Quieting the Critics Inside Us
When we listen to sacred stillness there are many voices we need to quiet before we can pay attention. Some of those voices come from the world around us and some come from inside us.
We may hear voices which remind us of all the things we need to do or everything we might enjoy. Some of us hear voices of regrets from the past or fears about the future. We may hear voices about politics or culture or social media.
Several of the voices I need to quiet most often are the critics inside me.
As I try to settle into listening to sacred stillness I hear voices asking me about how I could be doing more. The critics inside me can remember what I have done less than perfectly. They like to point out when I could have behaved differently and how I could be a better person. Sometimes they remind me about times I lost my temper or treated someone without compassion.
There are critics inside me who are eager to make me question myself. They seem to appreciate the masks I put up to protect myself more than they like who I really am.
Some of the critics inside me specialize in being clear about what I have not yet done. It is as if they want me to remember all the ways I have ever failed to meet anyone’s expectations. They would prefer I spend time feeling discouraged and sorry for myself instead of listening to sacred stillness.
We can allow the critics inside us to have a powerful effect on us but they do not help us get stronger. Whenever we hear them we distract ourselves from who we have the potential to become.
Recognizing the Critics Inside Us
I have heard the voices of the critics inside me for as long as I can remember.
For some time they all sounded like the same voice. Almost everything I tried to do felt like a struggle against what the critics inside me told me about who I was and what I did. Their voices blended together.
The critics inside me pointed out my weaknesses when I was not able to do something well. When I could do something well they told me I did not deserve to feel reassured. The next time I tried, they told me, I would probably not be able to do it again.
The critics inside me are intimidating. They make me feel tired and discouraged.
I became accustomed to hearing the critics inside me. Didn’t everyone hear them?
It was only as I talked with people about the critics inside me I realized not everyone heard the same voices. That made me wonder about the critics inside me.
I felt like I was pulling the critics inside me apart to struggle with them one at a time. Maybe if I could focus on each one of them individually I could silence them.
Can We Quiet the Critics Inside Us?
My own struggles with the critics inside me changed significantly when I realized I could not stop them.
I had tried everything I could think of to silence the critics inside me. Whenever I read something in a book or heard someone talk about an approach I tried to put it to work. Some of these methods would help a little and the critics inside me might slow down for a while. The critics inside me are a resilient group, though, and they would eventually regain their momentum.The ways I tried to stop them which were not the final answer simply fueled their criticisms. There often seemed to be new critics inside me focusing on how I could not stop them.
My contemplative practices revealed to me I did not need to stop the critics inside me once and for all. It was not essential to win a complete and total victory and never hear them criticize me again.
My goal was not to immerse myself in absolute silence. I just wanted the critics to quiet down and let me listen to sacred stillness. The critics inside me did not need to be completely silenced, but only to be quiet for a period of time while I was listening to something else.
My practice of listening to sacred stillness depends on an ability not to pay attention to distractions. Understanding prayer as a competition and trying to fight thoughts and emotions only gives them more attention. The prayer I practice is based in letting go of what distracts us and being open.
I decided to try applying this approach to the critics inside me.
It is helpful not to need to try to be perfect or try to eliminate the critics within us completely.
Not Paying Attention to the Critics Inside Us
Spiritual life is not just a struggle to satisfy, or quiet, the critics inside us.
We practice not paying attention to what the critics are saying. It is not a question of either/or. We are not trapped between unrealistic expectations and criticism for falling short of exceeding them.
The critics inside us are not telling us the truth.
We do not need to silence them, either with our performance or by running away from them.
As we practice listening to sacred stillness we learn how not to pay attention to the criticism we hear.
Spiritual life is not about being criticized. We listen to sacred stillness and we do not hear criticism.
Sacred stillness flows within us and around us. Our practice teaches us to listen, to be open, to pay attention to the stillness, not to what the critics tell us.
We breathe in the sacred stillness and it draws us into spiritual life. Spiritual life lives within us and life is far beyond what the critics say.
What are the critics inside you telling you today?
How will we quiet the critics inside us this week?
[Image by Alan Stanton]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.