How to Help Your Inner Critic Help You
The theme that keeps arising in all of these very special, once-only interviews with people like Brene Brown, Cheri Huber and Parker Palmer (plus many more) is that our inner critic came about as a survival mechanism.
Our inner critic, judge, Vampira (as one of my students calls hers!) is really there, or initially was there, to protect us.
We all have some form of these protectors inside. They keep guard on vulnerability, the fear of being rejected. Even long after situations stop calling for them, they remain on guard.
For instance, even though I practice teaching mindfulness and arts as a full-time job, I often have a voice that arises and tells me, when I have a spare moment, to eat chocolate and watch television. When a more current self says, “Actually, I think I’d like to meditate,” the older, more primal voice declares “That isn’t self care. Doing nothing is self care.”
While occasional TV and chocolate are good, it’s not a helpful daily choice.
I have spent a lot of time learning to recognize, then question, these more senior and familiar voices. Once recognized, I can make choices, though that takes a lot of work. One of the key teachings I received very early on in my path was in fact that just behind our resistance there often are hidden gems.
For instance, in writing practice, when we least want to keep writing, there’s a revelation, or beautiful piece of poetry, waiting.
The lineage I am a part of, Shambhala, arises out of ancient Tibetan teachings, including those on Protectors. Protectors are those vicious-looking dudes and dudettes with many skulls and swords that cover thangkas in Tibetan shrine rooms. Many people are intimidated by these images right off the bat, which is fair.
If Buddhism is all about non-violence, then why these images?
Listening to the Self-Acceptance Project recordings, I am reminded again and again of the power of embracing our inner critics, our inner protectors. They have juice, energy that we need in order to survive, but they are operating on decades-old data. Bringing your protectors up-to-date is fantastically helpful: making sure it’s protecting the right thing, like, in the case of the dharmapalas and dakinis, the dharma.
Or, say, your sanity.
As Friedemann Schaub describes in the second week of the Self-Acceptance Project, we have innate capacity for compassion, but we need to turn that energy inwards, towards our (often younger, inner) self (ves).
We can have multiple voices of negative self-talk, all trying to protect us from the dangers of now-passed eras of our early lives, sometimes even simultaneously contradicting each other.
Don’t shove away the negativity: harness the energy. Self-acceptance means accepting the whole kit and kaboodle—not just because “it’s the right thing to do,” but because your energy, like that of the universe, is neither created nor destroyed.
Work with what you got and it can get you free.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise