Friday, November 9, 2012

Monkey Business

I’ve been looking for my muse today. I think I lost her. Or she might have just packed her bags and left. I wouldn’t blame her. I too would get tired of sharing my space with all the idle chatter that goes on in my mind. Wouldn’t be too bad if it was friendly palaver. The trouble is, it’s not. There are at least a dozen voices up there waiting for their chance, and each one is an expert. I call it the “tape,” for it’s like a looped recording. It’s on all of the time and has no off button.

It seems we all have one, a tape. When did it start? When my granddaughter Sloane was four, she was tested for a pre-kindergarten class. I asked her how it went. “Well,” she said. “I don’t know all my colors. Big deal!” No negative demons there. Her big sister Chelsea was six and already in kindergarten. She loved it and had no trouble telling me, “I like school. I’m good at everything.” Still no negative tape. However, the following year she entered first grade. After several months had gone by, I asked her how it was going. She hesitated, then spoke, her voice low. “I’m not very good at math.” Oh no! I thought. The tape was beginning to record.

The problem is that we remember those events that have strong emotions, especially negative emotions, connected to them. It takes only one negative thought to wipe out ten positive thoughts. So guess what the tape is loaded with—negative thoughts. And to make matters worse, I read in Fast Company (October 2012, page 18) that the human brain processes 40 thoughts every second. And most of them negative. Good grief! No respite!

So what to do about all that negative commentary without having to be unconscious, inebriated, or stoned? I had a dream some time ago. In it, I’m watching a mechanized assembly line loaded with laundry bags. Each bag was a single thought. I watched several go by, and then grabbed one and heard someone laugh. “Now you’re stuck with it,” a voice said. I woke and got out of bed. The tape was already running, thoughts going by one after the other. A particularly juicy one came by and I began to argue with it. “Now you’re stuck with it,” echoed in my mind. I was, for to argue with the thought reinforces its neural pathway. It’s like being caught on the end of a rotor blade. Round and round with no conclusion in sight. There’s no win in that activity. Better to ignore the thought. My friend Cheryl, who is a therapist, says your mind is lying to you when it gives you those negative thoughts. My friend Dennis says we can’t trust our assessment of ourselves. He recommends using another’s assessment, especially if it’s a good one. A writer I know just yells, “SHUT UP!” Great advice.

So, when my negative critic starts up questioning my ability to write, I remind myself that I can write. Have written. Sold books. Get royalty checks. And I’m willing to do the BIC thing (butt in chair). I want my muse back! The amazing thing is she’s there—always has been, waiting for me to recognize the chatter for what it really is—monkey mind. I merely have to begin, cast aside all fears, ignore the chatter, and write.


  1. Ruth, I feel like this post was written for me, in the early attempts I'm making to write! I love your perspective on this! Isn't it funny how we have to get out of the way of ourselves to make progress :)

  2. Right on, Ruth! I sometimes remember to address those negative thoughts with, "That's not my thought!"

  3. I love this Grammy! You were right. This beautifully, insightful post is evidence that "she" is there. I am learning that I can re-write my tape. It is not easy. I erase the negative by doing what the tape says I can't. In other words, I give "the bird" to my tape and me!! In the place of the negative I re-write it with positive thoughts and experiences.It will be a life long process for me but, I wont quit:) Love you Grammy