Fortunately, nothing is permanent except for the law of impermanence. And no matter how right or real its message seems, there’s a more real view of you that you can have. Working with our inner critic is actually more about changing our habits of mind than about some eternal, solid reality.
As we live into these practices on a daily basis and take them to heart, we can release the habitual stories that prevent us from living our full reality, and step more into our truest selves.
Here are three methods for working with our inner critic:
1. Increase Awareness
Self doubt may come from a skewed view of ourselves. As westerners, we have been programmed to not acknowledge our own accomplishments. Many of us are socialized with the expectation that we have to achieve worldly greatness in order to justify our existence. On a more basic level, we feel we have to accomplish in order to be “worthy”. What if worthy weren’t even the point? What if we were inherently lovable and worthy of compassion, just for existing?
From the point of view of the ground of being, the ocean of awareness, all of its waves are made of itself, so of course they’re lovable. They don’t have to prove anything. Even the wave that is you; that is me.
Whew! Let that soak in for a bit.
If you really think about that, what a huge relief! That’s a game changer.
All of the practices of the Buddhist path help us see reality as it really is. That certainly includes Shamata and Vipassana, which are seen as essential for reprogramming ourselves. As we spend time in practice, we experience for ourselves that deeper reality of the whole ocean. Over time, sitting in that daily, we build new patterns of thought, and the old patterns fade.
At first, this takes effort. Over time and with repetition, the momentum from the new habits takes hold, and it requires less and less effort to change those patterns of thinking. Eventually and with great effort, the new patterns become our natural way of thinking.
When we are lost in the stories of, “I’m not good enough” or anything along those lines, we have lost touch with true reality. A major step in increasing our awareness is developing a regular Shamata and Vipassana practice.
Start now with one of these practices:
- Three-minutes Shamata and Intro to Insight Meditation with Lama Tsomo
- Six-minutes of Shamata for Seeing Clearly with Lama Tsomo
- Shamata with Visual Support with Lama Tsomo · Three-minute Meditation to Bring Awareness to Body with Lama Tsomo
2. Remember Your Own Goodness
Think of Loving Kindness as an equal opportunity love. It is relatively easy to love the people close to us and wish them well. But what about ourselves?
Practicing Loving Kindness for ourselves can help us chip away at the walls of confusion we have built that prevent us from loving ourselves. Then we work on the walls we have built that prevent us from loving others. Or the confused way that we love others conditionally. How we love ourselves forms the basis of how we love others.
The first step in this meditation is to imagine that you’re in front of yourself or inside of your heart. If envisioning yourself becomes a barrier, start by picturing a loved one, and then ease into envisioning yourself. Envelop yourself or your loved one in warm, strong feelings of love. Sometimes self-love is hard to come by, so it’s ok to feel uncomfortable at the start.
Envision yourself as a child. What would you want for that child? To be happy? If you can wish happiness for your child-self, why not wish it for your adult self now? Most likely, at some point in life you received the message that you are not worthy of love, or that once you achieve perfection, only then will you be worthy of love. Think of someone you love. Are they perfect? Most likely not, yet you love and wish them happiness anyway. You can grow the capacity to give that same Loving Kindness to yourself.
Imagine wrapping yourself or your child-self in a warm embrace. At the same time, let the love and warmth of that hug move through your body. Settle into your embrace and say this, or something along these lines:
“May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.”
Dive in with these Loving Kindness guided meditations:
3. Cultivate Compassion for Your Inner Critic
After all, we do need to be able to correct course; acknowledge when we’re off track. How can a musician practice guitar if they can’t acknowledge the wrong notes? But it doesn’t have to be a statement on their self-worth
What if we begin to see our inner critic as a person who needs compassion? Perhaps behind their harsh voice, they are holding some fear, insecurity, and a need to be heard. That person also deserves compassion.
“Tonglen for Troublemaker” practices may come in especially handy here. We often think of “Troublemakers” as other people who seem to make our lives feel difficult. However, our inner critic can go into the “Troublemaker” category as someone to whom is a little more difficult for us to extend our compassion.
Once we are aware of our inner critic, rather than just going along with the movies they project, in our Tonglen practice, we can imagine them as a confused, suffering person. We see them, hear them, feel their suffering, breathe out compassion for them, and allow them to pass us by. “Tonglen for Troublemakers” is expectedly more challenging that Tonglen for our friends and family. It’s important to ease into it and be gentle with ourselves as we try it.
Give it a try and use your inner critic as the Troublemaker in this practice:
For more Tonglen practices, try these:
- Tonglen: Compassion Practice
- Eighteen-minute Meditation for Cultivating Vast Self-Compassion with Lama Tsomo
With awareness, Loving Kindness, and Compassion, we can see and feel our inner critic in right relation to our whole selves. As we learn to bring a more equanimous attitude to that part of ourselves, we can work with it, even benefit from it. And that voice can grow and become less confused, more helpful. It’s easy to fall into patterns of thinking that we will “always be this way” or “this is just how I think,” but meditation opens up vast possibilities for how we can think and be.