Humans generally thrive on being liked, approved and accepted. We have been conditioned to link being liked with getting what we want. If people like us, we are more likely to achieve what we want from them. As a child, we are solely dependent on our parents and seek their approval for our survival. As social beings, we are hard-wired to want to belong to a group for protection and survival.
So when we are met with people who dislike, blame or criticise us, it can really hurt our self esteem. We can brood over it for days if not weeks. We can replay our exchanges with them endlessly in our minds, turning it over and over again. For some people, these hurtful words could haunt them for years. We may try to push the thoughts and memories away, but they inevitably return.
There are many ways to deal with criticism, some of which are also found on this blog. However, today I would like to offer something different. Instead of seeing criticism as something to run away from, I offer this practice to use criticism as a way to open our heart to ourself and the other.
The practice today requires some courage and equanimity, and to be curious to investigate into how criticism affects our body and mind. How does it feel like to be unliked? To be criticised? To be blamed? To be wrong? To be imperfect? Allow any feelings, no matter how unpleasant, to be without resistance, aversion or distraction. Get to know it well. Be “okay” with it. Often we harden up to protect ourselves and ready ourselves in defense. This time, instead of hardening up, allow your heart to soften. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. You are not being attacked right now, so put down the armour, even just for a moment.
If any anger, resistance or tension comes up for you, take note of it and then release it. Let it go and relax into the space of openness and softness. No need to argue with it or justify yourself. This is not a talk-back or pep talk session. Be in this open space with no words and no judgement, to just be here with yourself, for yourself. It may take some time to get used to this. That’s okay. Be patient and allow some time.
If you like, you can also introduce compassion and loving-kindness into the practice. These may arise naturally or you can offer yourself love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. You can say to yourself words such as, “I forgive myself. I accept myself. Here I offer love and kindness to myself.”
You may also extend these offerings to the person who spoke ill about you. You can say to yourself words such as, “I forgive them. Here I offer love and kindness to them.” Or it may be, “Here I ask for their forgiveness and here I accept their forgiveness.”
As you strengthen this practice, next time you are met with criticism – either from others or yourself – you have a new way of relating to it. Your option is no longer limited to running away from it or fighting against it. You now have an additional choice: to be with it, holding it with humility, equanimity and compassion, wishing yourself and the other forgiveness and love.
After all, if you can still hold onto your love and compassion for the other in the face of criticism and blame, that is a testament to the strength of your love and practice that no one can take away from you. If you can use each criticism for your transformation, then you have made these words invaluable to your spiritual journey that you may even one day be grateful for.
May you be able to face any criticism with a heart that is not hardened with hurt, but heartened by the steadiness of compassion and great love.
26 May 2020