I have a friend who is really thoughtful. She remembers birthdays, wedding anniversaries and that you mentioned you were going to try out bread baking, so she calls to ask how it’s going and if you need any butter. Once when a few of us were discussing our new years resolutions, she said with a sigh, “Mine is always to be more thoughtful.” She was not being sarcastic.

Someone else I know is successful, and respected, but she is always looking for other people’s failures.  She seems to relish them. After seeing this behavior in her for quite a while I’ve surmised that it is fueled by an inner feeling of never measuring up. This kind of behavior is very often the result of an overactive inner critic. In her case, it seems as if she looks for opportunities to criticize others as temporary relief from taking the beating herself.

Like many personal friends of mine as well as mindfulness students I have worked with, I also grew up to have a loud and persistent inner critic. Sometimes I feel bad about it and wish it were otherwise. Sometimes I see it for what it is, a mental habit that can be changed. And sometimes it’s helpful to break a feeling of isolation around it and remember that many people experience this.  In fact it is so widespread that one of my mindfulness teachers referred to it as pandemic. Many of us just don’t seem to see ourselves accurately.

A great businessman I know is leading a thriving business (in this economy, too). Even after all his success he still keeps his business deals a secret from even his closest friends and wife until they come through. He says, for fear of jinxing them. Being afraid of jinxing oneself is the clever work of the inner critic, who is telling us that our accomplishments are not, in fact, due to our skill and experience but are just random luck. In this frame of mind we often don’t recognize our qualifications at all. Fear producing thoughts like, “our luck it probably just about to run out” can come easily and often.

There are so many ways our inner critic can rule us, so many well crafted stories the inner critic weaves into our unconscious.  Fortunately, mindfulness and meditation can weaken the power of our inner critic.  For some, including me, it can take a long time to unseat this tyrannical voice of self-doubt.  But it does happen.

You can think of it this way.  A musician can direct her fingers to play beautiful tones with few if any mistakes, not because her fingers were magically born knowing these notes but because she painstakingly trained her fingers to do this specific action.  And for some musicians after literally hundreds of repetitions of the same song, they know the notes so well they can practically play them in their sleep.  The “training” of our inner thoughts is very much the same and the song can be beautiful or jarring, it is up to each of us to decide which melody we practice.  After hours of repetitions about our mistakes, weaknesses, and shortcomings we get very adept at playing that tune.  But we can also practice to learn a new song—a song of inner support.

When we sit to meditate or are practicing mindfulness in the everyday doings of our life, we intend to be present.  To take in the moment without planning our next community gathering or reviewing our home remodel plans or even daydream about what we might have for dinner.  It can seem so simple and yet this is easily the domain of the inner critic. We can intend to be present, be simple, and instead we can spend the next 30 minutes evaluating how were are doing at our task-even the task of mindfulness!  To “learn a different song” in our hearts and minds, we have to stop singing the familiar song of  “should-a, could-a , would-a done it better.”  What we want to do instead is train the mind to do less, to be less, to let go for a while.  This really does unseat this inner evaluator, which cannot have a strong hold on us if we are not wrapped in busy thinking, judging, and evaluating.

When we are actually being simple and are not giving ourselves grades on our presence and compassion, the whole “game” changes and we really are teaching the mind, the heart and our whole experience a new and helpful song.

Take it home:

While you meditate or practice mindfulness-

  • Put down any idea of good/bad, right/wrong.
  • Teach your mind to do less.
  • Let your “shoulds” relax.


Upcoming events with Rebekkah: In Marin County, CA

Mindfulness for Families  – “Family Day” at Spirit Rock Meditation Center – April 29

Women’s day – Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga at Yoga Mountain Studio – May 12

Coming soon: Mindfulness for New Mothers at Yoga Garden Studio – Late May

Also Rebekkah’s NEW CD – Cultivating Mindfulness for Everyday Life: MP3 – available on cdbaby.com

For more info on Rebekkah visit her website enjoymindfulyoga.com and her facebook page