Friday, October 23, 2009

Loving the Critic

I don't know about you, but I spend an awful lot of time listening to my internal critic. She's that nagging voice in my head that tells me, over and over, ad nauseum, that I'm not smart enough, not talented enough, not disciplined enough, not kind enough, not pretty enough - let's face it, just plain not enough of anything.

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?


  1. She would relax......... ZT

  2. There is an excellent book, "The Wisdom of Forgiveness" by His Holiness the Dali Lama and Victor Chan

    Here is my recollection of a story from the book :
    Several years ago a small group of Buddhist teachers and psychologists from the United States and Europe invited the Dalai Lama to join them in a dialogue about emotions and health. During one of their sessions, an American vipassana teacher asked him to talk about the suffering of self-hatred. A look of confusion came over the Dalai Lama's face. "What is self-hatred?" he asked. As the therapists and teachers in the room tried to explain, he looked increasingly bewildered.
    After repeated conversations with the Tibetan translators that were with the Dali Lama he finally started to understand this strange concept.
    Was this mental state a nervous disorder? he asked them. When those gathered confirmed that self-hatred was not unusual but rather a common experience for their students and clients, the Dalai Lama was astonished.

    He asked the teachers and psychologists in the room to raise their hand if they had ever dealt with self-loathing and nearly everyone raised their hand.

  3. Thank you, Keldon, for the recommendation. I'll look it up. Ah, the critic! Thankfully, she has been rather quiet lately. A welcome reprieve.