The Hyper Self-Critic

Oh, those nagging, hyper-critical voices in our heads! They make us feel so bad.

Sometimes there is just one voice; sometimes many. They go round and round, repeating themselves over and over. They have a rhythm, ebbing and flowing and then rising in a crescendo. When they are in the background, we hardly notice them or ignore them, and then something turns up the volume and they consume our attention and energy.

Their themes are consistent, too. “You are not good enough,” “You are bad,” “You should be ashamed,”  “You are wrong,” to “You are not worthy,” “You are broken,” “You are selfish,” and so on.

These voices  and their messages are not happy or helpful. They derail us from our work and enjoyment of life. They shut us off from our friends and family. They make us feel small, judged, and useless.

We try to shut them off, bury them forever, and hope to never hear them again. We push and push. The more we push, the more insistent they become.  Finally, exhausted from pushing, we succumb. We believe them.

For a moment, consider this. They are very alive. They come from a part of us that got stuck in a moment when we were unable to discern how to respond in wholeness. Often we were children, little children. It is that little child in us who got stuck in that moment of criticism or trauma. And, sometimes, they stem from events in our adulthood.

This happened to me. After an ectopic pregnancy that hemorrhaged and many subsequent and unsuccessful attempts to become pregnant again, I was depressed, defeated, broken, and vulnerable. On a visit to see my mother, she said,” The only reason you are not getting pregnant is that you are too selfish.”  This judgement struck me like a bullet in my gut. My whole body froze in that moment. The wound was deep and lasting. And there it was, that voice in my head repeating, “You’re too selfish.”  It took me a long time, deep investigation, and much suffering to learn how to release this hyper-critical, damning voice and move forward in my life.  This is how to go forward.

Start here. Try this with patient and gentle goodwill for yourself.

Find a quiet place. Your office with the door closed. A bench in a quiet corner of the park. Your bedroom. Or, some place else.

Sitting quietly, bring your attention inside. You might have your eyes closed. This usually helps you to be at home inside your body. If the voice(s) is not active in the moment, graciously invite it to come forward. You might say something like, “I’m inviting that whole thing about feeling judged selfish… or whatever it is to come forward.”

Gently, say “Hello, I see you are there,” in a cordial and neutral kind of way. Perhaps in a similar way to how you might say, “hello” to a stranger passing you on the street.

Pause for a moment too, putting your full and gentle attention right there. You might feel a little space open. Be patient. Let your breathing relax.

Be curious and interested, but not overly eager. This voice has something to say and show you and needs space to unfold and share with you.

Notice your bodily sensations and their texture and quality. You might sense tightness,orals, rose colors, or hear something being said, or an image might emerge.

Sit with it for awhile and listen. No rush. There’s plenty of time. No judgement. There’s not good or bad, right or wrong.

Other thoughts and sensations may come up. Go with whatever is wanting your attention right now. The process is like peeling the layers of an onion. All unwinds given space and time.

Keep listening openly. And when you hear something, see something, or feel something, acknowledge it. You can say to yourself, “I’m sensing something in me that …” and as it shows itself more you can acknowledge by saying “It’s letting me know …”

If it feels right, find a guide who can support you and your process.

The unwinding happens at its pace, and you will notice little steps, small openings, and energy release like a breath of fresh air. This is your healing unfolding.

 

 

 

I Am Here And This Is Here Too

When you are in a situation and feeling intensely or in the middle of an internal war of thought and worry it can feel all-consuming. It might feel as though the whole of you is trapped or stuck. You might be aware of how it goes around and around, repeating endlessly.

I have felt like this. In my case, anxiety would consume me. An anxiety attack. And, it was just that, an attack by many parts of me at war with one another. Each one was doing its best to protect and defend. Sticky, tight, closed-in, going round and round in an endless spiral of pent up emotion, feeling, and thought, I felt desperate and imprisoned.

Imprisoned_Small

Perhaps you have felt something like this. You are wanting to get relief and feel better. What to do? Pause and bring your attention to your body. It doesn’t matter where you are. Start with really sensing your feet, pressing into the toes, the ball of foot, and heel and what they are touching. Ah, there they are. Sense how the floor or earth supports you up through your feet to your belly, stomach, chest, and throat. You might follow the energy with your attention as it enters the bottom of your feet and moves up through the legs to the hips, pelvis and buttocks and into that whole middle space of belly, stomach, chest, and throat. There you are.

Now, pause. A breath may come with the pause. That’s good. Just notice the breath. Notice the inhale and how it comes in and down through the nose, down the throat to chest and even beyond to the stomach and belly. And notice the pause at the end. That short moment of stillness. That’s the pause we are after, that short moment of stillness.

This is a good time to remind yourself by saying inwardly, gently and respectfully, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention. Who is saying this? “This is your whole self, that self that is present, that can hold and open space, lots of space, for all those partial selves, parts of yourself, that are needing your attention.

Your whole self is here, aware and open. Now, you might invite whatever needs your attention to come forward or it may come flooding in with many voices, pictures, feeling states, and emotions vying with one another. Ah, how wonderful!  They are all here right now with you. This is is a gift.

Acknowledge each one with interest and curiosity. To the first one say, “Ah, I see you are here.” Acknowledge the second one, “Ah, hello. I see you are here, too. And both can be here.” And then acknowledge each additional one that comes by saying inwardly, “Ah, I see you are here, too. And, all can be here.”

This is what we mean when we say, “I am here and this is here, too.” Practice this. Pausing and bringing your awareness, your whole self, to what is needing your attention inside. And no matter how many parts come forward letting each one know that you are here and willing to listen to it. Ah, that feels better. Now space is opening inside just as the day opens to us.

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A Very Difficult Person

Perhaps there is someone in your life whose actions and or words you find difficult, perhaps very difficult. If this feels right, you might do the following. Taking a few minutes gather together a piece of paper and a pen. Now, find a quiet place where you can sit and write.

Open green book with pen on white background.

Sitting, let your body take its most comfortable position.  Feel your feet and what they are touching. Sense the seat beneath you and how it supports you. Notice your hands and what they are touching, how they, perhaps, hold the pen and the paper, too.

Now write the person’s name at the top of the paper. Perhaps the person’s name is Jane. Write ‘Jane’ at the top of the paper.

Now bring your awareness to your breath. Just the way it is. Breathing in, pausing, breathing out just breathing as it is right now. No need to change it. If it feels right take a deeper breath.

Now bring your awareness inside your body to your inner knowing of what feels right for you. Take your time. Sense your more spacious and whole self arriving inside. As you do, you might become aware of something in the throat, chest, stomach or belly, or somewhere else. Just notice what’s alive for you right now and acknowledge that it is here.

Now bring your awareness to what’s difficult about this person and invite it to be present. You might say to yourself, “I’m inviting that whole thing about [name of person] and [describe briefly in a couple of words the difficulty]. Here’s an example. “I’m inviting that whole thing about Jane and how she treated me in the meeting to be here now.”

Acknowledge what comes. It might be a picture, video, feeling or emotion. Whatever comes acknowledge it gently with respect and empathy. You might say something to yourself like, “Ah, hello, I see you are/it is here.”

Now, taking your time, invite three good qualities of this difficult person to come forward. You might say. “I’m inviting three good qualities of Jane to make themselves known.” Perhaps only one or two good qualities will come forward. That’s OK, too. Write each one down. Even if there is only one good quality, write that down on the piece of paper under the name of the person.

When you have finished writing, put the pen down.  If it feels right take a breath, feel your feet and hands and what they are touching. Feel the support of what you are sitting on beneath you.

Read the first good quality to yourself. Now, sense how that good quality feels in your body. Let that feeling be there as fully as it wants to be. Now read the second good quality and sense it in your body letting it be there as fully as it wants. Now do the same for the third quality. Notice how your body feels now. Perhaps something has changed. Perhaps there is more space or a flowing or lightness. Just notice.

Seeing the good in someone, even in a difficult person, doesn’t hurt and can help you feel good, too.

Something in Me Doesn’t Like Her (Him)

Something in me doesn’t like her (him, them). This part of me is feeling hurt and angry. Every time I think of her and what she did, my chest tightens. I sense a closing in. There is no room, no space. My breath stops. My ears ring and anger hisses hot like a steaming tea kettle. And, something else in me doesn’t like that I feel this way. They are both here with me now.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this feeling or something similar when dealing with a difficult person or group of people. It doesn’t feel good and there is a way forward. By being with and listening to each something or part, one at a time, the energy bound-up in your feeling and thinking body will release. As energy releases there is a breath, a sense of space, an ‘aha.’ Right steps emerge with this new life-forward energy.

A beautiful way to meet and be with these feelings in your body is with Lovingkindness meditation. You don’t need to be a meditation pro to do lovingkindness mediation. All you need is a quiet time and space. This meditation needn’t be long. Five minutes can suffice. Set a timer so you can forget about counting time.

Sit quietly, letting your body take a comfortable and upright position sitting on a chair or cushion or standing. Gently place your hands, one on each leg above the knee, or hanging softly from your arms at your sides if standing.

Focus your awareness taking a breath and inviting your intention to meet yourself as you are right now. Sense your body in the space around you. Close or softly focus the eyes. Sense your feet and hands and what they are touching. Sense the chair, cushion of floor supporting you and rest into that support if that feels right.  Now bring your awarenesss inside as you gently say to yourself, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention.”

And repeat the following phrases enlarging the circle of compassionate kindness outward as far as your time permits:

May I be happy.

May I be free from suffering.

May I be full of peace and love.

May (Name of difficult person or group) be happy.

May (Name of difficult person or group) be free from suffering.

May (Name of difficult person or group)  be full of peace and love.

Continue repeating the phrases with a choice of others such as…

family members, naming each one

friends, naming each one

colleagues and co-workers naming each one

neutral people you meet in your day such as the grocery clerk, the bus driver, the toll taker, the restaurant server, the bank teller

other difficult people or groups by name

your community

groups suffering from devastation such as fire, earthquake, war

the homeless

those who are ill

all people in your town

all people in your state

all people in your country

all people on your continent

all people on the earth

all people above the earth

all people everywhere

As you recite the phrases bringing loving and kind wishes to each individual and group, your heart opens, your breath softens, energy releases and invigorates. There is a bodily reset and you find yourself moving forward in your life in a new and open way. Ah, it feels so much better.

On Autopilot?

Mostly, we go about our day on autopilot. It makes sense that we do not consciously have to decide moment-by-moment, what next. We just do what we do. Every day, we get up, get dressed, brush our teeth, wash our faces, get our kids off to school, go to work, eat, drive, and so on without thinking about what we are doing.

This is not a bad thing. Imagine the effort we would expend to consciously and repeatedly make the same decisions and navigate the same minutia of the same activities day after day. Perhaps exhausting.

On the other hand, when on autopilot we cannot savor what is right here, right now for us; we are not fully present and alive. We might be missing feeling the joy of even the simplest activity. Or, we might be missing something that some part of us might be trying to tell or show us.

What? you might be asking. Who cares!  And, you might also be sensing some budding curiosity in discovering what might come forward by spending a little time with something that doesn’t seem to need any attention at all.

How about bringing your full attention to some routine activity: Brushing your teeth, drinking a coffee or eating a doughnut or bowl of cereal, getting dressed, or driving to work?

Exploring bringing your awareness to something simple that we all do, like brushing our teeth, is a good place to start. Let’s do it.

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Notice how you pick up the brush, apply the toothpaste, and turn on the water. Really pay attention as you hold the brush. Be aware of which hand and kind of grip you use.  Sense how it feels to hold the brush. Now, squeeze the toothpaste onto the brush. What do you see? How would you describe the toothpaste going onto to the brush? And, the water? What do you notice?

Now bring your attention to brushing your teeth. Notice your stroke. Maybe you go up-and-down, side-to-side, round-and-round or some other combination of moves. Sense what it feels like as the brush contacts the the teeth and gums. Notice the texture of the toothpaste mixing with your saliva and how it tastes. What’s your tongue doing?  Do you swallow? Tune into how it feels inside, in your body.  Be aware of looking in the mirror and how that is. Notice when you decide to stop brushing and how that feels.

Be aware of how you finish up.  Perhaps you rinse your mouth, or not. Notice each step you take to clean and put away the brush. Notice your hands and how they feel as you do this.

Perhaps take a moment now and reflect. How was this different from brushing on autopilot? You might be surprised. Welcome whatever comes to you.

Perhaps your senses of taste, sight, touch, hearing, and smell have woken up. How was that? Maybe you noticed something you enjoyed or something that felt unpleasant. Take a few moments to describe what has come for you.

If something pleasurable is there, take your time and let it be there as fully as it wants to be. Now sense how that feels inside, in your body, having done that.

Perhaps it has brought forward something that is wanting your attention, something that doesn’t feel quite right, stuck, painful, or out-of-place.  It might have come as a feeling, a memory, an image, or a story. Check that out and see if something like that is there for you. If it is, you might say hello to it and let it know that you are willing to come back to it and spend time with it. Now notice how doing that feels inside.

This is it. Even the simplest, most routine and mundane activity is alive for us when we pay attention. And, by paying attention what springs forward may be pleasant and flowing and/or open us to something in us that given our compassionate attention and active listening moves us forward in our lives with just rightness.

Why Don’t You Eat A Cookie

I was deep in a Focusing session the other day, spending time with something in my lower belly that felt so young, alone and scared. I sensed that it was vulnerable and that I should go slowly and be very gentle. This something didn’t say anything but it showed me a small, wrinkly, brown nut-like thing. I could see that there was a lot of barren earth around it. I sensed what kind of contact it would like from me and it let me know that it was OK to just be there with it.

With this invitation to stay with it, I sensed how cold and alone it was and also that it would be Ok to observe it more closely. My gentle presence was with it more closely, almost as though I was looking at it through a magnifying glass. I noticed how furrowed one wrinkle was and how it appeared cracked and parched.

Just then as I was doing this something else popped up to the right side of my abdomen and outside my skin envelope. I sensed that even though it seemed to be outside my body, it was really in my body. It was in my energy body that extends just beyond the physical skin barrier.

I sensed it was very anxious and it said quickly, “Why don’t you eat a cookie.” I replied, “Oh, hello, I see you are there.”

It followed up, ” Just eat it.”

I mirrored back to it, “I’m sensing you’re saying, ‘Just eat it.’

“Come on. Just eat it. You’ll feel so much better.” I could really sense how anxious it was and how everything felt like it was speeding up. I noticed a churning in my belly like with a thick, harsh wooden paddle.

Caramel cream

Everything felt like it was both closing in and churning. The space felt tight and anxious and swallowed up. There was no getting out. Then it came to me that perhaps it might not even know that I, my larger, spacious self, was there. Perhaps my larger self had merged with it, so to speak, leaving no separation between it and me. So I sensed if that felt right. I invited it to let me know if it knew that I was there. No response, just the tight, anxious, tight churning. This was a wonderful discovery!

In Focusing it is important to be with, acknowledge and build a relationship with whatever is there needing our attention. When we merge with some part of us it is not possible to do this because there is no space between the something and us; there is no separation; we feel that we are the something.

So, I slowly felt my feet on the ground. I felt the backs of my legs, my buttocks, and my back in contact with the chair I was sitting on. I brought my awareness to these points of contact and noticed how the chair held my body. I kept my attention there for a time so I could really feel the support and allow my body to settle into it. I then brought my awareness to my breathing just as it was, noticing the in-breaths and out-breaths and the pauses in between. Then I brought my awareness inside my body and into that whole middle space that includes the chest, stomach, and belly. I took my time like I was arriving to some new place and looked around. And, as I did this I gently said inwardly, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention now.” Then I brought my awareness to the space again. I could sense the space and how calm it was.  Then I sensed freshly in my body inviting what wanted to be known about “Eating a cookie”  and waited sensing if it was there or not, or if perhaps something different was there.

Perhaps you have had this experience. You feel you are the something that’s going on inside. You are the emotion. You are the reaction. Noticing this is a gift; it is a signal to step back and bring your awareness to your body in the space around you, to what is supporting your body, to your breathing. And then you respectfully bring your awareness inside your body, sensing that whole middle area and gently reminding yourself that you are the space big enough for whatever needs your attention right now. This is how you bring yourself into presence. When you are in presence you sense and say “hello,” be with, and build a relationship with whatever comes, no matter how it shows up. And, if and when you need to you replenish your presence of self, you take some time to do it gently and respectfully.