Four ways to dispel self-criticism in spiritual practices

Dear Temple of Ara:

I ‘ve recently begun to participate in the Temple’s rituals and started to do some of the exercises at home. To me, it is a great opportunity to learn and grow and to get involved in something I can relate to – which aims at the bigger picture and our relationship with the world we live in. Yet, at the same time I am confronted with some major fears and insecurities.

[As I try to become open to Divine Presence, I worry:] What do I have to come up with? What if it is not good enough? What if I don’t come up with anything, at all? I guess I am the only one in the group who isn’t experienced in witchcraft or spiritual practices. These issues block me in my immersion process. As I am so focused on being productive and scared to fail, I don’t manage to meditate, or otherwise immerse properly, with the result that barely anything comes up. ~ Need Advice

Dear Need Advice,

I applaud you for recognizing and admitting that you are in the grip of your self-criticism and insecurities. Awareness is half the journey!

As a life coach and a member of clergy, I coach people who deal with self-criticism, fear and insecurities all the time – it is the major reason why many people do not pursue their dreams. When people capitulate to their fears, it reinforces their inner critic and soon they live a life that contracts every day.

So let’s take a look at your self-criticism from different angles. Let’s try to loosen your insecurities’ grip.

Recognize Your Own Inner Divinity

Each one of us has a choice. Allow our self-criticism to rule or work to release ourselves from it. From a spiritual perspective, allowing your insecurities to run wild cuts you off from your own innate divinity. The Divine does not feel “less than” – the Divine is integrated, whole. The Divine recognizes that each of the 4 elements, which have individual strengths and limitations on their own, are required for life. The Divine does not criticize Fire because it does not act more like Earth.

When we cut ourselves off from the Divine within, we lash out in anger, judgment, jealousy. We start behaving in ways that are destructive.

To tap into your own inner divinity and creativity, you may want to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Think of a time in your entire experience with your spiritual practice when you have felt most excited, most engaged, and most alive. What were the forces and factors that made it a great experience? What was it about you, others, and perhaps even with the Temple that made it a peak experience for you?
  2. What do you value most about yourself and your spiritual practices?

Next, the basic law of Nature is abundance and growth. We cannot be abundant if we are locked in a fight against our own selves. Every time your inner critic starts to roar, you may want to ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • What are you afraid of?
  • What’s it like for you to give in to your fear?
  • What needs are you meeting by continuing to hold the negative judgments you have of yourself?
  • What might the repercussions be for you if everything remains the same and you never challenged your fears?
  • What is more interesting and engaging than this fearful, critical voice?

Give Self-Criticism a New Job

Next you may want to reframe your relationship with your fears and insecurities. Most of our fears are designed to protect us in some way. So what are they trying to protect you from? What is their more altruistic aim?

You might also ask yourself these additional questions* when your fears tell you that you won’t make a creative contribution or that you are not good enough.

  • Is it true?
  • Can you absolutely know that it is true?
  • How do you react — what happens when you believe that thought?
  • Who would you be without that thought?
  • Turn your original judgment around now, by allowing yourself to experience the opposite of your original belief.
self criticism

Fluffy little guardian at the gate!

Embrace the Guardian at the Gate

While your self-criticism may cut you off from your inner Divinity, it may have another useful role: Guardian at the Gate. In myth, the Guardian at the Gate (ex: Cerebus, the three-headed dog) guarded the entrance of the Underworld, allowing the dead to enter but letting none out.

In a symbolic sense, Guardians at the Gate challenge us before we can reach nirvana. Think about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: in the Triwizard Tournament, Harry had to answer a riddle from a Sphinx to continue on into the maze. This is true for us in real life. We all must deal with the Guardians at the Gate before we are able to be in the presence of the Divine. This may be something for you to contemplate on. How are your insecurities acting like the Guardian at the Gate? What do you need to move through them so you can be in the presence of your own innate divinity?

Cultivate a Beginner’s Mind

You stated that you are so focused on being productive and scared to fail that you’re unable to meditate or become still. If I were a Buddhist, I would say that your ego is attaching itself to this process. Our practices are not contests to prove who is more creative or who is better at immersing oneself.

I recommend that you return to a beginner’s mind when you do these exercises.

Practice Mindful Observation:  Gaze at an object for a period. Strip away the name of what you call that object. For example, “pen.” If you didn’t know that a pen was called a pen, or that it was for writing, how would you experience this object? Notice the form, shape, texture, color, etc. without judgment of the object. If you do this for long enough, the object may become foreign to you. Then, you will experience a ping of curiosity, followed by the thought, “What is that?” This curiosity is a trademark of beginner’s mind.

Seek Support to Combat Self-Criticism

If you feel you need more support, I think that talking with the Temple of Ara community would be a fine idea too. Chances are they are wrestling with their own insecurities and would love an opportunity to talk about them.

I would also recommend that you seek additional support from a life coach or some sort of behaviorist so that you can start retraining your mind to incline toward confidence. Practice makes perfect and it seems to me that you need more structured support. I have also found great wisdom in the Tarot. Perhaps you need a Tarot card reading.

You are not alone

Everyone deals with insecurities – I have them, our program assistants have them, even well-known spiritual leaders them. You’ll have to decide when you’re ready to put these stories you’re telling yourself on the shelf.

I hope this helps. I’ll include in my next blog post a good meditation designed to help relax the ego mind.

Bright Blessings,
Linda Maglionico

* Thank you, Byron Katie and The Work

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