I couldn’t quite believe I was saying it, but I was. I did.
I was at a Meet The Tutor session, a few weeks after the launch of How To Write, a course at The Idler Academy. There were guests from all over the place, including at least one from the West Coast of the US.
A question arose: what to do about your inner critic?
I explained that I have given quite a lot of attention to the Inner Critic over the past few years, including running workshops on how to deal with it / him, and now wish I had ignored him. Then I said the thing I hadn’t expected to say.
But I’m glad I said it, because a) it is true and b) it might help.
I explained that after leaving psychiatric hospital I spent a lot of time walking the streets, partly for exercise and partly as just something to do, at a time when I was not capable of working. When I got tired, rather than go into a cafe and spend money on a coffee I didn’t want and couldn’t afford, I would walk into churches.
Not having been a church-goer, except in the Scouts and subsequently at social occasions such as weddings and funerals, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do in churches. So I sat down quietly and pretended to be praying, in case somebody decided to chase me out. (Do people get chased out?)
Anyway, there was one particular Catholic church I popped into fairly often. It had loads of reading materials available at the front, on a table near the exit. These included prayers on folded sheets of A4. Some of the prayers were called Novenas, which I’d not heard of before – basically, cycles of prayer.
There were prayers to St Anthony, who was always pictured holding a baby, prayers to Saints Peter and Paul (pictured together, as a pair), and prayers to Saint Joseph (with young Jesus). I kept all of them in my back pocket, and re-read them often as a distraction from the negative thinking that was, at that time, almost unbearable.
The one I liked most was addressed to St Michael. It asked for help in seeing off the devil.
It seemed to me at the time that “the devil” is a silly fiction, ridiculous – a pantomime villain in red tights – but then it dawned on me that whatever I could say about the devil being nonsense could also be said about the modern-sounding Inner Critic.
If St Michael could see off my Inner Critic, that would do just fine.
I leave it up to you to decide whether angels or other supernatural beings had anything to do with the definite improvement this occasioned. One thing I can say for certain is that repeating the prayer over and over again, until I remembered it by heart, allowed no room in my mind to the negative thoughts.
At yesterday’s Meet The Tutor session, I found myself telling the people assembled there about my prayer to St Michael. In fact, I recited the whole thing.
So far as I could tell, nobody lodged an objection, or hurled missiles. And today I received a message in the Idler Academy forum, asking for the text of the prayer. Here it is, along with a picture I drew for a friend, with whom I shared it a couple of years ago:
St Michael The Archangel, defend us in the day of battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, oh prince of the heavenly host, by God’s strength strike down to hell Satan and all evil spirits that do walk the earth seeking the ruin of souls.