Listening to the voices inside

“If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” – Natalie Goldberg

It has taken me some time to find my own understanding of the voices inside. For me it is not as if I hear a booming voice in my head, like: “Attention Walmart shoppers”. The important voices in my head have been elusive and mostly jabbering away at an unconscious level. I find them when I pay close attention to the thoughts attached to intense emotion.

In my early twenties, I remember my mother causticly telling me, “Your problem is that you want everyone to love you!” Like most sons probably, I simply discounted my mother’s irritating observation. It took many years for me to realize that I had been a people pleaser all of my life. The old reflex is still there today. It is related, in part, to a childhood belief that I must do what I sense other people want in order to be accepted. I had to be a good little boy for my parents in order to feel accepted by them. I am part of the ‘children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard’ generation.

I have since learned the benefits of paying attention when I am feeling the shame of ‘not being good enough’. The feeling could arise relating to doubt in starting a new project, or in comparing myself negatively to others, or whatever. This old pattern can get triggered in many ways. But I am no longer afraid of what arises in me when this happens.

I can allow myself to go to a place of deep shame. Woven into shame’s fabric I hear a voice relentlessly whispering, over and over again, “I am not good enough”. When I allow myself to rest in this place and to accept that this is what I am feeling in the moment, a small miracle happens. The shame itself gently lifts and I feel once again connected and balanced. I also experience compassion for myself.

So when the critics outside of me, real or imagined, trigger that old wound, I now have a different response. I allow the shame to arise knowing that because of my old patterns, it is I who am generating the shame. Sometimes I can catch this as it is happening; sometimes it takes longer. But always it ends with me accepting where I am. Then, without effort, I release back into an open and compassionate state.

If I pay attention, the critics outside of me are a gift because they remind me that my serenity is my responsibility, not theirs.

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