Noticing the judging mind is a good thing
One of the first things we often encounter when we start to meditate is the judging mind or ‘inner critic’. This is the voice in our head that nags us about ‘getting it right, doing it right’ and points out all the ways we are not doing it right! This often refers to our meditation practice. It says things like…
- “I am not doing it right”
- ”My mind should be quieter”
- “I am such a hopeless meditator – I will never get this”
- “I should be trying harder.”
This judging mind has always been there, it is just that when we stop and meditate we become aware of it. Prior to meditating we distract ourselves from hearing the voice by being busy, doing, striving and chasing pleasurable experiences. I think this is why so many people have trouble actually stopping.
Some part of them realises that underneath their busyness, there is a fairly negative dialogue going on just below the surface. And it is certainly true in my experience that when we do stop, we start to experience the judgements in full force. It is important to remember though this is a good thing!
By actually stopping and being undistracted in meditation, it forces the inner critic to reveal itself. We get to hear its stories, its voice and see how it runs our lives. The dynamic of always trying to fix ourselves, to complete ourselves to get to a place where we are finally OK starts to be uncovered.
What the inner critic reveals.
The more we uncover and become conscious of the critic, the less power it has over us. This is because we start to realise that it is a) not us, it’s just a thought and b) there is a part of us that is inherently OK – no matter what a voice in our head (or anyone else for that matter) may say. To realise this though requires receptivity, an openness and the courage to actually experience and get to know the Inner Critic. If we resist it, it will persist. By opening to it, it gets seen through.
At the very first retreat I went to, one of my meditation teachers gave me such a wonderful instruction which is particularly useful in working with the Inner Critic. He said ‘be curious’. Be like a curious mouse, sniff out and investigate all the phenomena that are going on. By adopting an attitude of curiosity we circumvent out natural reactions and fears.
Befriending the judge is a ticket to freedom
Instead of being afraid of what the inner critic may be saying or trying to push it away, we open up to it, we start to explore it. Much like an adventurer explores uncharted territory or a scientist investigates some phenomenon in nature. Traditionally in meditation instruction, we might even say that we ‘befriend’ the critic. We in invite it in for dinner, in to our home, we serve it and really get to know it.
As with the case so many times in the real world, when we get to know someone, we start to ‘get them’ we understand how they are, what makes them how they are and that how they are is actually OK. When we really get to know someone we may have been scared of or disliked, we often find (even if we still don’t actually like them) we at least actually understand them. And when we understand them, they are no longer the threat they once were. Our resistance or aversion to them falls by the wayside.
Similarly by befriending and getting familiar with our inner critic we get to understand it. We see it for what it really is – just a thought. A thought that may be deeply engrained, that is often repetitive and seems believable. Ultimately though a thought and like any other thought, not actually real or true. In any way.
When this is realised the judgements lose their power. Of course they still recur and come up again, it is just that we are more aware and therefore more conscious that they are not actually true. The thoughts are far less likely to be taken on face value. This awareness or consciousness creates space. It gives us room to move. It lets the light in. With this space and light we see the inner critic for the harmless old habit or thought pattern it really is.
We have to realise this for ourselves though. So here are some helpful tips to help understand and open to the judging mind.
Be curious. Inquire in to…
- What is the tone that inner critic uses?
- What does your body feel like when the inner critic is active?
- What is the theme of the inner critics’ judgements?
- In what circumstances is the inner critic more vocal (I notice it a lot more when I am tired)
- What does it feel like when the inner critic is absent
- Who would you be if the stories and judgements the Inner critic makes about you were not true?
These and similar inquiries reduce the entrapments of the inner critic and judging mind. When the inner critic starts to lose its power there can be a tremendous sense of freedom and release. The freedom to actually be as you are. In short- we feel happier!