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’m Confused

“I’m so confused,” you might say to someone else. “Something in me is so confused,” you might say inwardly to self. So what about this confusion?

The dictionary defines confusion as a lack of understanding; uncertainty, or as the state of being bewildered or unclear about something in one’s own mind. When I am feeling confused, there is a lack of clarity. Murkiness abounds. And that feeling state of bewilderment and perplexity is there too.

It might also feel very dense, all tied up, or turbulent as though it is impossible to unravel the threads to gain understanding. It can be difficult to navigate confusion. What to do? Bring your presence, neutral space and time and empathetic listening.

Give yourself a moment to center, perhaps take a breath letting the exhalation last a little longer than the inhalation. Then say to it, “Hello, I see you are there,” with interest and curiosity. Take a moment and sense how it reacts.

If your “hello” engages it in a neutral but friendly way, take some time to describe it. How it feels, its texture or quality, or its shape. It may show you or tell you something.

If, on the other hand, it feels tense and tight as though there is not much or no space or air, back off a bit. Take another breath and bring your awareness to the ground your feet are touching and how that supports you. Sense your hands. Fingers, palms, and back of hands. Now as you take another breath allow your awareness to follow its journey through the nostrils, down the throat, into the chest and even further down to stomach and belly. Notice how it feels to arrive there.

Now, say inwardly, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention. Sense the space. Back off a bit more, if needed. Sense the space again. Sense and see if something that is feeling confused is still there. Good, It is. Say “hello” gently or if that feels like too much. Just inwardly acknowledge its presence like you might inwardly acknowledge the presence of someone you don’t know who sits down next to you on a bus, train, or plane. Now, giving it lots of space, take some time to describe it. How it feels, its texture or quality, or its shape. It may show you or tell you something.

As you take your time and give it space, the feeling of confusion may change. You may notice that it is not one thing but maybe two or more things. Each thing that arises has its point of view and is wanting your attention. It wants to be listened to gently, deeply and without judgment.

Sometimes, when we sit down and keep this feeling of confusion company, we are struck by a sense of the unknown. This sense of not knowing can feel scary. That’s ok. We can reflect back to it what we sense, saying inwardly to this something, “I’m sensing you are not knowing and I sense you feel scared.” This kind of active and open listening is exactly what it is wanting.

Often, when working with a sense of confusion, two or more things arise. We may sense that they are engaging in some kind of dialogue, sniping, or acting out a tug-of-war. This kind of back-and-forth is wanting the wisdom of our presence to step in and say respectfully to each one. “I am here with you and will listen to you. You will have your turn.” Once you ave given this inner invitation to each hold all of them in the space and sense which one is needing your attention more right now. This way each part will have time and space to be with your full and open self so that it can be heard. Once heard in all its intricacies, its forward energy will release and confusion will transform into an appropriate action or understanding.

When we engage these practices of open and focused presence, of giving our attention, and listening deeply without judgment, confusion transforms. It shows us something from which clarity opens to us.

How About It? Learn Focusing

I don’t often write about events or activities in my blog, but today I want to share some wonderful news. Perhaps you’re a reader of my blog and have wanted to dive deeper into Focusing but didn’t know how or didn’t feel you had the time. Here’s an opportunity to learn Focusing as well as investigate other topics like Thinking at The Edge.

The Focusing Institute, our professional organization, holds an annual summer school. This year it is being held from August 21 – 27, 2016 on the west coast at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in Joshua Tree, California.

Why learn Focusing at the Summer School? Perhaps you’re needing time and space away from your daily routine or have vacation coming. Or maybe you prefer in-person learning and never seem to have the time for a once-a-week or weekend class when you are immersed in work and family. Perhaps you are wanting to learn in the safety of a supportive and accepting community of like-minded people.  Whatever your reasons, learning Focusing and experiencing how it can be applied in the arts, in deep thinking, and in work with children is what you’ll have the opportunity to do at Joshua Tree. Click here for more information and to register.

FISS Poster 2web

 

About The Plate

Everything is always changing. And how we eat is changing too. During the day grabbing something on the run, on our way from here to there, is common. It didn’t used to be that way. There was a time when the mid-day meal was a time to stop, eat, and rest. It was a time for the parasympathetic nervous system to do its thing: Rest and digest. Often people would go home to lunch. The table would be set. The meal would be served and enjoyed. Then after eating and clearing, everyone would take a rest before heading back to work or school.

Now, we run and eat, and eat and run and wonder why we feel hyped-up, stressed, and burnt-out. It doesn’t have to be that way. Even if lunch is brown bag, take-out or cafeteria fare, we can still make a moment of celebration and rest. It is all about the plate.

Use a plate. Stash plate and utensils in your desk at work, in your locker, or in your car or truck. Wash and dry it in the restroom. Who’s looking. Who cares.

Take a moment to unwrap and place your food on the plate. Ah, you are already slowing down. Now sit down with the plate and food.

Take a moment to take in what’s on the plate.

Pizza on plate

Notice the textures. The rough edges, the frond-like surfaces, and the smooth and round skin.

See the colors. The orangey red, the shiny black, and the palest green.

Now smell. Perhaps something sweet and acidy will rise up through your nostrils, hit the receptors there beginning a process that generates an electrical signal that travels to the brain receptor cells and then to the primary olfactory cortex. But enough of that. Just smell the food. Oh, by the way, you may not smell much. That’s OK. Just take a moment and smell. The more you focus your smelling, the better it becomes.

Bringing your awareness to the food on the plate now, just rest your eyes there. Take it all in. Now, breathe in slowly and gently following the breath down into the belly. Pause. Breathe out slowly. Do this a few times. Now, that’s good.

You are ready to eat. Enjoy.

About Eating

How does it feel to eat? Someone once told me, “When I eat I sense something grasping and gnawing inside of me. It feels like there is something desperate in there!”

image

This person was really in touch with how it felt to eat for her. Eating is a complicated activity working at many different levels of our experience. It can tell us a lot about how things are going for us in that particular moment. When we are eating, it is a good time to pause and check inside to see how it is for us right then and there.

Eating is so basic and so complicated. It often brings forth in us something that is wanting our attention; something that is wanting us to deeply listen in a curious and respectful way. But, this something wanting our attention often goes unnoticed as our attention is elsewhere. Perhaps it is on the TV, on the phone, on the computer, in a book, in conversation with another. Or, maybe we are “zoned” out somewhere far from what we are doing in the moment, eating!

Pausing is a good idea. Some people say grace or a few words of remembrance before eating. Growing up, the custom in our family was to say grace. Even as a kid, there was something about that moment of being together in thanks that felt really right, a sense of appreciation for the food on the plate and being together.

Now when I pause in thanks before eating, I do it from the inside out. I bring my awareness inside to that whole middle space that will receive this food, the throat, stomach, and belly and check what’s alive for me in this moment of eating. Perhaps something is wanting my attention right now. It may need just a moment of respectful acknowledgement or perhaps it is something that is wanting of bigger chunk of my time and space. In that case, I say hello to it and let it know I am willing to come back to it when it is needing my attention.

Pausing in this way changes my eating. It slows me down. It increases my enjoyment of the food. And, it brings me in touch with situations, feelings, and emotions, triggered by food and eating, that are wanting my attention. This is a gift for which I am grateful.

“You’re No Good”

A voice inside is saying, ” You’re no good.” Pause and take that in. You might notice how you feel when you hear this.

You might feel that it’s true, that you’re no good. If this is what comes, now is a good time to sense your feet grounded on whatever they are touching, to feel your body supported by whatever you are sitting on, and to take a breath as you pause.

You might invite yourself to be curious, like a scientist or an explorer. You might even say to yourself, “This is so interesting. I am curious about it.”  Now, bring your attention to this something that says, “You are no good.”

stop sign

Sense how it is it right now inside your body, especially in that whole middle area of the body.  Inside you might feel tense, tight, narrow or some other way. Notice how that is.

You may notice this sense of constriction in some specific part of your body, perhaps in the throat, chest, or belly. Notice where it is. You might say to yourself, ‘I’m sensing something in my <part of body> that’s feeling <tight, constricted, or some or way> and it is saying, “You’re no good” <or whatever criticizing thing is saying>.”

Now, just as you might say hello to someone you pass on the street, you might say ‘hello’ to that something in you that is saying that you’re no good. You might say something like, “Oh, Hello, I see you are there.”

You might be thinking now, “Say hello? Don’t be ridiculous. This is just me, my mind. It’s is always saying things like this!  I just try to ignore it.”

But, rather than ignore it or push it away, you might just give this a try. Say ‘hello’. Now pause and feel how that is when you say hello. Maybe something relaxes or melts away or perhaps you sense it is wanting more of your attention. If that’s the case, bringing your awareness to it in a pleasant and nonjudgmental way is a good way to start to get to know it.

Letting it know that you know it is there is a first step to coming into a relationship with it, just as you might say hello to someone as a first step to beginning a conversation.

When you stop and pay attention you may notice that it’s not coming from inside your inner body. It may seem to come from just over there, outside your skin envelope, maybe a little to one side or the other or behind you. That’s OK. The body goes beyond the skin. It radiates out into its environment.

This something that is criticizing you, is just trying to protect you. It’s really afraid that something bad is going to happen to you. Remember when you were little and your mother would warn you that if you didn’t wear your coat when you went outside that you were going to get sick? This voice you hear is like your mother’s. It’s worried something is going to happen to you, so it says something bad to keep something bad from actually happening.  It is trying its best to protect you.

But guess what! Even though it is doing its best, it actually can’t protect you from anything. And, if you keep it company and listen to it like you would a friend, it will know that you can take care of yourself and it will relax, let go, and after awhile melt away.

Its releasing may not happen quickly. You may need to spend some time with it. If this feels like a big job, you can say to yourself. “There’s plenty of time. I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention now.” And, if you need to bring your attention to other things in your life, you can let it know that you are willing to come back to it if it needs your attention. That way it knows that you’re not just trying to get rid of it. It can trust you.

Try this out the next time a voice inside is criticizing you and let me me know how it goes for you. I welcome your comments and questions.

Stuck?

What? You Suggest I Do What?

Invite in that stuck feeling.

You are suggesting I invite in this stuck feeling. Really?

Yes, invite it in. You’re wanting something in your life. You’re wanting to do something. It’s meaningful to you. And, yet, you don’t do it. Something is awry. Something feels stuck. Something is not wanting to do what you are wanting. Go ahead, invite it in and sense it freshly in your body right now.

Stuck

That’s right. Don’t shy away from it or push it away. That stuck feeling is here for some good reason. You can sense something there in your body. Maybe in your throat, or chest, or stomach/belly. Something is there in that middle space of your inner body. It is feeling stuck and needs to share with you. Go ahead. It’s there now. Say hello. Keep it company like you would a good friend.

All it is needing is a good listener, like you when you are in presence. It’s needing the company of your open, flowing, spacious and compassionate self.  That state of being that welcomes whatever comes.

You mean welcomes even that in me that feels horrible, stuck and painful? Do you really mean even that?

Yes, even that.  Your Self-in-Presence welcomes all that comes, says hello, and sits down with each one, listening deeply and acknowledging with deep empathy.

Ah, you say you’ve been listening.

That’s good.

And now what? What do I do now?

You might sense how it is feeling from its point of view. What it is not wanting for you. What’s it’s not wanting to happen to you and not wanting to you to feel.

OK, it’s letting me know how it is for it. It’s letting me know what it is not wanting for me.

Great. That’s right you’re listening deeply to it.

And, now what?

If it feels right, let it know that you can really sense how it is for it. You really get what it’s not wanting for you.

Ah, it’s changing now. It’s relaxing and there’s a breath. It is opening and flowing.

You might let that feeling of opening and flowing be there as fully as it wants.

Yes, it wants to be here. I’m enjoying it, actually.

That’s good. Steep in that feeling.

Ah, there is something more. It’s a sense of rightness.  A sense of the next right step to take. Yes, it is here, the next right step for me.

Wonderful. You might gather up that next right step and take it with you into your life.  And, perhaps also thank your body for sharing.

Your awareness expanding now to the world around you. And, off you go. Stuck no more.