Have you ever had a little bit too many self-judging thoughts in your mind and then end up judging yourself for being judgy?
This week, I shared about an experience of a movement class I did last week in Da Lat where we explored the critical voice in our mind.
It starts with a few questions: What's the purpose of being critical? Is it serving its purpose?
I hope some of the inquiry here can help you as it has to me.
Dancing with your Crow
Movement classes (and particularly Contact Improv) make for a fertile ground to explore how we live. People often express to me how much that what shows up in the movement class is a reflection of their life outside. I think we got it rather backward. How we are in life is a reflection of how we are in our movements.
Last week, I got a chance to teach a workshop in Da Lat, Vietnam. Despite my lofty ideal of “let’s learn all these cool moves”, it turned out to be mostly about helping people be comfortable dancing silly in front of people. It was good timing, for just before that I read this beautiful line from The School of Life that “looking like an idiot shouldn’t be a risk: it’s the point.”
The first big barrier for people to learn to dance is not the lack of know-how. It’s the need to look good (based on whatever standard we think “good” dancing is) and the seeming utter waste of looking silly. The body knows; it’s the mind that got in the way.
For many of us, going in front of a big group of people whom you just met 15 minutes to do silly dance is The Nightmare.
Does this eerily sound like public speaking or any other things you’ve got to do at work? If no, God bless you. If yes, read on and commiserate.
We talked about an important concept called “The Crow”, which is a term I borrowed from Jerry Colona, the infamously sharp coach from Reboot.io.
He uses the image of the crow as a cheeky and memorable way to call the Inner Critic part in each of us that says “you are not enough” or ‘that’s silly” to either ourselves or other people. Its characteristic voice is squeaky and harsh “Don’t, that’s dumb!”
Have you ever lay awake at night ruminating over a silly mistake you made? There is the Crow. The nicer term for what the Crow wants is “high standard”. The irony is that a high standard comes from many small rises in low standards, which the Crow hates and forbids us from trying. That’s how it got in its own way of what it wants. Silly Crow.
It’s very common that people who are not used to loosening up in the their body also has a loud Crow. One can even say that the Crow is total sum of all the unnecessary tension in the body (there are necessary tensions, otherwise you can’t walk or even hold a cup of coffee).
When two people are dancing, oftentimes the two crows are quarreling too “Ah I look stupid”, “Oops what a misstep”. “She doesn’t seem to understand me” etc… Not just in dancing, but in any kind of human interaction.
Embodying the Crow
One part includes picking a spot on the floor and visualizing an imaginary someone there dancing. Then we act as the Crow to criticize that dancing with our gestures (condemning eyes, spewing lips, dismissing arms etc…)
After people do that acting out as the Crow (and really exaggerating it), the next step is to walk into that spot and become that imaginary person dancing silly.
Now you dance fully knowing that the crow is there, and dance deeper still.
Usually it doesn’t work to tell people to “just dance”, let alone nudging them to go in front of people. Peer pressure helps, but I still find that to be too scary for some, myself included. It’s much much easier to be the crow, so let’s do the easier one first.
More importantly, people need to remember that the crow is always there!
It’s so understandable that depending on how much the Crow annoys, frustrates or tortures us, we would like to either middle finger it, chase it away or at least put it at arm’s length.
That works for a while. But sooner or later it will stop working for two reasons.
First, the Crow wants to help us. The purpose of judging something to be stupid is to not do it and therefore stay safe. Which is great if we were primates back in the savannah, but not so much in 2020. (Tim Urban from Wait But Why has a great post on this, Why Procrastinators Procrastinate). Also, the Crow and its high standard help us develop skills so that we can be effective in whatever we do. It will be unwise to throw it away.
Second and more profoundly, you simply can’t get rid of it. The thing about the Crow is that when you middle finger it and chase it away, it’s going to get mad and SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK at you. It’s like cutting off your leg. Sure you can, but be prepared for a lot of anesthesia… and why would you want to?
Jerry Colona said it best “trying to kill the crow is like trying to cure your headache by chopping off your head”. Good luck, Chuck. 🙏
What to do with the Crow then?
As this little exercise of embodying the crow has revealed, you don’t dance DESPITE the crow, you dance WITH the crow.
The former approach tends to be reactionary anarchist who wants to get out of their own mind. It plays an important role (see this latest brilliant post on the dancing silly)
The latter tends to be high performer and master at their craft, who know how to walk the the fine line between crippling performance anxiety and healthy standard.
It’s kind of a love hate relationship. We hate the Crow for its annoying voice, but we love it because it keeps us safe from looking silly. It thinks it knows what “good” looks like, but most of the time it confuses that with “safe”.
I sure hope love eventually wins, but oftentimes it’s a slow battle. Actually, it’s more like a courtship with someone who at first seems to push all of your buttons so much but somehow you begin to get attracted to… (have you not seen that before?)
The best position for the Crow is to be on our shoulder, not in between our ears, so that we can counsel its wisdom when needed. The Crow is not bad per se. It just pokes its cute beak in at inappropriate timing.
It’s great to talk to the Crow ample time before the big thing (in project management, it’s called “worst case scenario planning” or “premortem”) or after it in somber review mode (i.e “After Action Review”).
During the thing itself, maybe not.
Imagine the Crow chiming in during your intimate moment of physical contact.. What a Party Pooper! (unfortunately, it’s also quite common. FOR PLEASURE’S SAKE, DO SWEET TAWK WITH YOUR CROW BEFOREHAND PLEAZEE)
Over time, you’ll realize that it’s pretty cool and cute to have a Crow on your shoulder. It can tawk to other people’ Crows while you guys enjoy the bantering dance. 🤩
Read the post here on Medium.
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"In this culture it seems like everyone wants to be a celebrity. But what we really need is something to celebrate." - Mark Nepo
What a wonderful reminder to give attention to someone or something worthwhile.
Related: "The presence of God comes in the unrehearsed dialog between two living centers." - Martin Buber
Indeed, when we are present with ourselves, with moment, with the other, the conversation takes on a new depth and freshness that seems like it doesn't even come from either of us. I have been having some of those conversations lately, and boy it's uplifting!
A nice reminder from the Dalai Lama. "If you think that you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. "
Somewhat joking, but seriously though, what the Dalai Lama is pointing to here is to question even our own worldview, that bigger is not necessarily better :-)