Do you have an inner Simon Cowell? An inner voice you recognize by its slicing put-downs? I.e., “If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing, a lot of people would be drowning.” I had one… her favorite thing was comparing my body to grain silos or suggesting I try out for the role of Mount Olympus in the next play. Mean didn’t begin to touch the maliciousness underlying her words. And I had manufactured her entirely out of my own head.
Sure, you might say, self-acceptance and letting go of stupid myths about bodies are great ideas, but what about the voice in my head that won’t shut up about what I eat, what I wear, what my thighs look like, and whether everybody hates my hair? Here's a radical suggestion on how to deal with the inner judge. Get to know her.
There’s a story about how Buddha spent several days, weeks perhaps, in a cave, meditating, while the demon Mara and all his nightmare minions harassed and taunted him from the mouth of the cave. “You’re nothing but a lump of camel poop,” they shouted at him [I’m totally quoting]. “What makes you think you’ll ever become enlightened? You’re a worthless good-for-nothing, more ear wax than brains, wasting your life away for naught. A pathetic failure as a prince AND a monk. If only your father could see you now.” Their eerie laughter twined around the Buddha’s limbs and set doubt working in his heart. Their unseen faces unnerved him, but he hated to leave the cave and venture into the darkness. If he gave up his efforts, he would only be rewarding the demons for theirs. He sat in the dim light of the fire and watched as the smoke curled up in tendrils, drifting out of the cave opening. Stirring the coals with a stick, he saw steam rising from his tea pot and was struck by a sudden inspiration.
“What foolish ignorance makes you think you will succeed where all others have failed?” Mara’s haunting voice echoed across the cave walls.
Buddha took a deep breath. “Mara, is that you?” He waited a moment, hearing only silence. “Mara, the tea is ready. Won’t you come in here out of the cold and warm yourself by the fire? Come enjoy a cup of tea with me.”
Now the versions of the story diverge. In one variation, Mara, shocked by Buddha’s friendliness and lack of fear, flees with his minions in his wake, his power to terrify gone. In another version, Mara comes in, settles next to Buddha by the fire, and they converse. Buddha, seeing Mara in the flesh, realizes that to Mara, taunting Buddha is just a job, nothing personal. And Mara by the fire, holding a cup of tea, isn’t so scary after all.
Invite your demons in for tea. Seriously. How often have we cowered in fear from the judgments of the inner critic? You’re feeling just fine, having a perfectly nice day, about to stop in at your favorite café for a coffee, and you catch a glimpse of your butt in the window of the store next door. Before you know it, you feel like crap, your inner critic has gone into overdrive, demanding drastic diets and self-flagellating exercise, and you find yourself sitting down at a table, miserable, in front of an artificially sweetened black coffee instead of the whipped cream topped caramel coffee milkshake you’d been dreaming of all day. Why do our inner critics have such power over us?
Get curious about your inner critic/demon. Get to know her. What’s her favorite color... have you ever asked her? What does she look like? Whose voice does she speak with? And why is she so freaking pushy!? No, actually don’t ask that… yet. But set up an imaginary meeting with her, ask her some neutral questions, be a little friendly. Stay curious, even if she doesn’t know how to be anything but mean at first. You might be surprised what she looks like when she comes out of the dark. Find out her name.
Next post… coming face to face with my own inner critic. She wasn't what I thought was standing behind door number one!