Recognize this image? Alarming, disturbing, or plain out wrong? This is the posture of oppression. It doesn’t feel good. And yet, we may have this going on inside our heads. The Inner Critic. The voice continously, harshly criticizing everything from our looks, behviours, dress, values, goals and aspirations.

On Thursday using his humor, charisma, and heartfelt honesty Soten helped us recognize how the critic functions in our lives.

“How do you insult…Stupid people?” he asked.

You’re so…stupid, self-centered, slow, lazy…the work got deeper, as we began listing qualities in others that we often judge or criticize.

“We all have a famous person in our minds, the one we are constantly comparing ourselves to, judging, criticizing…” Jogen reminded us.

So what does your famous person do, that really gets you?

Perhaps they are too passive, or closed, or demanding. Perhaps they are arrogant, or nit-picky, or needy.

And then, the next step, how do you think they should be?

If you are labeling someone passive, perhaps you have the expectation that they should be more engaged, or more vulnerable, vocal, connective, loving. “This gives us information about the nature of the criticism” Soten said.

Next we pretend we are in conversation, actually accusing this person that they are too_______ (passive, controlling….) and that they should be more_________(engaged, receptive). They reply, I’m not________(passive), I’m just…. (processing, considering my options, reflecting, prudent).

This asks us to reflect on the positive quality of what we originally perceive as a negative quality worthy of criticism. The final step of this imaginary dialogue provides perhaps the greatest insight. The person, comes back with a pointed word or phrase about our original criticism.

So they may say, “In fact, you are______”. In the passive example, it might be impulsive, or aggressive, or impatient.

So it would read:

You: “You are so passive, why can’t you be more engaged?”

Your Famous Person: “I’m not passive, I’m just deeply reflecting on the complexity of the issue, actually you are being impulsive.”

“That stings,” said David a Summer Resident for July. “Ouch” agreed Chloe. As we each went through the exercise by ourselves, uncovering our own shadows hidden below the layer of habitual criticism.

Who knew insults could be so insightful?

While the first exercise helped us identify some of our values, and their shadows—where does this obsessive, hateful, critical voice come from? Soten took what we originally called the Unholy Trinity made up of the Perfectionist, Pusher and Critic, and fleshed out the voices

1. We have aspirations, goals, values that we would like to embody. A vision for who we can be, and how we can live our lives. (Perfectionist)

2. We create a plan, strategy or means to actualize and manifest our aspirations and values. (Pusher)

3. YOU SUCK! When we fail to achieve our aspirations, or live up to our values, the inner critic is there with its all too familiar repertoire of names, jabs, and hatred—meant to motivate us, protect us, and help us? (Inner Critic)

The Onion published a video featuring the “pusher” energy in a exaggerated way, which provided a humorous, yet sobering look at how this trio functions, and if we let them run our lives we could hurt ourselves, as well as others.

“Awareness leads to choice, choice leads to freedom.” is one of Hogen Roshi’s favorite teaching slogans. And in his own way Soten, delivered this message. By emphasizing: the spiritual life isn’t about achieving some internal or external perfection. No matter what we hold as an ideal (peace of mind, deep insight, compassion, benevolent action, openness, honesty, purposelessness), the critic will manifest to give you its two cents.

We will never get rid of the critic, but what we can “do” is recognize with acceptance how it functions in our lives. This is how we practice deep peace within ourselves.

May this Heart Open. May this Heart Breath, May this Heart Open. May this Heart Be. May this Heart See.