We all have a space in our heart  — every one of us – that longs for connection and meaning. We all want to feel like our life, our efforts, our relationships matter, at least in some small way, to other people in this world. It’s a very vulnerable spot within us and we spend most of our lives trying to protect it.

It’s Where Your Greatness Lives

Your mind has a mama bear protector for that vulnerable spot — your inner critic. Yes, I’m talking about that annoying, critical buzzkill that grows louder when you grow closer to your greatness. It dredges up every reason why you won’t be able to do what you’re set on doing, dishing up story after story that you’ve tried this before and it didn’t work. Or that nobody wants what you’re offering to the world. Yada, yada, yada.

 

It’s funny (or possibly ironic) that in protecting your greatness from the harshness of the world your inner critic dishes up more negativity than the world could ever dream up. As if we guard that space with barbed wire ourselves we will somehow fill it with enough negativity that the world can’t do much worse. You keep that greatness hidden, papered over, safe from sight.

 

On Retreat with Time to Reflect

I had a very different experience with my inner critic when I was at a retreat with Thich Nhat Hahn this summer. I wasn’t sure what I was walking into when I first arrived. I hadn’t been on a retreat before and was nervous about how rigorous it was going to be.

 

I found that I loved the mindfulness practices. We were in “noble” silence for 18 hours a day. Quite a few people expressed horror at that idea, but I thought it was marvelous. No having to make chit chat. Just living a very simple life – going about the business of the day and nothing else.

 

The only place it was really odd was the silence was during meals. There was no talking, just an acknowledgement at the beginning and the end of the meal with a quick bow. Mostly people looked around the room and not at the people sitting at their table. I know this, because that is what I was doing.

 

The most interesting thing was that without words you had only greatness to listen to.

 

Someone who was truly comfortable with themselves was a pleasure to sit near. They projected a warm, cozy energy. Then there were the ones who were living under a cloud, perhaps momentarily but maybe more permanently. Their energy was awkward and it was difficult to settle in their presence.

 

I sat across from a woman who was clearly annoyed about something. She had very little on her plate. I was hungry at that meal and I had substantially more on my plate.  She kept looking at her plate and then my plate and then back to her plate and back to my plate. I really have no idea what she was thinking, but her negative energy engaged with my inner critic and I started imagining her to be critical of my portions. How I had taken more than I should have. How she was much more disciplined in her habits.

 

The Chatter Suddenly Cleared

The woman was uncomfortable about something – she was suffering as they say in the Buddhist world. I had absolutely no idea what the nature of her suffering was. But, in reality, all I was doing was having an internal conversation with my inner critic.

 

Still, the suffering was sitting between us as a real thing. If we were able to use our words the conversation would probably have been stilted. The uncomfortable feelings would have turned into uncomfortable words. As they were spoken the uncomfortable words would have hardened into glass shards falling onto the table.

 

In a flash I saw all negative comments like those shards of glass. They are discomfort and suffering put into another form – the form of words. It’s so human of us to push our suffering away and give it to other people through our words and careless actions. What we don’t see is how much they cut into our greatness and the greatness of those around us.

 

As I imagined the glass shards sitting on the table I also realized how quickly I pick them up and take them into my heart and soul. I thought of all the carelessly unkind words I had taken into my heart. And I realized that they were just objects of suffering. How they didn’t have anything to do with me.

 

I thought of what my heart would look like without the shards. There would be room for something authentically great to grow. It made me think of the compliments that I have in there too. How I’ve pounced on the kind words, also believing that they described me. What would my heart look like if I did a big decluttering job? Tossed away the glass shards and the squishy marshmallow compliments?

Give the greatness a place to grow true and strong.

If you took all the careless words and kind compliments out of your heart, what greatness would grow in the space that was left?

Image: Geishaboy500 under Creative Commons 2.0

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