When I was a kid, I was offered the image of conscience. On one of our shoulders sits an angel whispering divine guidance and advice. On the other sits the devil tempting us wayward. As a kid into magical realms and fantastical creatures, I loved this image but heard no voices inside that would pronounce this anymore than just that, a delicious depiction of a theory.

Now that I am older, the image has changed somewhat. It’s changed because I hear the voices, just as I believe we all do at some point. At some point in our lives, we become aware of two or more voices, different pitches and volumes, intentions and investment, but voices nonetheless. But the image is not of a devil and and an angel and it is not borne of conscience.

To me, and I am new to these words, the figures are more like the ego and the Higher Self, your masculine and feminine, your light and your shadow. They are all of you, from you, not of some external morality given to you as choice, but aspects of yourself. To call it conscience is therefore deceptive, because the trick is not to hear one over the other but to try to pull them together to form a chorus. All need hearing. To me then, the images of figures on our shoulders represent balance and harmony, not conscience and dichotomy. The aim is not to choose only one, to lead with only half of who you are, but to hear it all and charge it forth as a beautifully loud and melodious chorus.

I first heard the dissonance when I was a teen. I told myself to stride with purpose, yet not so strongly that people may notice and pass judgement. I told myself to stand up for myself yet flee. I told myself to wear the clingy red dress and that I had no right putting something like that on. As I grew up, the clash of voices for worse. I remember in my 20s bundling into my newly washed car to quickly drive an errand. I was assured I didn’t have to get out of the car and so I didn’t change into ‘respectable’ clothing and pop on a bra. Once driving, my friend wanted to make more of the day and wander the high street. I begged leave, I was happier to wait in the car, but to no avail. I stepped one foot in front of the other as the argument inside escalated: ‘I should be able to do this. Everyone is looking. No one cares. I feel vulnerable. Get over yourself.’ Broken, I stopped in my tracks, tears streaming, and scrambled to the car. As my friend returned livid and echoed the screaming inside out, I retreated to unpick what had happened. The balance was so far off and I had no idea until then.

It wasn’t a proud moment but I share it because, whatever our triggers (and there can be many), we’ve all heard the voices out of whack. The constant bartering can wear us down, tire us out and soon enough we can kid ourselves that the path of least resistance means that one side shuts up. We try to argue that one single, solitary voice is fine, is a holistic view and serves all that we are. We can even go so far as to kid ourselves that the voice shuts up does so because it was wrong. And on occasion, that may be true…

We are designed to find balance within our environment. Our body and mind recalibrate to the conditions under which we place them. Stressful job, our brains try to up the coping with stress. Our bodies try to cope with more adrenaline. We naturally seek balance. And then we become attuned to the skews under which we are living. We are a body of people walking around with kinky spines, uneven hips, innumerable neuroses and palpable disconnections. But we live and we smile and we say we are happy.

And yet somewhere, always, there is a whisper of ‘there is so much more than this’. We quieten it for fear of appearing arrogant or ungrateful, unrealistic or divisive. And it is scary. It’s scary because we’ve become so accustomed to drowning out voices that sometimes it’s hard to know which ones to trust. So this is what I’ve learnt:
All of the voices have their place but only one speaks with my true voice.
No one voice is wholly positive or negative, relevant nor irrelevant.
When you quash one particular voice, you feel awful, defensive, sad.
One particular voice can lift you higher than you ever dreamt of.
One particular voice others instinctively over-react to if they aren’t centred themselves.
When one particular voice speaks, all true friends agree with what it utters.

Chances are, you, like I, can already hear clashing tones and the discomfort that causes in our lives. There is no devil on my shoulder, there is no evil vying for power in me. There are only teachers. Many teachers and, I believe, a guide. Some figures will sit heavy on your shoulders, some falsely light. Some will shout and some barely whisper. Only you can choose who you tune in and tune out. Only you can decide how to meld them into harmony.

The voice of the intelligence is drowned out by the roar of fear. It is ignored by the voice of desire. It is contradicted by the voice of shame. It is biased by hate and extinguished by anger. Most of all it is silenced by ignorance.
Karl A. Menninger

For myself, for a long time… maybe I felt inauthentic or something, I felt like my voice wasn’t worth hearing, and I think everyone’s voice is worth hearing. So if you’ve got something to say, say it from the rooftops.
Tom Hiddleston

Wonder knows that while you cannot look at the light, you cannot look at anything else without it. It is not exhausted by childhood, but finds its key there. It is a journey like a walk through the woods over the usual obstacles and around the common distractions while the voice of direction leads, saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it.’
Ravi Zacharias


7 thoughts on “the devil on your shoulder

  1. Hearing the voices is fairly easy for me. The challenge is making friends with them, blending them into one harmonious soul singing with love and purpose. I have the vision if not the execution! πŸ™‚
    blessings, Brad

  2. Pingback: Pomp and Posturing | writing to freedom

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