I have been working as a psychotherapist for twenty five years, and for the first decade or so I was aware of a voice inside my head that spoke up whenever I felt out of my depth. ‘You’re not a real therapist,’ it said. ‘Other therapists have had better training than you. They know about things you don’t know about. They would do a much better job with this client.’
As I reflect on this voice I’m pleased to realise that it simply hasn’t been present for a very long time. Of course I am still learning, and I always will be. I have blind spots and sometimes I make mistakes (which I apologise for) as I learn more about myself and the different parts of me. I don’t, however, feel like an imposter. I’m a decent therapist, and I generally do a good job.
I do, however, have an equivalent: the Buddhist Police. These voices tell me that I’m not a ‘proper Buddhist’. They have lots of evidence for this. I often take spiritual inspiration from Christian and psychotherapeutic wisdom – that is not what proper Buddhists do. I don’t belong to a ‘proper’ Buddhist group since leaving my Order a few years ago. As a Pure Land Buddhist, I don’t do lots of meditation. I haven’t been on a ‘proper’ Buddhist retreat for years. I am happily devotional, and I have a strong relationship with the divine, and I often find this aspect of my faith at odds with the other Buddhists I meet.
As I type, the Buddhist Police are getting agitated. ‘Don’t tell them all that!’ they say. ‘They’ll know you’re not a proper Buddhist now too!’ Usually, when they speak up, I push them away. I am afraid of finding out that they are right. This morning it’s time to listen to them properly. I welcome them in and start listening…
Listening to the Buddhist Police
These parts of me say that their job is to help me hide the facts of me being not-a-proper-Buddhist. If the truth got out, they think I’d be judged and criticised by others. They’re not really worried about our congregation judging me, but they are worried about my Buddhist colleagues and teachers – people I admire, and people who have more knowledge than me about what a ‘proper Buddhist’ is.
And if they did judge me? Then maybe I wouldn’t have the ‘right’ to manage this Buddhist temple and to run Buddhist practice and study programmes. Maybe people might learn the ‘wrong’ things from me. What gives me the right to say I’m a Buddhist teacher? On who’s authority? Sometimes I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about! Here, hiding behind the Police, is a young part of me that is afraid of being laughed at. This young part has been laughed at before, by adults who wanted to put me down or put me in my place. This part still carries the shame from that time.
Tending to the shame I carry
As I see this young part of me, my heart softens towards them. No wonder I want to avoid being judged as not entitled to my authority or as being a fraud. This young part already carries a burden of having-been-judged around with it – a burden it received a long time ago. I promise the young part that I will come back to it. I will help it to put down that burden, to let go of the shame.
My Buddhist Police have been watching. They can see that they might be unnecessary if I heal this younger part – that they might need a new job. I wonder what they would like to do. I am still in need of parts that ‘discern’ – parts that keep an eye on me and that help me to reflect on the work I do as a Buddhist teacher. I will need to keep being reflective about my work – looking at my white privilege, reflecting on difficult interactions or decisions, and continuing to study the Dharma. This reflective work never ends.
My Buddhist Police say that they don’t fancy joining that team, though. They’d rather be my cheerleaders. They’d rather help me to enjoy my practice, and enjoy my teaching. They’d rather encourage me to sink even more deeply into refuge, and to help me open up to even more gifts. I thank them for their service. I can almost see them changing out of their uniforms, and into comfortable velvety track-suits! They are feeling free, and so am I.
Go gently _/|\_
Do you have any police inside your head – those that police your spiritual life, your appearance, the way you behave in social situations, your career, your ethics etc? Are any of them working too hard? See if you can be curious towards them and see why they need to work so hard. Are they protecting any vulnerable parts of you? What needs healing or witnessing inside you?