the muse.
Self-kindness is one element of self-compassion. As we meet all the criteria of self-compassion, we move up the spectrum closer and closer to the muse. Can you see it? Because in many therapies the counter to judgement and criticism is actually kindness and self-compassion. And it totally makes sense that they are on a spectrum, because we can be loving to ourselves, as well as kind, harsh, mean or cruel. So, what if we extend the spectrum above loving ourselves to include acceptance, and above acceptance is inspiration and passion, which is the muse?!
What do you think? I would love to have a conversation about this! Where do you spend most of your time tuning in? And what will it take for you to change the station?
Note: The image at the top is a drawing I did while participating in an Intentional Creativity course, lead by Shiloh Sophia McCloud called “Dance of the Critic and the Muse”, where this concept was first introduced to me.