She comes to the forefront at fairly predictable times - when I'm trying something new, venturing outside of my normal sphere. Or when I've just given my all for something, and one person that I come into contact with looks slightly askance or raises an eyebrow, and I become convinced that they think my project, my effort, is not only less than perfect, but in fact is so flawed that I should be embarrassed that I even made the attempt.
She also surfaces disguised as envy. When I read a beautifully written paragraph by someone else, or see a gorgeously hand-wrought work of art, or hear someone play a piano etude flawlessly, she takes that moment and warps it, taking me out of that wellspring of sheer appreciation and celebration of someone else's creation, and throws me into a self-flagellating remorse about my own ineptitude and inability to measure up.
I know where the voice originated - I can trace it back to unkind teachers, shaming parents, cruel girlhood friends. But those voices are not what haunt me now. I have taken the real life critics and internalized them to the point that "she," the grand critic, is an entity all of her own, with me wherever I go, because she lives inside of my own head.
She is a monster of my own making. The bad news about that is that I'm the only one who can conquer her. The good news about that is that I'm the only one who can conquer her. Both are true - it is incredibly freeing and terrifying at the same time - it's all up to me.
Recently while chanting the Metta Sutta, or Loving Kindness Meditation, I realized that here was a directive for dealing with the critic:
Even as a mother at the risk of her life
Watches over and protects her only child,
So with a boundless mind should
one cherish all living things.
Suffusing love over the entire world,
Above, below, and all around, without limit,
So let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world.
This stanza is not just about loving the world, although of course, that is also our directive, our vow. It is also about loving ourselves.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life/Watches over and protects her only child - what if the child is myself? What if the child is the ceramic clay that I have molded into a jizo? What if the child is the words I write late at night alone in my office?
So with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things/Suffusing love over the entire world. Not a limited, critical mind, but a boundless mind. Not cherish only the perfect, the unstained, but all living things. Not loving just that which is easy to love, that which is flawless, but the entire world.
So let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world - not just the external world, but also the internal world. Good will and love and tenderness and protection. What if I wrapped my arms around my critic, and told her that I loved her, that I would take care of her? What then?