I’ve been hard on myself most of my life. As a perfectionist, I learned at an early age that I needed to do things the “right” way in order to gain approval. And so I did just that. It was what I always knew, and it worked for me through my time in school.
But at a certain point, as I began to navigate my adult life, there was an underlying feeling of unease when I would acknowledge my constant stream of self-judgment.
I went to my first meditation retreat in 2001. It was 10 days of total silence: no reading, writing, talking or even eye contact. It was all about removing as many distractions as possible in order to stay with the inner journey. Even the meditation itself was very strict: no moving for an hour. We started at 4 am and ended at 9:30 at night.
In some ways, it was perfect for my perfectionistic tendencies. At the time, my beliefs around needing to work hard in order to be worthy of any kind of growth — even spiritual growth — were in full swing. No pain, no gain, even when it came to meditating.
So I would sit, in utter pain, day after day. Other than a single moment of bliss, the experience was excruciating. Like many others, I'd always thought meditation was all about bliss. I kept thinking that there was something I wasn’t getting, and was paranoid that everyone else was getting it.
I would sit on my cushion, and pick apart the people in front of me: “Look at their fancy cushion! They think their such a fancy meditator because they have the right cushion." You get the picture. I was so insecure about myself that my self-judgment encouraged me to judge everyone all around me, too.
Eventually the last day came around, and we were able to talk and connect with the people around us. And these people that I had thought to be so arrogant? Genuine, humble, kind souls who talked to me about the challenges they had faced over the previous 9 days. The pain their bodies had experienced. The doubt they came up against. I was floored. And very, very embarrassed.
I had never seen my judgment come back to me so clearly. It was uncomfortable, and while it certainly didn’t go away overnight, it planted a seed of desire to move past it. It took years and many more retreats and healing sessions to begin to unwind the root of the harshness I had dealt to other people.
But the more I give kindness to myself, the more kindness and openness I feel for others. So here are a few ways I work with my judgment when it comes around:
1. I meditate.
By examining my own thoughts, in a space of lovingkindness, I learn more and more about my underlying patterns and unresolved feelings. When I sit in quiet nonjudgmental contemplation, I feel safe to reveal what I need to work on.
2. I listen.
I don’t pretend that it’s not there, or that what I’m feeling doesn’t matter. I acknowledge that I’m feeling small, and that’s OK. Even if I can’t understand it, or see where it’s coming from, just the realization of what is happening can be enough to help me move to a space of compassion and kindness toward myself or another person.
3. I get help.
I work with another healer to get to the root — the limiting beliefs — that prevent me from loving myself. These have been passed down for generations (and even other lifetimes) and instruct me in all sorts of subconscious ways. We all have blind spots, or ways of protecting ourselves from feeling pain, so working with an objective practitioner can be the missing piece to revealing what we can’t see.
4. I remind myself.
The voice of criticism still comes around, but as I practice these other techniques, I see the pattern. I remind myself, sometimes daily, that this is what I’m choosing to change. And I thank myself for giving me the opportunity to change it.
Letting go of the criticism is a cyclical thing; it lets go in leaps and bounds, and then sneaks it’s ugly head again when you aren’t looking for it. We all work with it. Being gentle and kind is the only way to allow it to soften and not become the loudest voice there. You have the choice to listen to another voice.
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