The inner critic, who lives inside all of us, can be quite pushy. My inner critic has become tamer as I deepen my mindfulness and compassion practice. While she may not bully me all day long anymore, her claws still attempt to wound me at times.
Sharon Salzberg teaches that, “Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves.” For me, the story I heard through the voice of my inner critic dug so deep, I buckled over with suffering. What happened afterwards is a testament to the benefits of mindfulness as well as the importance of loving and compassionate friendships.
Here is the story…I sat at my computer, pulled up Facebook and came across someone’s post that unleashed my inner critic. Sound familiar? Instead of experiencing joy for this person’s success, I found myself in an old storybook, the one I have been trying to toss away. The story is about a woman who has never quite measured up even though she tries. The voice whispers, “Perhaps you do not try hard enough. Perhaps you are innately mediocre. Perhaps you are a victim of your idiocy. Perhaps you should just accept that you are unworthy and give up.” And on and on, the voice repeats harshly all the doubts, all the fears, all the stories of unworthiness that have held me hostage throughout my life.
Yet, this time the opening of this sad story book was different. I did not try to stop it from opening, try to stop the critical voice from speaking. As I sat in my chair with my hands over my heart, I went through the first three steps of RAIN: Recognize what is going on; Allow the experience to be just as it is as this gives entry to transform; Investigate with interest and care, What am I believing? Where am I feeling this in my body?
I opened up to the painful physical sensations that I felt in my stomach, in my chest, and in my face. I listened to the harsh words as a way to understand what I was believing about myself and about my life. I allowed myself to feel the sadness that underlies this story without judging myself or the story (I should not be feeling this, etc.). Judgment would have only fueled the fiery tongue of my inner critic and kept me stuck in this story.
Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance
When the downward spiral of judging and misunderstanding is stopped even for a brief time, it becomes possible to recognize the unconscious beliefs and feelings that lie behind the problem. Such insight naturally leads to making wiser choices.
So what about the the “N” of RAIN – Nurture? This time I saw the three faces of my dear CCT teacher friends with whom I have engaged in a weekly Zoom meeting for the last 8 months. While they were not present physically, I heard their words of encouragement, saw the love on their faces, felt embraced by their compassion. I have come to trust the hearts of these friends, which became a river of kindness flowing through me. I stepped onto the raft of compassion, pushed away from the shore of this story, and moved through the water of suffering and witness it transform into a river of kindness.
Mindfulness practice does not eradicate suffering. It strengthens our inner resources to relate to what is happening moment to moment with openness, compassion and kindness so that we can choose what to believe and how to respond. Forming mindful and compassionate friendships is deeply helpful in seeing our innate goodness, in facing our inner critic, in “interrupting our destructive habits and awakening our heart” (Pema Chodron). We need each other even when we do not realize it.
It takes courage to be with ourselves, to be in the present moment, to be kind and compassionate. Through courage and compassion, we can connect deeply and meaningfully with ourselves and others, with the world.
“When we bring respect and honor to those around us, we open a channel to their own goodness” (Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart).
With hands over my heart, I thank you Kelly, Laura and Wayne. You carried me in this moment of suffering, opened a channel to my goodness and I am forever grateful. May we all be carried by the river of kindness.