I won’t opine on what I think or feel about politics these days. I’ll save you from this dear friend. You get enough of it on social media and in in the sometimes anti-social media so I’ll spare us all.
We’re about to be challenged like never before. We’re about to need all that loving-kindness, peace, love and understanding like never before. We are going to need all that mindfulness, awareness, compassion, compassionate action, compassionate in-action – EVERYTHING!
A few years ago I had a crisis of faith. Not in Buddhism but in myself. I had be pushing myself so hard to study and practice. To be perfect. I had schedules, timetables, apps, bells, whistles, reminders, post it notes, memberships to communities, blogs, magazine subscriptions, books, books, books. I didn’t lose my path, I filled it up with too much. It all became so overwhelming. I had a goal- to become a teacher in my local Buddhist community. It wasn’t out of a sense of desire for fame (I’m so shy that I think I’d prefer to give talks or instruction while wearing a ski mask). I was out of a sense of seeing how much Buddhism brought to my life and wanting to share this.
I taught a few sessions with a close friend in my sangha, but when he died, I put that all on a shelf. I lost my main cheerleader and was left with my own judgey little mind to fill in the gaps and tell myself that I was best to focus on other things. Best to be a cheerleader for those who can teach than to be a charlatan, an imposter.
So after a sabbatical into the realms of full on suffering and grief, I’ve emerged with a whole new headspace. It’s a path of ‘get there when you do,’ rather than the disciplined treadmill I had myself on. I’m enjoying the ride so far. I have a great coach Practice Instructor. I’m being gentle on myself and applying a bit more loose to my formerly too tight. I’m not sure if I’m in the middle just yet, but it’s feeling much more effortless and joyous than before. That counts for something.
I’m feeling more like I’m on a pathless path, without a goal and with no idea where I’ll end up. Before that kind of perspective would freak me the flip out but now, I’m seeing this spaciousness as exciting. It’s potential. It can be filled with whatever comes my way. I’m open to the mystery of not knowing. Not controlling. Studying the Dharma with an idea in mind of where I’d like to go, but knowing that it can take me anywhere.
Again, and this may get repetitive to hear – another phenomenal Buddhist book has hit my bookshelf at the exact time that I needed it. I’m blessed to be living in a time when “Buddhist self-help” or Buddhist psychology books are plentiful. To have someone articulate the human condition in a way that calls upon the Dharma is truly something I am grateful for. Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic left me feeling like I spent time with a good friend who had many similar experiences as I did and found a way to break habitual tendencies of self-hate.
“I learned that to navigate life’s inner and outer storms, you need two essential skills: awareness and compassion. They are like wings of a bird, without which flight is impossible,” writes Coleman. “Awareness would be the torch that lit my path to discovery and the key to cooling the fires that raged inside me.”
The book is full of many insights into what creates, motivates and then crushes our inner critic. There are examples from others who have come to release themselves from their own negative self-judgment. There are also many exercises to explore in order to help readers work towards peace and freedom. Coleman has also created a “Critic Toolbox” which offers many different strategies to employ to lessen the inner critic’s impact on one’s life.
The author starts by shining a light on the ‘critic’ and how by training ourselves in self-awareness, we can become aware of our negative self-talk. The critic is what causes us depression, anxiety, joylessness, low self-esteem and shame. It’s a cloudy lens we view ourselves through. It limits us and keeps us from living life fully and with passion.
“There is so much pain in life. And it is sad to watch people needlessly add to that by beating themselves up,” writes Coleman. “It is the love in our hearts that allows us to be vulnerable enough to recognize the burdens we carry. Love gives us a quiet strength that enables us to keep the critic at bay, hold our pain tenderly, and begin the journey ofhealing.”
Coleman helps readers release from negative self-talk by offering that “you are not your fault.” He relays how little control one has on their birth, environment and childhood conditioning. Taking a trip back into the past to determine where rules and cultural norms began to manifest as the critical voice helped me to see the origin story for my negative self-talk.
We need to decide where we wish to focus our awareness and attention and one of the ways to start breaking this cycle is to decide not to be pulled into negative self-judgment. The concept of imposter syndrome is explored and countered with the application of realizing that we all have gifts, experience and talent rather than needing to be caught up with being perfect. Other nasty ways that negative self-talk emerges are explored, such as the belief that we’re never enough, comparing ourselves to others, regret, feeling inadequate or powerless, perfectionism, attacking or judging others,
His words read as soothing and present the ideal place to start to see how we must take responsibility for our healing. Via mindfulness and awareness, we are able to see our situations clearly and then tap into our feelings, reactions, and judgments and begin to see where the ugly face of the inner critic presents itself. Coleman provides numerous antidotes for negative thinking and self talk to help us learn to be more compassionate towards ourselves. An emphasis is placed on learning how to love and befriend oneself – moving from judgment to kindness. Meeting our pain with love and gentleness when this isn’t what our usual default setting is can be quite uncomfortable, believe me. When you start to generate this self-compassion, it is amazing how heart and mind start to feel renewed.
“May I be safe, peaceful and free.”
All of the topics that Mark Coleman explores in Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic are ones that I’m currently working through in my life. It has been so meaningful to have this book enter my life to help me recognize how hard I’ve been on myself for so long. To be given a Buddhist-flavored guide to pull wisdom and suggestions from has helped me do my own work with my inner critic. If you see that you have been holding yourself back, and wish to break the bad relationship you have with your inner critic, I highly recommend this book. I know I’ll be re-reading and journaling through this one.
Please let me know if it has helped you by leaving me a comment or if you are suffering (or have suffered from negative self-perception/self-talk). I’d love to hear your story.
In our chat, we spent a bit of time exploring Julie’s spiritual journey, the work that she does in helping others in need both within the Canadian healthcare system and abroad via her volunteering efforts. We also touched upon her love of India and the various projects she’s developed to help her with her wanderlust for this region of the world.
A few links from our chat that you might be interested in checking out include: