Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Recenty, Martha Beck and I co-taught the first of eight classes in our Coming Home to Your Spirit class. We were very excited about teaching something that would give us a venue to discuss publicly the kinds of spiritual concepts we’ve been discussing privately for three years; not because we think we’ve got it all figured out yet, and not because we consider ourselves experts in spirituality, but because as wildly curious spiritual seekers attuned to the vibration of other spiritual seekers, we yearned to create a way to share, learn from each other, facilitate dialogue, do some spot-coaching, lean into the edges of our own growth, push the growth edges of those who participate, and call upon the Divine to awaken us all – if such an outcome is aligned with the highest good.
Of course, because we dared to publicly tell the world that we were ready to take on such a momentous task, we wound up finishing our first class and judging ourselves for all the ways in which we failed to be perfect on the call/class. We had just finished talking about the 8 Phases of Awakening and how to start shifting out of egoic consciousness and into other “higher” states of awareness, yet the minute I hung up that phone, my Small Self (aka. the ego) had a field day. My Small Self’s rant went something like this…
My Small Self’s Story
What the hell did you think you were doing, trying to teach a program about spirituality? You’re a doctor — an OB/GYN, at that — not a priest or a spiritual teacher or even a psychologist. Just because you’re on your own spiritual journey, learning as you go, you think this gives you the authority to teach a class about this stuff? You think you’re Eckhart Tolle all the sudden?
You did a bad job. You ran out of time before you finished getting through the 8 phases. You started talking about the signs and symptoms of spiritual awakening, but then you got sidetracked. You disappointed Martha. Of course you disappointed Martha! Who did you think you were trying to teach a program about spirituality with someone as brilliant as Martha? Martha would have been better off teaching that program without the likes of you.
You should just stick to what you’re good at. Listen to your advisors who tell you to keep on your white coat and stay where you belong, in the genre of health, far from all things spiritual. You’ll be lucky if Martha ever wants to do a program with you again.
I told you you weren’t qualified to do this. Don’t you know I’m only trying to protect you from making a fool out of yourself? That should teach you not to listen to my advice in the future. Who do you think has your back? You keep ignoring me in favor of this damn Inner Pilot Light, but look where that got you. Stay safe. Stick to your comfort zone. Trust me. I’ve got your back.
The Attack of the Inner Critics
My friend SARK once gave a public lecture, and in the parking lot after her lecture, her Small Self started to rant as cruelly as mine did. She handled it brilliantly. She marched right up to a cop, who was sitting in his squad car in the middle of the parking lot. She said, “Officer, can you help me?” He asked what she needed. SARK said, “I just got attacked by a gang of my Inner Critics. Would you please arrest them?”
He looked at her, assessing her to try to figure out whether he needed to call the men in white coats or arrest her instead. I’m sure SARK looked as pitiful as I felt the minute I hung up that phone after trying to lead 650 people in a spiritual experience. With tenderness, the officer said “You know, my Inner Critics were just beating me up too!” He then stepped out of the squad car, opened the back seat of his car, pretended to shove SARK’s violent Inner Critics into the squad car, turned on his flashers, and went blazing away.
SARK felt much calmer, and the part of her she calls her Inner Wise Self was able to come in and comfort her.
How to Comfort the Small Self
I didn’t have a cop around when I hung up that phone. I was all by my lonesome in an empty house in my small Northern California town with a few coyotes howling in the distance. But I was able to recognize what was happening. As my Small Self ranted, I popped into Phase 4 of the 8 Phases of Awakening I had taught in the class. I was able to be the witness, watching my Small Self beat itself up with its impossible standards of perfection. My Small Self was ignoring the glowing comments on social media from those who loved the class. Instead, the witness part of me was able to see the Small Self comparing me to Martha and Eckhart Tolle, falling short and judging me harshly.
This Small Self part of me has been a perfectionist for a long time. It hates doing anything imperfectly, especially in public. It wants everyone to think Lissa is always successful and things always go brilliantly. It hates to fail. It judges itself cruelly. When it starts ranting and thinks it hasn’t done its best, no amount of evidence can prove it wrong.
At first, I tried calling a friend. But my friend was trying to help me celebrate my success. Of course my Small Self couldn’t hear that yet. The hurt, disappointed, small part was too busy having its pity party at the hands of my Inner Critics (which, of course, are also my Small Self.) So my friend couldn’t comfort me, even though he tried.
Fortunately, there’s another part of me — the part I call my Inner Pilot Light — that always knows just what to do in these situations. So I slogged myself across my bedroom to my meditation pillow, where I lit a candle and forced myself to get quiet.
In the silence, I was able to find the voice that treats this hurt, scared, judging part of me the way I would treat my eight year old daughter if she came home crying after judging herself for not being good enough. If she ever got off stage after performing her dance routine and started crying because she didn’t perform perfectly, I would not tell her it’s time to go eat ice cream and ignore the emotion. I would not instruct her on how to do the dance steps perfectly. I would certainly never criticize her. I would simply acknowledge her emotion, let her cry, validate her feelings, wait until she calmed down, point out what she had done right, then take her out for ice cream. Maybe later, when she was less emotional, she might have been able to receive feedback without feeling too tender.
So this is what I did for myself. On my meditation pillow, my Inner Pilot Light mothered my Small Self just like that. My heart opened to a place of compassion for that little hurt, scared, self-critical part of me, and after twenty minutes, she felt soothed, accepted, and calm.
Can You Soothe Your Small Self?
When your Small Self feels hurt, disappointed, inadequate, insecure, judgmental, angry, jealous, frustrated or . . . whatever . . . can you comfort this part of yourself without letting it act out? Can you pop yourself out of identification with your Small Self into that witness position of the loving, tender Inner Pilot Light? I’d love to hear your stories about what works for you when you get attacked by your Inner Critics.
Previous articles by Lissa Rankin:
- Are You Involved With a Narcissist?
- 9 Practical Tips to Help You Find Your Calling
- Are You Committed To Your Soul’s Integrity?
- Will You Practice Judgment Or Compassion?
- 10 Fun Ways to Reduce Your Cortisol Levels
- 6 Stories To Make You Believe In The Power Of The Mind To Heal You
- 6 More Stories To Make You Believe In The Power Of The Mind To Heal You
- A Radical Way To Grow Spiritually In A Relationship
- The Health Benefits Of Finding Your Tribe
- 7 Tips For Finding Your Tribe
- 10 Surprising Things That Trigger “Fight-Or-Flight”
About the author:
Dr. Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.
Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities – HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a speaker, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.