Today we celebrate Epiphany, the Wise Men coming to find the baby Jesus lying in a manger and bringing the precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Lately, here at Spokane Friends we have been focusing our attention on giving wherein Bob Wiese offered that the greatest gifts we have to give are expressions of our own creativity. What I want to focus on today in part is what keeps us from more often and more freely giving our gifts to a world that is starving for them.
Christine Wolff, a long time Quaker, a Psychologist and a student of the Diamond Approach which incorporates spirituality and psychology, of which I am also a student, has written a Pendle Hill pamphlet on this topic called “The Inner Guide vs. The inner critic. I read from her first paragraph:
“I feel caught, like a deer in the headlights. There is a strong leading to take my light out into the world, met with an equally strong fear of exposure. The Guide says, ‘Be my voice in the world—stand up and speak!’ The critic says, “Sit down. No one wants to hear what you think.’ The Guide pushes me to my feet. There is a sense of joy at having lived into more truth, but also a rush of fear. Later, the critic comes up with a slightly paranoid scenario of the consequences that will befall me for having spoken.”
My inner critic is alive and well as I begin to write this homily. Right now she is projecting onto an outer event that does not suit her liking. She is taking up way more energy on this topic than it deserves. She is saying, “This is not the way it should be done.”
The inner critic often gets in the way of the Inner Guide. Spirit is calling us forth to share and to serve and the inner critic is shouting at us to sit down and shut up! We are caught in a gargantuan struggle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light; all within our own psyche.
I have been coached in dealing with the inner critic since my days of studying with the Diamond Approach in 2008. Founded by the Ridhwan School, this teaching incorporates psychology and spirituality as parts of a unified whole. Byron Brown, an advanced teacher in that school, wrote a seminal book on dealing with the inner critic, called Soul without Shame. It is an apt title.
How do I deal with the inner critic as she is so forcefully making her presence known this morning as I sit down to write this homily? First of all, I simply feel the emotion. I let it wash through me as just pushing it down only strengthens it. I sit in a bubble of awareness, and just acknowledge what is present. I use all my senses. I listen, I taste, I touch, I breathe. I feel. This brings me a bit out of my head. Then I sit down and write. And when I’ve emptied of all my spite, I ask for guidance, and guidance comes, and I soften, and though the inner critic is still active, she is not now the only voice I hear and I can go on to do constructive work.
What is the origin of the inner critic? She is an accumulated voice of all the authorities in our lives who at one time or another, called us down. These voices could have been very critical, or they have just grown bigger in our child consciousness. You see, many of the past moments of our history are still stuck in our energy field. Only by visiting them in one way or another, can these frozen time conglomerates lessen in their intensity and in their impact in our present day life. These are the places we react from; the places where our advanced consciousness has not yet visited. When we recognize a trigger from our past, such as recalling a memory, we can bring it to light, spend time with it, and watch it from an adult point of view. Reviewing the emotion of a child’s way of looking at the event, can empower us to reframe it in adult terms for in the review, we can also sense the feelings and motivations of all those involved which we were not privy to as a child. The next time that trigger is called forth, we are often amazed that it no longer holds the charge for us that it once did.
Our inner critic, often called the inner judge, can also come forth to judge others outside of ourselves. This is our lower self projected outward. Perhaps it feels less harmful to ourselves if we move it out of ourselves in voices that say, “She is too fat, she is too loud, instead of I am too fat, I am too loud. Everything we direct outside ourselves, we most often could point inward as the hostile ways we often treat ourselves. However, with awareness, this questioning, “Is this also true of me?” is often a fruitful exercise in self awareness. It may turn up a thought about self that has so far not seen the light of day.
So, we have ascertained that the inner critic is alive and well, and the more we venture to show up as our spirit selves, the more it will raise its head. Especially if we dare to speak out where others choose to be silent, and we know that truth must be spoken, even or especially when no one else is doing it.
One of the ways the inner critic shows up is as a silent inner dirge, dragging us down, tamping down our energy. Sometimes we are hardly able to get out of bed. We feel that our best efforts have been thwarted, we have failed. We are failures. Nothing we try succeeds. But as our intercession, what if we realize that this is the work of the inner critic on speed? We can treat it as the abhorrent energy it is and take forceful action to get rid of it. We can literally tell it to “get the —- out of here,” which is enormously helpful. My favorite way currently is to see it as a deflated soccer ball. I kick it forcefully into kingdom come, and it disintegrates into tiny sparks of light, cascading all around me. Then I know that the Light has returned.
Hameed Ali, the Founder of the Diamond Approach talks about working to release the inner critic in the book, Soul without Shame. In this passage, he refers to the inner critic as the superego. “Every time the individual succeeds in defending against the superego, a certain amount of aggressive energy is liberated and can manifest as anger. This is why anger is frequently experienced simultaneously with the process of defending oneself. In other words, the anger that was directed by the superego toward the ego is now in the possession of the ego, to use for whatever purpose it chooses. We have observed that when a person is engaged in the process of disengaging from the superego, she is strengthened and endowed with more energy. In fact, one is strengthened not only by reowning one’s anger, but also, and more fundamentally, by integrating the essential aspect of Strength, which is the energetic basis of the emotion of anger.”
Now, let us turn to the Inner Guide. How do we invite her in? How do we create a space for her where she is most welcome? Where is she unafraid? What is it like?
Here I read again from Christine Wolff:
In my experience, a leading is a persistent desire to do something that may not make much sense. It is beyond reason. It keep asking for your attention; it doesn’t go away. It may be inconvenient. It may be misunderstood by people you love. When you finally act on it, it is like stepping into a river and letting it carry you. Your fear doesn’t go away, your confusion doesn’t go away, you’re not suddenly happy all the time. But you feel relief. There is a kind of knowing that comforts you.
Thomas Kelly describes it this way: “There is an experience of the eternal breaking into time, which transforms all life into a miracle of faith and action. Unspeakable, profound and full of glory as an inward experience, it is the root of concern for all creation, the true ground of social endeavor.”
I now turn to a book I’ve recently been reading called “The Unbelievable Happiness of What Is” by Jon Bernie. I’ll read from this passage called, “A moment of awareness”:
“Take a moment, right now, to check in with yourself. First, notice your surroundings—the shapes and colors of the objects around you. Notice the brightness or dimness of the light, and the shadows it casts. Notice also the sounds in your environment. Even in very quiet places, there are still sounds. Observe how those sounds come and go, shift and change, as you quietly give them your attention.
Now bring your awareness in closer, and let your attention settle into your body. Are you warm or cold? Comfortable or uncomfortable? Feel the chair beneath you. Feel your feet on the ground. Feel the temperature of the air where it touches your skin. Take a slow, deep breath, then just as slowly let it out again. Take another breath, and as you breathe out a second time, allow any tension in your body to flow out with it.
Now, if you can, let go of the breath, and see if you can let it happen on its own, without your effort or intervention. Let breathing happen by itself—let the breath breathe you. And as each breath moves in and out, allow your mind to relax a bit; allow your focus to loosen and settle. Allow yourself to become very, very still.
Now notice that all of this—your surrounds, the feelings in your body, the movement of your breath—all that you experience, appears within the field of your awareness. Before anything else, you are aware. So as the breath continues moving in and out, bring your attention now to this awareness itself—the space within which all of your experience arises. Allow yourself to relax into this awareness—to rest as this awareness.
In this open space of awareness, you’ll find an aliveness, a brightening of experience, a vibrancy of being that may feel like a rediscovery of something you’d forgotten. This is the essence of the spiritual path—the opportunity to reconnect to this aliveness, and to allow everything that’s in your way to evaporate from your system. Now your mind quiets down, your body relaxes, your heart opens, and your spirit shines, and life is an amazing, wonderful miracle—right now!”
Now I invite us to tune in. As we experience this stillness, the emptiness that comes from being totally present, know that all our judgements, all our fears, and all the beliefs we’ve garnered from life’s defining moments are gone too. For this moment, all is stillness. We, as Quakers, know this place. It is the place through which God speaks to us. In this place, we can have our own epiphanies. In this stillness we can just be, and as we are called to share, we can fill this space with our own Inner Guides and share what comes through. In this way, we will all be blessed. Thank you for your enduring presence. Namaste.
Message by Anya Lawrence to Spokane Friends Meeting on 7 January 2005