Do you have the kind of relationship with yourself that you would like to have? Do you have the kind of relationship that feels like you in the company of a warm, accepting and nurturing grandmama?
How is the voice of the inner critic going, or the voice of the victim, or the self-judging? How is the voice of gentle reassurance and self-acceptance going? Do they have a place or not?
We are relational beings, even within. We have endless dialogues going on. We have the chastising and critical or nurturing Parent voices and the rebellious or enthusiastic Child voices. Do you notice the ongoing inner commentary, a voice commenting on another part of the self and how it feels, thinks and behaves?
We sit in relation to the inner relationship, not just to the first reaction we have but also to how we react to that reaction – the whole caboodle! The first feeling that arises is perhaps very light sadness but that is greeted with guilt for not being sad enough. This might generate further activation around what an unkind and superficial person I am.
During this holiday I played with the idea of shutting up the inner Parent voice of ‘sensibility’ by silencing it with the Child voice of ‘fuck it’. It wasn’t my idea; a dear friend who likes to dress super well uses it when she puts on tailored jacket, hat and her best boots to go to the market. When the little voice comes up that goes: ‘Oh, that is ridiculous, you dressing like that’, she smacks it with a quick: ‘Fuck it!’
With that motto, there is a risk that the inner child, the one that loves buying clothes and indulging, starts to run the show. And that was the case in this experiment. Allowing the Child voice can also be a way to break some old shackles, shackles in the form of Parent voices that keep us in our place and keep us compliant.
What is another way, apart from allowing the Child to roam, that we can work with more sinister Parental judges?
One way is to appreciate that the voices or aspects of the self are just doing their job. They have been employed to keep us in check. Admittedly they can get a little overzealous, but their intention is to ensure that we behave in an acceptable way, to avoid rejection. Rejection is one of the three great fears of the ‘self’. Fear of rejection as the self needs others to survive. One of the problems is that the voice might be outdated; due to our early shaping it might be ‘off’ in terms of boundaries. Or we might have a very high bar, a bar that leaves no room for anything but 100% self-sacrifice.
The question then is how we sit in relation to this show, these inner voices. How would you like to sit in relation to this? This has been the line that has been coming up in coaching sessions lately. How do you want to sit in relation to the experience that arises – both the first reaction and the way it is dealt with internally?
We might suppress, distract or avoid. We might dismiss. Just this morning I was listening to a podcast with people suffering from long Covid. They are horrible stories, of previously fit and well people who are now sitting in wheelchairs, unable to work due to exhaustion and other ailments. Yet when they told the details of their challenge, most of them talked in a cheery voice followed by a little chuckle. We have learnt to derail sadness. We suppress and ignore it, and then it catches up with us and hits us like a Mack truck, and we get lost in it, the strong current of the river of sadness.
How do you want to sit in relation to shame, one of the weapons the Parent uses to have you comply? In relation to your inner reaction to climate change, in relation to one of the worst things you have ever done? In relation to a painful conflict or interaction?
Your answer might be ‘forgiving, kind and accepting’? That would give us inner peace. But sometimes it is too intense, sometimes the intensity is too strong and it leaks out. Can you hold your own ‘bad behaviour’ in tenderness? Can you hold it in kind curiosity?
I think I mentioned before in a newsletter that a few years ago there was an incident and I lost my temper with my brother. We yelled and screamed at each other. The shame afterwards was so strong. I asked myself who was I as a mindfulness teacher when this could happen? The Parent was whacking me relentlessly! The way to freedom is to admit the behaviour to self and others and to transform it into compassion, wondering and tenderness. ‘So you, with all your training, can still lose it. Interesting.’ It has made me a more generous facilitator, as I know that sometimes it is as if ten race horses are bolting straight past all of our good intentions, all of our training. And where did the idea of perfection come from, anyhow? Interesting.
Mindfulness teaches us to observe the sensation, feeling or thought without judgment, to greet it as a temporary visitor. Mindfulness reminds us that nothing we feel or think can ever define us. It reminds us that it is not personal, that what we experience is part of the deal of being a little human. An example. I am packing my bag, and the voice says: ‘Oh look at you, you are hopeless at packing, look at all that you are bringing! (The internalised assumption being that it is a virtue to travel light). Then the other part observes this and could go ‘Fuck it’ but instead responds ‘Funny tension to bring to a bit of packing!’ Let’s breathe and set that one on its way.
How do you want to sit in relation to yourself? What is the texture of the observer? Can you defuse the inner battle through kind and perhaps humorous reassurance? Can you sit as a kind, gentle, reassuring Adult observing the Parent and Child dance within?
After all, we are all just little humans having a human experience, a show of experiences. We tend to think if only we do x or y, then we will be done, but the point is that we are here not to be perfect but to experience – and ideally not hurt ourselves or others too much in the process!