Of all of my healing rooms, I probably love this one the most.
Does that statement surprise you? It would have surprised the old me.
Many people think they are bad because they have a critical voice. They don't like to notice this part of their inner experience. They feel embarrassed or uncomfortable noticing that judging part of themselves. I believed that about myself for a long time. I had an extremely loud and busy inner critic. It ran the show for a long time because I couldn't bear to approach it in a way that actually helped it relax -- with warmth and curiosity.
The surprising truth is that now I feel love for my critical voice. I realize what it is, how it's trying to help me and how it's actually an entry point that I can use to return to who I really am -- the ground of Being -- by having a different kind of understanding of it and resulting relationship with it. I see it as a well-meaning distorted guardian angel with only one tool in its tool kit -- to protect me from a perceived threat by means of judgment.
(Note -- This healing room introduction is longer than some of those in the other rooms. But just like in the other rooms, there are many multi-media resources at the end of the article. So, please be sure to scroll down when you are ready to see them.)
This distorted guardian angel has sincere intentions of being helpful, but that one tool in its tool kit hurts. It's like learning your lessons with someone hitting you on the head with a frying pan. Our distorted guardian angel is actually ready for retirement, or at least a tea break, when we understand how to help it get quiet.
When our critical voice is quiet, we experience a life that has a lot of space. The content of life comes and goes -- thoughts, feelings, emotions, situations, objects -- and the space remains. Our true nature with all of its flavors of existence arises in response to life from this space. We discover a witnessing presence as our own consciousness. We feel comfortable in our own skin as we swim through the flow of life and love.
What does it mean to have a critical voice?
When our critical voice is operating, we give ourselves a hard time. Or we give other people a hard time. Or both. We use words like should, ought to, have to, must. We judge, compare, criticize, belittle, establish the deficiency of a person, place or thing. We say things to ourselves like, "There's something wrong with me. I did something wrong. Everything is my fault." And we believe those words. It is the harsh filter we use to view ourselves and to process what is happening in our environment.
We worry about what other people think of us or how we appear to others. We feel observed by a critical other inside of us and/or outside of us. We feel heavy, depressed, shrunken, not good enough. We want to hide under a rock. Or we want to defend ourselves by attacking someone else and showing them we are right and they are wrong.
Who has a critical voice?
Everyone on this planet has heard this internal voice. It is part of the daily human life experience unless you are a Buddha or someone who intentionally practices living from your formless presence. If we had a machine that allowed us to hear how people talk to themselves and we went to a public place, much of what we would hear would be the critical voice. "I'm too fat." "His hair looks so much better than mine." "You should be quiet right now." "Why can't I do that as well as she can?" This kind of communication is an energetic currency on this planet. It is often a primary way we unconsciously relate to ourselves and other people. And other people often unconsciously communicate with us that way, triggering another invitation to our critical voice to help us cope with that moment.
Why do we have a critical voice?
We have a critical voice in our heads because that's often what was going on in the heads of the humans who parented us, who taught us in school, who interacted with us in society on a daily basis. And those folks learned about the critical voice from the people in the generations before them. This mental structure has been handed down from generation to generation by people who have done the best they could to live their lives with the level of understanding they had about the mind and human consciousness. Did they also hand down a lot of love? Absolutely. The sincere love of our friends, relatives and ancestors and their limited understanding of reality have co-existed for generations and generations.
Was the critical voice ever necessary?
When we were about 2 or 3 years old, we learned important lessons about living on this planet, especially lessons about personal safety.
"Don't run into the street or you'll get hit by the cars!"
It made sense that a worried parent might scream this message out at us, grabbing our hand and pulling us to safety on the sidewalk.
"Don't touch the flame of the stove!"
Again the level of urgency and intensity of a mother in the kitchen scolding her toddler while she pulled his hand away from the fire might make sense if she really thought her child would get burned.
But beyond that time in our lives -- and those moments of possible danger before we knew how to be independently physically safe -- we don't need the critical voice the way we rely on it now.
How do I quiet my critical voice?
Since this is such delicate territory of the mind, it is useful to remember a few important things any time we notice that our critical voice is active.
- The critical voice shows up to protect us from some perceived threat.
- The critical voice arrives because we are feeling fear, vulnerability, uncertainty, overwhelm and some kind of uncomfortable need.
- The critical voice doesn't trust our true nature. It forgets that true nature exists. It is focused on surviving a situation based on our limited human understanding.
- The critical voice will keep trying to help us until we have other, more effective tools for moments of perceived threat. Once we have a new approach that works, the critical voice becomes quiet.
- Before working with the content of a critical voice message, it is useful to notice the fact that it has arrived as an automatic response. It's like being pinged or lit up. I like to imagine a clumsy knight from a Monty Python movie rushing in to save the day.
- Since the job of the critical voice has been to keep us safe, we need to approach this particular part of working on ourselves with gentleness, patience and warmth. It is OK that we notice a critical voice message. It can even take on a light-hearted quality as we try to catch the moments when it is happening. We can notice and name the moment. "Oh, I think that was my critical voice right then." Even such a simple process can allow space to arise.
- We can inquire if fear or other difficult emotions exist under a critical voice message. We can see if there is a need present. We can learn to be more present with these feelings and needs. We can explore how to support them. This takes practice. When we directly inquire into our experience and gently discover a feeling or need, our critical voice can take a coffee break. We are directly responding to ourselves. There is no need for a middle man.
- Sensing into the inner experience of our bodies is an excellent way to quiet the critical voice. We can notice sensations, temperature, lightness/heaviness, openness/closedness. Be aware of your body in the chair, your feet on the ground, your arms resting on a chair or table. Feel the support of the breath, the beating of the heart, the sounds and smells and tastes. So many wonderful things are happening inside of us involuntarily. The Divine force that created us is breathing us, circulating us, moving our digestive systems. Our job is to simply receive. When we make this kind of direct contact with our inner support, we slow down inside and feel more spacious. And the critical voice is not needed.
- Working with the details of our critical voice messages can reveal a deeper understanding about the beliefs we hold about ourselves. It is especially transformative to work with the circumstances and beliefs happening now that remind us of similar feelings in our earlier lives, that reveal a kind of inner echo inside of us.
- Connecting to something bigger than ourselves that we trust and love can be extremely healing when we notice the critical voice in operation. Listening to a beloved teacher. Taking a walk. Spending time in nature. Praying. Chanting. Dancing. Singing. Making music. Writing. Painting. Playing with children or animals. Meditating. Reading. Gardening. Pick something that touches you.
- In all of these ways, we are practicing safety for the small part of us that has believed it needs the critical voice to cope with scary, overwhelming moments and uncomfortable needs. We can discover many ways to have a loving and comfortable relationship with this precious smallness. That is a treasure we discover in quieting the critical voice.