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THE WONDER explores perspectives, rituals, and observances of modern, naturalistic, Earth-revering Neopagan religious paths. Naturalistic Pagans embrace the world as understood by science (that is, without gods, magic, or the supernatural), and enhance our lives with myth, ritual and activism. Hosted by Mark Green (author of ATHEOPAGANISM: An Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science) and Yucca (formerly of The Pagan Perspective YouTube channel, now of the Magic and Mundane channel).

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The Inner Critic

February 1, 2021

Remember, we welcome comments, questions and suggested topics at thewonderpodcastQs@gmail.com



Mark: Welcome back to The Wonder: Science-Based Paganism. I'm your host, Mark.

Yucca: And I'm Yucca.

Mark: And today we are going to talk about the critic voice. You know, that voice in the back of your head that says this is stupid, or you shouldn't be doing this, or this is a bad idea, or you're really dumb for trying to do this, or you're really bad at this.

All those, you know, self disempowering aspects of our own psychology that. That everyone seems to have it one level or another,

Yucca: And that's sometimes not so in the back of the head and they have a pretty large presence sometimes, especially when just starting out with moving into a ritual practice.

Mark: Yes. This episode we think will be of particular interest to folks who are atheists or other kinds of skeptics and are just starting to move into a ritual pagan practice because you know, it lights up all those warning lights on your dashboard. Oh, what am I doing? This is silly. This is this doesn't do anything.

Why am I doing this? And we all have to wade through that. We all have to work with it. But there are great rewards on the other side of it, when you come into a healthier relationship with that voice. And so we're going to talk about what it is, how it can impact us, and then how to come into a healthier relationship with that voice today.

Yucca: And thank you for framing it that way as a healthier relationship, because we're not setting out to try and banish it or get rid of it or treat it like it's this bad evil thing. But to recognize that it has a role, it has a purpose. and sometimes that it can go beyond that and become very unhealthy for us.

So we need to bring that back and work with it in a way that it does serve us.

So I think that's a good place to start actually is in an ideal scenario. What's the purpose of this voice? Why is it here?

Mark: Well, as I understand it this voice arises very early in human development and it's an internalization of a parental voice that says, you know, you're going to hurt yourself. Be careful don't do that because it's not good. And so initially this sub routine built into our psychology is something that's there to protect us.

It's there to keep us from getting into situations that are harmful. It's there to take care of us. Right? So when the parent isn't around, we have the internalized parent who can run interference for us and make sure that we don't get into potentially harmful situations. So that's a good thing, right?

Yucca: And And not just the parent, but also the community as well.

It's a way of maintaining community unity in terms of behaviors that you might have that well, if I get caught lying, if I am stealing these things that the community's voice is in your head going no. You're going to get, that's going to be shameful.

That's going to be upsetting. That's going to be whatever it is.

Mark: Right, right. And this voice has some weapons. It is able to make you feel embarrassed. It's able to make you feel ashamed. It's able to make you feel guilty. All of those are very unpleasant experiences for us. They tear down our self-esteem and they make us feel like we're not good people.

And they hurt.

Yucca: And very physical responses as well in terms of what it, what is happening with your heart rate and what is happening with your temperature? What does it feels like to be in your body.

Mark: Sure. I mean, think about. Think about what happens when you're really embarrassed, your face flushes, your heart is .Beating. There's this kind of sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. It's a very physical reaction. It's not just a thought pattern. It's a full system response to this sense that you've done something wrong.

And so. What we're talking about today is how do we best work with that in order to have it not disempower us from trying new things or trying things that that might seem silly or or frivolous or embarrassing, or even useless because those are all the kinds of words that the critic will use to try to keep us from doing stuff that's new or experimental or out of character.

Yucca: Yeah, it uses that fear of failure to really control us .

Mark: Yes. Yes. Which is ironic because in almost all circumstances the impact of failure is just learning. That's all it is. I mean, you know, unless you're, you know belaying someone else down a mountainside or something most of the time, the only impact of failing at something is that you get better at it.

Yucca: Well, and certainly when you're doing ritual work and you're working with your own patterns and your own awareness, there's like, you're saying you're not helping someone down a mountain or trying to dress a wound on a hurt companion. So

Mark: Right. Right. One of the things that the critic voice is very able todo is to make it seem like the stakes are much higher than they really are. Because it will start with, this is silly. We shouldn't be doing this and it will extend that into everyone's going to laugh at you and you will be shunned by society and you will die alone and friendless under an overpass.

Yucca: In the next 10 minutes.

Mark: Yes, that kind of catastrophizing is a part of the way that the critic voice maintains its power.

Yucca: Yes.

Mark: And so, you know, we have this function that is. Potentially they're originally there to serve as sort of a bodyguard, right? Just to kind of help you make decisions about which way you go this way and that way, but it gets hardened into this sub-routine that just generally says no to anything new or risky or or potentially exposing to some kind of harm.

It's way of keeping you safe is by keeping you in a box. And that's not where we want to be as humans. Right. We want to explore and we want to grow.

Yucca: And some of this may be coming from the interactions that we've had with others throughout our lifetime. What our interactions, our relationship with our parents and our siblings and our teachers and all of that. And that I think is very useful to go back and maybe find where some of it comes from, but know that however it appeared it's here today.

Right. We can address it and work with it today. And that it's not. It's not set in stone. It's not something that we can't then go and change. You can always change a relationship and it's a relationship with yourself, but you can still change it. Even if it is deep from your childhood in times, you don't even remember.

Mark: Right. Exactly. And the good news is that because we are dynamic organisms, which continue to evolve throughout our lives, we don't necessarily have to go back and rediscover all of those injuries from way in the past, in order to develop a new, healthy and more constrained relationship with this critic voice that says very clearly. Okay. Now you're helping now. you're not helping and I'm not going to listen to you right now cause you're not helping. Right. Which is a very adult way of approaching, you know, criticism of any kind. It's much healthier than getting defensive or flying into a rage or you know, bursting into tears, any of those kinds of things, which are perfectly legitimate, natural, emotional responses, but they don't help in the face of a figure like the critic voice, which is so implacable, it's just there all the time.

And it's not going to flinch. If you cry, it's going to think, Oh, I win.

Yucca: Yeah, that's empowering it. That's giving it more more influence. Yeah.

Mark: So let's talk a little bit about how this how this can impact people that are coming into a science-based pagan practice because one of the things that I hear a lot on the atheopagan ,group Facebook group, from newcomers is I'm trying to get into this ritual thing and I'm really attracted to it. I love the aesthetics of witchy stuff. And I love all that, but there's this yammering voice in the back of my head saying, this is stupid. This is stupid. This is stupid. Why are you doing this?

Yucca: Or you're making it up.

Mark: Yes. Oh, you're making it up. That's such a terrible thing. Isn't it? I mean, it's not like humans have ever made anything up in their history.

But. Here on this podcast, we encourage people to be critical thinkers and to be rooted in what science tells us about the nature of the world. And it is a fact that manipulating ritual tools is not going to make something happen 20 miles away. In so far as we have evidence available, it does not appear that waving a wand in the air in chanting an incantation is going to make any effect on anything other than our own psychology, but it has a profound effect on our own psychology When you think about it, that's the most personal kind of transformation there is. And that's why it can often send the critic voice into a frenzy. Don't do it. Don't do it. Don't do it. Don't do it. And the reason that we're doing this podcast episode today is to really encourage those of you that are experiencing that to push through it, to, to persist.

Because ritual work has real effects. It will affect your ability to focus your intention on what you want to see accomplished. It'll affect your level of courage. It'll affect your level of fear. It'll affect your level of of persistence in the face of adversity. It will affect your morale. It will affect your self esteem, all of these things that are so important to us to be really, you know, effective and happy people.

All of those things are profoundly effected by ritual work or can be so trust the process. You've you, you may have this, you may have this voice in your ear. That's saying this is all just made up and it's LARPing. And it's just not real. And that voice is not correct. It's not telling you the truth.

And this is one of the saddest things about the critic voice is that at some point it learns to lie to you in order to keep you in place. It will tell you things that simply aren't true like that you're going to end up sleeping under a bridge because all it has is talk right. All that it has is an ability to talk to you to evoke emotions in you so that you will stay frozen within the pattern that you're in and not change.

And one of the deepest. Powers of a ritual practitioner of any stripe is the ability to transform themselves. The ability to help themselves grow and ritual work is a very powerful way to work with our own psychology so that we can evolve and grow.

Yucca: So we've talked a lot about what, how it can stop us or how it can try to stop us as we're stepping into ritual and not just for somebody beginning, but at any stage in your practice. Why don't we talk a little bit about some of the things that we can do to address that and to respond to that?

Mark: Sure. And now there's all these different possibilities that are in front of me at the same time. And I'm trying to figure out which one to talk about first.

Yucca: Well, I think that we already have just by identifying it, first of all, helps to be aware that it's there and sometimes just giving it a name. Right. And this is making it up, right? It's not actually, we're talking about it is if it's somebody separate than you or somebody separate than us, it's not, it's part of us, but giving it a name and hello critic, how are you doing today?

I see that you've come to to watch me. Would you please sit over there, that little bit farther? Thank you. Okay. I'm going to continue now.

Mark: Set out a chair for you here. You can wait over there, you'll be comfortable. And that sounds like just a bunch of play acting and it is just a bunch of play acting, but what do we know about play, acting it? When we suspend our disbelief, when we go to the theater, for example, or we go to the movies. We know that we're just sitting there in a chair, watching images on a screen or watching performances take place on a stage.

But what we are doing is we are voluntarily relinquishing that awareness so that we can go into the world of the story. And humans are storytelling creatures, and we can tell ourselves stories that empower us. And one of the things that we can do is say, okay, I'm going into do this ritual now. And critic you sit over there in that chair.

And. I'll be back to get you in a little while, but right now I am, I'm going to be doing this thing. And that doesn't necessarily mean that every last little vestige of that critic voice is going to go away. And you won't have any of that nattering in your ear, but it will help. And over time it, it can improve.

I know of some people who have had a particular piece of jewelry. That they have put on to as basically sort of a protection amulet against that cynical skeptical voice so that they can be more empowered in the course of doing their ritual work. These and that of course in itself is a piece of ritual work. That's a piece of psychological magic right there.

Yucca: Other great imagery. One that I've used that I use for thoughts when they're coming at me, instead of trying to block it is if the thoughts there and I try and block it and I start actually engaging with it, it always feels like it just gets stronger and louder that I imagine. An aikido master and it's like, the thought comes at them and they just pass.

They just take the, that, that person's movement towards them. And then they just. Push them by I'm trying to I'm talking with my hands here. I'm trying to show you the movement. But they just flow right by, they just take their energy and throw them to the side and they keep going like down the river.

Or another one is ina lot of the old star Trek episodes they'd have where the, somehow the crew members got off phase from each other. And they weren't quite on the same dimension. And so you just walk right through them. We just say, okay, I'm going to change the fit my phase right now. And I'm just out of step. And so the critics going to come at me and talk to me, but they're just going to walk right through me. It's okay. I'm aware of them, but they can't touch me. Right. They're a ghost and I'm solid or something like that.

Mark: And we need to talk about self-esteem as a part of this whole complex, because what the critic voice tends to do is it tends to wear down your self-esteem in order to get you to obey it's instructions and having strong self-esteem is core to being able to be ineffective and a happy person.

So if you have challenges with self-esteem if you suffer from depression, for example, or if you've been abused and really have questions about your value as a person doing this kind of work and getting out from underneath that critic, voice is really essential work for you. It's so important. And I speak to this from the standpoint of experience Having been very depressed and having very low self-esteem for a big chunk of my life.

We are able to be only what we allow ourselves to be. And as long as we're constantly second guessing whether we have value or whether our ideas have any merit or whether our emotions are important, it's just going to be very difficult for us to square our shoulders and walk into the future in a happy and productive sort of way.

So Particularly if you do have challenges with this and I'm not just saying, you know, you can do this ritual work and then you'll be fine. Therapy is a good thing. I, you know, if you need help and kind of a sounding board for what your experiences have been and what those feelings and thoughts that you have are Avail yourself of that, find it and find the right fit.


Yucca: That's important. Yeah. The right fit. Because the first person you see might not be a fit. That doesn't mean that the whole concept won't work for you, but. that person didn't right. Did you end up with your first crush? There might be a very few of you out there who did, but most of us went through quite a few relationships before we ended up with someone who worked for a while. So I think therapists can be very similar and techniques to what type of therapy you're using and be like that too.

Mark: Yes. So you know, we all work with these critical voices to some degree. If you feel really abused and kind of beaten down by yours, then you may need to avail yourself of help in order to bring that more into balance. But there are some things that you can do for yourself.

Like we've been talking about that can help you to work with this voice in a way that will empower you and help you to feel better about yourself. There's a. There's a ritual on the atheopagan blog's site called The Jewel. We'll put a link to it in the podcast notes. That is basically an it's a ritual for enhancement of self-esteem and working with a mirror.

And it's very powerful. It's simple. But it's incredibly powerful and I strongly recommend it to anyone. You are the protagonist of the story of your life and you need to be you need to be the most important thing in, in that story. So. Oh, there's so many different possible ways of the, that you can approach these things.

One of the very common ones in pagan circles is drawing a circle, right? Defining a perimeter boundary that all of the. All of the stuff that wants, that doesn't want this ritual to work stays outside that boundary. And what's inside is only that, which is enhancing cooperative, facilitative, all of those kinds of qualities.

And I mean, literally pacing it out with a rod in your hand or a dagger in your hand or your hand up, or, you know, whatever it is to

Yucca: Sprinkling the sand or the salt or the water.

Mark: Yes. So making a physical action in which you are embodying your intent to make that boundary, so that. Only that which supports the outcome, the desired outcome of the ritual is held within that circle.

And then when you break the circle, when you smear the dust or salt, or you walk in a reverse direction to undo what you have done, then you welcome back your critic, voice, and the rest of the world. And you kind of put back on all the layers of complexity that we all are, and then you go forward. There's, it's not an accident that these kinds of activities have become associated with, with occult and and ritual practices because they work with our psychology

Yucca: So another direction to jump in for a moment is outside of the moment. Outside of the moment that you're interacting with that voice when you're starting your ritual or at your, in the middle of it is taking some reflection time to just notice what that critic is, what that voice is saying, because sometimes there's patterns there and it might be the, this is silly or you're going to fail or your dog's going to run away and you're going to die under the bridge. Right. And just starting to note that and be aware of what those are, and actually think about, respond to the what ifs and go, okay, this is silly and this is silly. So. So what let's follow the logic of what actually thinking about it critically.

If it is silly, then what's the consequence. If I am making it up, what's the consequence. What is actually the worst thing that can happen, but what's the best thing too, and putting some when you're stepped away from the situation, putting some thought into it so that you do have answers when that voice comes up, that you're just making this up.

Yes, I am making it up. This is my theater right now.

Mark: Yes, where's the harm

Yucca: Where's the harm.

Mark: Because often. Often the critic voice crosses over from this is dangerous. This is going to embarrass you. This is silly. This is stupid, whatever it is often that critic voice crosses over from those kinds of characterizations to this is bad, right? Just it's just bad. Well, why is it bad?

No, it's just bad. You should never do this. And particularly in those cases, it's really important to unpack. Well, what do you mean by bad? What's going to happen to me. And is that really a realistic projection or is it just fear-mongering because the critic voice is very good at fear-mongering and what ends up happening over time in my experience is that you can get to a point where you're crossing over that boundary from the comfortable into the sort of edgy by trying something new or entering a difficult conversation or, you know, someplace where you feel emotionally exposed and the critic voice goes off. And I'm now able most of the time to simply say, thank you. I know you're trying to protect me, but I don't really need that help right now. And so I'm going to ask you to be quiet and most of the time it will, which is a great state to be in, honestly, because I mean, I've been beaten up pretty bad by my critic voice over time. So it's it's much more comfortable being in this situation now.

Yucca: It sounds like you're describing switching the role at the beginning, you described the critic voice as being a parental voice, at least coming from that. And the way that you just spoke to, it sounds a lot like a parent acknowledging the child, who's having a tantrum and acknowledging what they're talking about and saying, okay, I've heard that. I hear that you want the ice cream. If we're going to, we're not talking about ice cream right now, we'll come back to that discussion later. Right. It seems like that is the same

Mark: it is.


Yucca: of pattern there.

Mark: The challenge is that when this voice first arises, you're a child.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: so it speaks as an authority figure and automatically becomes a parental kind of a voice, but it doesn't ever acknowledge that you've become an adult. And so you have to assert your own adulthood. You have to say yes. Okay. I realized for many years you tried to protect me from being humiliated and being hurt and being in danger. And that's all great. I'm an adult. Now I'm able to make these decisions for myself and I appreciate your input, but I'm going in a different direction this time. the critic voice honestly has no response to that.

All it can do is turn up the volume more on what it's already been saying but . And that. Very quickly becomes background noise. You don't, you just don't listen to it. So what are some other ritual ways that we can work with this voice to to gain permission, to suspend our disbelief so that our ritual practices are fully in the moment and fully present and not distracted by these. Naysayers in the backs of our heads.

Yucca: Well, we've mentioned a few so far, the placing or wearing some sort of piece of jewelry that represents protection from it, giving it an actual place like a chair, literally take a chair, put it on the other side of the room and your voice can wait there. And when you're done, you can come in. We talked about doing a circle. So there's been a couple of themes so far places where it can wait. Outside or be kept away. Are there other themes? I mean, maybe we could give it something to do in the meantime while we're doing our other work. I mean there's

Mark: That's an interesting idea. I hadn't thought of that before. What would that look like? I mean, it's a guardian figure, right? So, I mean, you can just say, you know, I'm going to have you wait by the door while I'm doing my ritual here, just to make sure that, you know, everything is safe and you know, that I'm protected because you're good at that.

Yucca: you could become one of those stone lions that wait the door and you're going to protect me and great. So you're doing your job, which is to protect me and I get to do my job. Yeah,

Mark: I like that.

Yucca: what's a good one. Yeah.

Mark: like it. Yeah. And I think that you'll hear as we as we kind of brainstorm these ideas the inherent creativity and playfulness of the ritual space it's really a delightful place to be in even when you're working with very solemn kinds of themes.

There's something that is just. That is so awakening to a childlike sense of wonder when you're in that warm, glowing present limbic system kind of experience rather than a thinky talkie kind of way of being, but more of an embodied integrated mammalian kind of way of being We did a, we did an episode about rituals about a year ago.

I think it was our third episode or

Yucca: It was pretty early on. Yeah.


Mark: episode, something like that. Maybe we'll come back to that at some point and kind of talk more about the specifics of all the different ways that we can do ritual behavior and ways that it can help and transform us.

Yucca: And examples. I always love hearing examples of the other things that people have come up with.

Mark: yeah. I mean, funny things, right. I have an office at work and I have put maybe five grains of salt in each corner. You know not enough so that they could ever be noticed by anyone, but just I've put the salt in the corner and it just makes it more of a place of power for me. Because I did that deliberately to make it, so, so, you know, I feel like when I'm going to have a really important meeting, of course this was before COVID, but when I'm going to have a really important meeting I tend to want to have it in my office rather than somewhere else, because I feel really solidly in my power in that room.

So, you know these are things that we can do, not only in the context of our sort of private living at home, but that can extend out into the world and into our engagement with the world as a whole. So. I don't really have a lot more to say about this. I mean, I think we could come up with many examples of different ways to approach this, but the thing that I really hope our listeners will be left with is that this is really possible. If you have a mean critic voice, and one that has taken up a lot of space in your psychology, The things that we've been talking about today can help.

They really can help and they can, and believe me, when you start to implement them, the critic voice will go berserk. So you, I mean, you will be hearing . Don't do that. Don't do that. This is stupid. This is silly. You're being an idiot. You're

Yucca: How could you think that would even work in the first place? That's ridiculous.

Mark: right, right. Yeah. So be aware that the critic it's very good at defending itself and it will do what it can to defend itself. But if you pursue the kinds of techniques and practices that we've talked about here, you can come into a better relationship with that part of your psychology and it's very powerful to get there because then it's so much easier to move into the new, it's just much easier to go into the ritual state or flow as psychologists call it. The, it really is a gatekeeper in many ways and being able to get past it, having a password. So another thing you could do, you know, you could see or pass card, something like that here, you know here's my ID. I'm going past now.

Yucca: Yeah, a key. r

Mark: Or a key I mean, keys are magical. People use keys in all kinds of ritual things, right? Because they, they allow us entry to what otherwise has been previously interdicted from us. So yes, I could easily see putting, hanging a key on a chain around your neck. As a way of going past the guardian and into this into this ritual sacred space.

So many different ideas and I really encourage people to be creative around it.

Yucca: And learning to do this, it opens the doors up so that you can do more with your ritual, but it in itself is wonderful practice and skill building so that you can then take the skills that you learned while working with your critic and to work with another part of yourself.

Mark: Yes. And bear in mind, this is not, I mean, we've been talking a lot about how this has a bearing on people's ritual practices, because those tend to set off the the critic, voice in people who are generally skeptical and kind of rationally based to begin with, but I've had

experiences, well, social anxiety.

And also what about those hard conversations? You know when you've hurt someone's feelings when you've done something that someone really disapproves of and you need to have a conversation with them about it, if you allow the critic to rule the moment then all you're going to do is feel lots of shame and self self criticism and self-injury, and that doesn't really help you grow very much. It's a lot better to suspend that. And listen.

Yucca: Sometimes it can be directed past just you and an attempt to defend you the critic can turn on whoever you're speaking with and direct that anger towards them as a PR as a way of protecting you.

Mark: For sure. The I think we've all had the experience of being in a fight with someone. Yeah. And if you get defensive enough, you kind of go a little crazy, you know, you can start yelling, you can, you know, you can feel like being violent. And all of that is that guardian complex. That's trying to protect you.

But it's gone off the rails. So being able to listen to the hard news, breve not succumb to a lot of internal shame dialogues, but instead to just simply say, you know, I'm really sorry I hurt your feelings. I didn't realize that I had done that. Or. You know, I just wasn't in my best self that day. And I'm sorry. And I resolved to do better is just a much healthier. And it's not only that it's a healthier way to interact with other people. It's that it's literally good for your self-esteem instead of bad for your self esteem, you can walk away from a conversation like that feeling. Hey. I'm an adult look at me adulting.

I just did a whole bunch of emotional adulting. That was really great. Instead of listening to this critic voice and saying, you're a garbage look, you hurt this person. And so,

Yucca: Yeah. You know, something that's come up for me as we've been talking, just listening is another possibility of exploring. We've been using two words for the critic. We've been calling it, the critic and the guardian.

Mark: okay.

Yucca: And maybe a ritual process in transforming the critic itself into a guardian in a more appropriate adult way going okay. You it's time for you critic to grow up too. You're not my parent anymore. You're my partner in protecting us and, you know, see it transform from the, from the angry school teacher, who's waving their finger at you to the magnificent sphinx or griffon or whatever your imagery around that might be. That is another direction ago. Right?

Mark: Yes, absolutely. So I'd be really interested to hear what our listeners have to say about their experiences with doing some of this kind of work. So if you have those experiences and you can send us some feedback at thewonderpodcastqs@gmail.com.

So the wonder podcast, all one word Q s@gmail.com. We'd love to hear from you and if you have other questions or suggestions or things we might've missed, we welcome all of that. It's really great to hear from our listeners. Always.

Yucca: Yes. Thank you everyone.

Mark: Thanks so much. We'll see you next week.