I tried to ruin a perfectly good sunset
Last night I was standing at the water’s edge watching the most beautiful sunset. With my feet in the gently lapping waves my only action needed to be to bend and pick up the ball my dog dropped near my feet and then kick it into the water for him to swim out and fetch.
Relaxing, peaceful, connected to nature and in my happy place. What could be better?
Occasionally when I kicked the ball I’d be quietly chuffed. I’m not a naturally gifted sportsperson so when it landed on my foot, arced beautifully into the water and landed the perfect distance from shore for my dog to have a decent swim, I quietly high-fived myself and congratulated me on a job well done.
And then that unwanted and uninvited Inner Critic joined the party and piped up with a bunch of inner noise, chat and BS.
When the ball went wayward, or God-forbid, I missed altogether, you should have heard the noise inside my head.
That critic piped up and had a field day: “Imagine who saw that, how embarrassing!”, “What an idiot! What kind of hand, foot, eye coordination is that?”, “You’ve never been good at sports, what an unco”, “You kick like a girl”…
Then the excuses came tumbling out — I didn’t want to kick the dog in the head as he waited, I pulled back, or if I’d done ‘that’ then ‘this’ would happen….
My Inner Critic was having a field day trying to rob the moment of it’s perfection and peace. The internal conditioning was loud and it started pulling my attention from what mattered — the sunset, the ball, the dog, my partner, our children.
The overthinking that ensued when I was stuck in those thought patterns created more moments of embarrassing misses or terrible kicks and I’d take a sneaky glance around, praying nobody saw. Shame was written on my face and I felt exposed.
On and on this cycle went. But why?
Who actually cared? Do you know how many people were paying attention to me and my sports prowess, or lack thereof?
Not my partner, nor my son whom he was chatting with, not his son who was splashing in the water, not the couples on the beach watching the sun sink behind the horizon whilst it put on a fantastic display of colour and texture across the clouds. And certainly not the girl videoing and photographing herself for her social media account.
Of course, nobody was watching me, or actually cared if I didn’t do the ‘perfect’ kick. It was enough to be there, at sunset, with others, sharing a special moment.
Luckily, the work I’ve done allowed me to recognise the cycle and bring conscious awareness to it. I felt the conditioning, I heard the voices both in my head and from influential past relationships, I acknowledged that in the past the Inner Critic had kept me safe and that it used to have a place. They were concerned that I’d be rejected or abandoned once again so were spouting the age old ‘socially acceptable’ arguments to make sure I wasn’t hurt.
I spoke to them and thanked them for the past service and for trying, once again to keep me safe. I let them know that I was aware they were only trying to show me love in the way they knew how — by keeping me small, unnoticed and fitting in to a neatly shaped box of acceptability. I told them I love them, I appreciate them and understand where they are coming from but that it was time for a change.
Having fun, and making mistakes, without embarrassment and shame is possible. I’m still learning how to do it and what it looks like, but knowing the possibility is there is sometimes all I need. I’m a grown up and what’s important to me is different from what it was in the past— I don’t need to look cool, be admired or gain that external pat on the back to know that I’m enough.
Then I asked my Inner Critic to hop in the back seat of the car of my psyche, away from the controls and to let me drive my life and my inner dialogue. It was time for them to stop trying to steal my joy and to let me relax into the rest of the evening without the constant, distracting commentary.
I deepened my breath, watched my dog collect the ball with pure joy on his face and in his heart as he did his most favourite thing. I quietened down. I turned and smiled at my partner deep in conversation with my son as he watched his son in the water splashing around without a care. I smiled at the strangers behind me lovingly sharing a picnic in the romantic setting.
Then, I bent down, picked up the ball and let it drop onto my foot without judgement for the end result. Let it hit my foot, or not. The dog doesn’t care, and nobody else does either. Whatever the result, there will be another chance, another opportunity to try again.
And guess what? Without the pressure and judgement, it once again hit the sweet spot on my foot, arced through the air and landed perfectly in the water.
Amazing what happens when we take some pressure off and relax into life.