Making Peace with the Inner Critic
Updated: Jun 17, 2019
Photo of me in 2002/Boulder, Co
The first couple of
years I attended Naropa University, this subtle, inner voice started to seep into my world telling me that I wasn’t enough... I wasn’t pretty enough, friendly enough, committed enough, relaxed enough, or active enough. This voice was so stressful and all over the place! The more I started to listen to it, the more criticisms it spoke. It drove me to a state of social anxiety. It was like everyone could hear and see my thoughts. I became extremely sensitive to my fears. And physically ill with symptoms of dizziness... this voice was taking me out of my body!
All I wanted to do was hide. But on the flip side I had put myself in an environment where I was required to show up for myself! The contemplative courses I was taking had me meditating daily and participating weekly in group practices and discussions about my process. You would think that with this practice, my inner critic would subside but it almost seemed to do the opposite.
I was discouraged. All the texts and teachings on compassion, gentleness and honoring myself in the moment was not happening in the way I was expecting. And that was part of the problem. I was placing too much emphasis on the teachings and intentions of the practice OUTSIDE of myself.
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” -Joseph Campbell
The daily practice of presence eventually revealed my disassociation from my power all together. Where was my power?? It was underneath the distracting voices of my inner critic.
Was this practice even working? Actually, yes! It was asking me to meet myself exactly where I was... in my anxiety. And it was supporting me in not running away or being distracted by it. When I sat on that cushion and started to notice my breath, thoughts, and feelings swirling all around, I realized that my attempts of escape were all in my head, instigated by this critical voice.
How it Works:
When you sit with yourself for over 20 minutes a day, you wake to these types of realizations not just in concept but also in body. But who seriously has 20 minutes to do this practice especially when you are left to your own vices? When you have the discipline, something amazing starts to happen... there becomes this subtle shift where the inner critic becomes disempowered by your will. It dissolves like the settling of murky water. What’s left is the clarity of emotions that have been the inner critic’s driving force all along, rippling through the surface in the most curious way.
The reality, and this might seem counterintuitive to the antidotes for working with inner critic, is that the various voices of criticism and symptoms are all OKAY. They are our teachers for returning our power through a willingness to meet ourselves where we are at WITHOUT submitting to them. Rather being the observer and just sitting with the space floating around all the muck... this is compassion.
In my corner I was attaining a college degree in Contemplative psychology holding me accountable to practice presence. But for most, this is not the case. And for most, who are already overwhelmed by the demands of lifestyle and commitments (family, work, health, hobbies), there isn’t much room left in the day, nor the support needed to motivate and be held accountable.
Committing to Self:
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi
The beauty is that this idea of self compassion through presence doesn’t have to be cultivated just through a sitting practice. As a life coach, I work with clients gifts and passions as a living and breathing practice for coming home to themselves.
What does this mean? The practice of being present and greeting ourselves where we are at is supported through a similar foundation in the contemplative approaches I practice, but are complimented with flexibility, creativity, interaction, and the elements. And the act of the practice starts with just a few minutes a day, often multiple times a day, and with the support of check-ins for keeping track and noticing/working through the kinks of mental distractions and patterns.
All of this truly works but it does take practice. Showing up for yourself is like creating a new habit. Each time you go through shifts and growths, the way you show up must be able to shift and grow with you.