August 21, 2023

What Helped me Get Comfortable with Criticism.


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As I look around at the peeling, stark-white paint curling away from the brick wall, my thoughts are racing, and my heart is beating fast.

I look down at my notes one final time, but as I attempted to turn the page, the paper stained with the sweat from my clammy hands and smudged the ink. I trembled to my core.

I could feel the physical sensations of doubt circulating throughout my body, making my legs quiver with fear. I had never confidently spoken in front of a group of people before—at least not a group that I wasn’t comfortable with.

I knew when I started this yoga teacher training that I would ultimately learn the skills to do that—and now was that exact time to embody everything I had learned.

The sound of my name being called seemed to dramatically echo through the room, carrying my sense of presence away with it.

Bringing myself back into my body, I arose and walked timidly toward the front of the room. Bare feet on the distressed wooden floor, step by step, I made my way to the front where I rolled out my favorite rubber mat and sat down. I had developed quite a bond with my mat over the past several months of training, and now here I was, me and my new best friend, at the culmination point, about to teach my first full-length class.

I looked out in front of me and saw eager eyes staring back at me. I froze. My mind went in countless directions at once and then suddenly settled on one anxiety-ridden thought: what if I couldn’t bring myself to find what to say?

I pondered deeper: what if I was so terrified of getting it wrong that I didn’t even allow myself to try to get it right?

Halfway through my final presentation, I mixed up cueing. It wouldn’t have been a dramatic noticeable mistake, but because I didn’t know how to self-regulate and was still in the early days of learning how to relate to myself in a deeper way, I imploded.

“Placing your right foot down…oh no, I mean left…hmmm…I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” My trauma response of people pleasing was presenting itself again. My face was hot, and I could feel tears forming in my eyes. I had no idea how to handle this moment.

Then, as if the universe revealed its light by drawing open its cosmic curtains a bit, I felt grace pour upon me in the form of a verbal salve. “You are doing great; keep going.” It wasn’t much, but in that one sentence, I discovered the skill of reframing and re-grounding myself internally and slowly was able to merge that with the understanding of how to do all of that without skipping a beat externally.

“Pressing your left hand into the mat and rising to a comfortable seat. I place my hands upon each other in front of my heart and bow to you all, namaste.” The presentation was over, and what I figured would be a fear of judgement setting in, now seemed to be replaced with a curiosity of what they thought and how I could improve. After all, ego aside, I knew I was a beginner and there was an abundance of growth possible—if I chose to view it that way.

So, I let my guard down and courageously asked the question, “So, how was it?” I was met with an overwhelming amount of positivity that I was not expecting. The most shocking of all? My teacher saying, “I loved it so much that I want you to keep in touch and let me know where you start teaching so I can attend your classes.”

The feedback continued, “We would’ve never known you messed up had you not said sorry and made it so obvious. Next time, just keep going, keep your cool, and pivot with what comes.” I resonated with that feedback so deeply that I invited it to flow through my inner landscape—touching and transforming every old belief, trauma pattern, and negative core value that resisted it.

Walking back to my spot in the audience, I replayed the feedback in my head and got curious as to why I presumed the nature of it would be negative. I was almost certain it was going to tear me apart. Was I that fragile? Afraid? Negatively biased?

It triggered such a response that I knew I needed to emotionally dig a little deeper.

After the graduation ceremony passed and the celebration settled, the feeling of curiosity lingered. So, I created space in my Zen area, sat on my favorite zafu, and went into meditation with the intention to go within and find the reason I had resisted criticism for so long. What I found was equal parts heartbreaking and empowering—that there was a part of me that felt unworthy, discouraged, and unlovable.

I had realized that I was never really given positive feedback within my formative years, and in addition to that lack, I was manipulated for most of that timeframe, with harsh words and judgements. As this realization surfaced from the depths of my being, to the seat of my soul, and finally to the threshold of my awareness, I felt myself exhale a deep sigh of relief.

It felt as if I had released lifetimes of pain—all by embracing my triggers and uncomfortable emotions with gentle curiosity.

I was slowly learning the meaning of “taking my power back” while metabolizing all the traumatic words I had absorbed in the past. Words that did nothing but diminish my ability to love and trust myself. That affected me so harshly, they reshaped my perception of the world—acutely filtering out who I could and could not trust. Creating a fear monster so big inside of me that the only way I was able to feel and find safety was by shutting the rest of the world out and not ever truly letting anyone—or their opinions for that matter—in.

After all, if the people close to me were equipped with such terrible things to say, why would anyone else see anything good?

As dismal as that sounded, it brought a great sense of relief and empowerment to my soul. I thought to myself: if I can see where the pain or fear of rejection is derivative of, could I be the one to heal that wound and ultimately alter my way of engaging with myself and the world?

My intuition softly whispered yes.

Reflecting on that moment, I realize how essential that experience was for my journey. But it wasn’t just the experience itself, it was what shifted within me that liberated me from the resistance that comes from fear. While I thought that I was keeping myself safe from rejection, I was resisting the full spectrum of emotion by shutting myself off to it entirely. By resisting one emotion, I was resisting them all.

So, from that day forward, I did the opposite of resisting—I opened. To life, to people, to experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion— including all the uncomfortable ones. Intentionally choosing to not allow bitterness to warp my perception and calcify my heart, and instead, learning to garner strength from my vulnerability and fallibility.

What emerged in doing that wasn’t proof of my unworthiness but affirmation of my innate sense of belonging—something that no amount of criticism could ever take away.


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