Over the past four months I have been part of a live, theatre-like, production.
Behind the scenes, in fact, as I joined the Elephant Journal apprenticeship and was given the opportunity to care for a small part of the journal’s online presence. As exciting, unpredictable and ever-changing as any theatre production, going on worldwide, 24/7, with thousands of people participating—all commenting, sharing and working together. A production that is new and fresh every single hour of every single day.
And a venue in which I was encouraged to share my own words. To let my Muse come out.
At first the tasks were behind the scenes, setting the stage—learning the software, the guidelines to work seamlessly with this virtual publication. With so many hands and minds, I learned that all differing perspectives would be welcomed, nurtured and proudly shared; it was a joy to start to consider myself part of the creative process. Together we tended our part of elephant journal, learning how to encourage, include and be of benefit to the Reader.
To fully participate, with elephant journal, my Muse was asked to come out and headline my efforts. The part of me that I would pluck out of the cast to have recite my words. My assigned part was more than the daily administrative tasks that Mind easily assumed. To share my own mindful thoughts, and ideas, I was asked to allow my Muse to play a starring role.
She would speak.
There could be only one way I was held back. The one voice, of the many inside of me, whispering my doubts, my fears.
And we all have these voices, the ones that start with a Capital. Whether it is the “Mother,” “Critic,” “Victim,” “Helper,” “Inner Child,” “Muse,” “Artist,” “Reader” or “Writer,” these are parts of ourselves, our Cast, that each seem to take on a persona of their own. Constant witnesses, Voices, that sometimes are heard with grudging acceptance and, other times, are as an annoyance buzzing in our heads. The perspective, those Voices, that offer a consistent narration to every action, thought and feeling. Those parts given greater influence in guiding our actions. You may have different names for them.
Do certain Voices hold centre stage in your Life?
We all have a unique cast of characters. We step into them at different times of our lives and in the relationships we have with other people. Often their role acts to define us and our behaviours, keep us safe and sometimes ensure we stay within the boundaries set by Society. Each of us given our unique venue in which to perform, to showcase our gifts, our views, our selves.
These Voices can bolster us to face our fears or add their voice to the chorus of insecurities and doubts that freeze us out of doing something we love, something we may long to do.
My Inner Critic spoke up first, wary. My Mind was cautious. Muse had never been in charge before. How would the audience receive her? Would the audience walk out leaving Muse alone in the echoing emptiness of the anonymous internet?
My tutorial group became a virtual support system, my Chorus, just off stage to bolster Muse’s presence on stage. She wanted to run off that stage so many times. My Chorus was there in the shadows, helping and encouraging, as Muse saw her first written piece published. And, in time, she blossomed.
Inner Critic was quick in opposition. Don’t share that. What if they don’t like it? What will they think of you? Undermining, loud and ominous, Inner Critic tried everything to frighten me, make me withdraw from this apprenticeship and go back to my secure little world. Back to where Mind and Inner Critic could make sure I walk the safe and familiar path.
First in simple writing exercises, our rehearsals, Muse flourished. The words gushing out, they pooled on the stage. Stark, exposed, in the glaring spotlight of a group of people I had only just met. Hesitant at first, Muse started to materialize, become more visible, preening in the genuine compliments and encouragement I was given by my tutorial group. They were kind to Muse and sat respectfully, attentive to her performances and applauded loudly to make up for the small numbers in such a wide forum as the internet.
Which Voice have you silenced? What does that Voice represent in your life? And what does that Voice whisper to you in the darkness of the night when Mind is asleep and you are open to the freedom of the darkness, standing alone, on centre stage?
My Muse is my Creative Self, the part of me that gets excited by the sharing of ideas, telling of stories and the hand that loves to create with words. She has been silent for nearly 26 years—ever since I left high school and turned my gaze to the serious, goal-oriented venue of university and the Business World. Yes, those two words, also, have Capitals, as that world, and acceptance into it, was the all-important grail of my Success.
To find Success would mean ensuring no one saw my Muse or even knew she lived inside. For the Business World is the world of the Mind. And, for many of those years, my Muse was forced into the wings, so far off the Main Stage I call my life I thought she had disappeared. She showed up briefly in my 30s to pen a couple of jaunty articles for my university newspaper but, fearful of the gaze of Society, I used the mask of Anonymous.
It was if she didn’t exist, and certainly no one could reveal her as me.
Muse had never been taken seriously for any leading role. Just a childish dream. A wish to share the wonders she saw in the world. Yet Muse has a perspective unique to anyone else in this world. And Muse wants to explore everything, to break down barriers and open up conversations. To send electric pulses of ideas through the internet as neurons flashing in the brain.
As Muse practices on stage, I am listening for, afraid of, that voice that may heckle. For it is stronger, and louder, than all the rest. The voice of my Inner Critic. You know the voice. Not your mother’s voice, or Authority, as such. I mean the knowing Voice that seems to tap into your deepest insecurities and fears.
Am I really a writer? What if no one likes what I write?
Yes, that Voice. Ever judging, loud, brash, abrasive, condescending and confident in my failing to meet expectations.
What Voice stops you from following your dreams? Where is your centre stage?
To be blunt, my Inner Critic, is a b*tch. Normally I don’t use that word, but she is as mean and ornery as a female dog in heat. Perhaps you have that voice too? Mine has always been standing tall in the centre of my mental workroom and, honestly, making it a living hell. Dominating my life, instilling fear and cautioning me from being different. Whispering that I have nothing to share, no value to offer.
I have tried to temper her power in my life by joking that my Inner Critic is a b*tch and that she dresses funny. It’s an attempt to use humour to offset her scathing, fiery criticisms. For her incessant voice, an inner monologue, can be exhausting and self-defeating.
What does your Inner Critic tell you will happen if you let your Muse take centre stage?
Will the chandelier really fall into the audience as the ceiling caves in? Will Society banish you? Our Inner Critic taps our greatest fears and makes them seem larger than life.
Back to that Auditorium. All have gathered in the audience, the lights dimmed, the curtain up and the spotlight searching and finding the nearly transparent creative voice that I have shied away from revealing.
Herein lies the challenge. Very soft, barely visible, enters my elusive Muse. She hasn’t spent much time center stage, as I have always relied on the logical, “follow the rules” foot soldier, Mind. Muse has not had much exposure. I am not sure if she is up to the task, the pressure, the close observation of so many people. She has always been offstage, in the wings, quietly making suggestions, blurting out humorous ideas and insights that have garnered her the reputation of Quirky.
But now Muse has been tapped for the starring role. To be fully present—a one woman show. Making her way past Inner Critic and Mind to stand in bright lights, with backdrop, and all eyes upon her. At first, a shy actress standing on a large wooden stage blinking in the bright, hot lights during an audition. But I shush all the other voices and keep the spotlight, my focus, on Muse. This is her turn to shine. I have always wondered of what she was capable. Inner Critic sitting in the seat beside me, in the audience, harrumphing and tsk-ing, all the while watching to see how Muse performs. Ready, at a moment’s notice, to step on stage as Understudy, Muse’s replacement, to save the day and meet those external expectations.
Her voice barely a whisper, Muse is unsure of her welcome and her worth to speak. Those insecurities at first preventing her from letting loose and allowing her talent to surface. She stands, shaking, defensive in that spotlight. All the while thinking that someone will call to her from offstage, calling her back into the shadows. That Inner Critic will be asked to step in as Understudy. But I make her stay. Shivering in the bright light. Coaxing her and encouraging her to become louder, let herself go, and shine. Oh, how I hope she will shine.
Can you picture letting your Muse, that quiet Voice, come out and be centre stage in your life? Does the idea, while giving you butterflies in your stomach, invoke a thrill, a pulse, of excitement?
My Mind is electrified by the experience. Offstage running the lights, and sounds, and special effects, pulling the creative ideas together that Muse offers.
Inner Critic, though, is a Grand Dame of the theatre, around longer than any voice within. Always at the ready, loud in my head, to make sure that I am not “too much.”
Hold back here. Softer here. Don’t share too much. Don’t ask questions. Let others go first.
With elephant journal, Muse has been nurtured, gently guided and corrected, so that she is learning and gaining confidence with every word I type.
This assignment was to be sharing how I was of benefit these past four months. I am the one who has benefited.
From the people, the readers, the vast world of ideas and opinions that I have had the chance to run my fingers through, as greedily as when I first learned to read. Muse’s emergence has freed me to be giggly and excited in a way that I haven’t experienced since high school. Back before the pressure to succeed, to conform, to follow a certain path, began all lovingly set out by a world that values Mind over Muse.
It turns out the audience stays. Muse is encouraged by Editors and her Chorus. Inner Critic huffy off to one side. Mind agrees that it looks like Muse is going to be okay.
Muse is centre stage right now. Mind is off making sure that the technical side of elephant journal is running smoothly. The little part of elephant journal that I was given to nurture, and care for, has connected with Readers through the images, articles and quotes that I have chosen to send out into the world. Muse is testing her legs, a newborn giraffe nearly six feet tall and long neck all wobbling, standing with knees locked trying to be brave. Chorus is in the wings, at the ready, should my voice fail. I would be lost without their support.
Inner Critic is still here, sitting right beside me, filing her nails and cracking her gum. Nonplussed by Muse’s performance.
So I leave you with Muse. She holding firm on that public stage, hot and flushed from the effort and excitement, both relieved and saddened to end her performance here. I also leave you with your own Cast—those voices that speak to you both soft and loudly. If given the chance, allow those quieter voices, perhaps Muse, Artist or Inner Child, to stand centre stage; you’ll find they have a great deal to teach and have fresh perspectives on the world.
In fact, I challenge you to listen for that whisper of a Voice that says the ideas, the dreams, that give you butterflies in your stomach and excite you awake in the middle of the night.
And, if I have been of benefit, then I have been doubly blessed. For me, Mind has seen what Muse can do, and Inner Critic is relegated to the cheap seats way up in the balcony, harder to hear and away from the spotlight. Perhaps I will leave her there. She does dress funny, anyway.
Author: Laura G. Williams
Editor: Toby Israel