Most often it’s the tightness in my chest that I notice first, a clenched fist, a knot, a grasping and gasping for something to be done. Because this is the central judgement – that there is something I have neglected, some way in which I have not taken care, a sense in which I am never enough to have done what’s called for.
If I sit still for a little longer, a stream of judgements come into view. I’ve made poor decisions – look at the outcome of that! I’ve not been attentive enough, successful enough, thoughtful enough. I don’t know what I’m doing. I am lost in the world, because of all the ways I fall short, and I’m not doing enough to address it. Even my sitting here quietly for a few minutes is proof of my inadequacy. ‘Why am I not moving?’ it screams, ‘Why am I not doing something?’
In the face of this it’s no wonder busyness has such an appeal. When I’m busy I can mostly ignore the tugging wrench of the critic, and in some small way it is appeased, quitening a little, even if what I am doing is inconsequential, busy-work.
But when I am busying myself in this distracted way I miss the possibility of contact with a much deeper, more spacious aspect of myself – an aspect which I might even call ‘Self’. Self is prepared to look where the critic is not looking. Self sees with wonder this miraculous body that breathes and moves and loves and creates. It’s prepared to look with gratitude at the turns of fortune, too many to count, that lead me to be alive, in this time, on this planet. It’s willing to hold all of me – be all of me – with such gentleness and kindness, holding even the critic in its arms. And it’s committed to a much more truthful accounting of my life, celebrating my many successes and contributions, and knowing that there is still much to be done. It also knows, in a way the critic is never prepared to acknowledge, how much capacity and skill I possess, as well as how much support from life and from the many people who love me.
Where ‘critic’ would propel me into the world in a frantic cycle of shame-fuelled activity, ‘Self’ knows me as an expression of life itself and would have me live in that way. And while critic does its best to make slowing feel enormously difficult, it’s in the centre of the quietest stillness that Self is most willing to come forward and make itself known.