Thanksgiving is upon us, and this evokes images of cornucopias, pumpkin, fall colors and pie. Lots of pie. But it also has me thinking about other things not so Pinterest worthy, such as my inner-critic.
The inner critic, you say? For many of you, this will need no explanation.
Immediately you will know exactly who I am talking about. You know his/her snarky voice, critical tone and fear based prompting. You know the mean and scary things the inner critic says to you, how he/she knows your deepest fears and plays on them. Maybe you know the voice by another name – “the Ego,” “The Critical Parent,” or just plain old FEAR. But one way or another, most of us know the little voice that calls to us telling us we aren’t enough, to watch for problems, and that we better get scared and worried or something bad will happen when we aren’t looking.
I have known my inner critic for most of my life. I had, by all accounts, an idyllic childhood, but I can’t remember a time when that the little voice of fear wasn’t there. I mean, I can remember being deeply worried about the feelings of my stuffed animals when I was little; very concerned that one of them might feel rejected if I showed preferential treatment to one over the other. My training began way before graduate school.
Throughout my life, my inner critic voice has taunted me with pretty much every fear and worry you can think of. Fear of death, fear of separation, fear of rejection. Fear of not being good enough, fear of being too much, fear of failure, fear of making a mistake. The voice can pretty much take anything and make it frightening.
Except gratitude; gratitude is the inner critic’s kryptonite.
When I discovered this, it was like someone had given me a magical suit of armor, or special and impenetrable shield, like the one given to the knight chosen to slay the dragon. I felt safe. Knowing that I had the ability to choose my thoughts, and in that moment I could quiet my mind, shift out of fear and into peace, was priceless.
When I think about gratitude, I think about all the blessings in my life – and I can’t even begin to tell you how many I have. I am a tiny tea cup and my blessings are like the ocean. It’s seriously mind-blowing when I stop and think about it.
But I do have to stop and think about it. More often than I wish. More often than I want to admit.
Just this morning, I caught myself in the trap. I was driving into work, and my every thought was fixated on problems that don’t yet exist. I was fretting and feeling anxious because of fear that was only in my head and not actually in the present moment. The inner critic might as well have been sitting on my shoulder whispering into my ear during my entire drive to work. And then – I remembered gratitude.
I made a choice to think of gratitude. It’s a choice, not some inspired moment when the heavens part – just a simple choice about where I choose to put my attention. In an instant, I started to notice the leaves falling off the trees. I started to take in the beautiful, rich colors of fall. The bright crisp blue sky and the twinkling sunlight. The bustling city around me and the warmth of my car in contrast to the cold morning outside.
I realized I was safe, and all was well. I realized I have everything I need in this moment, and that in actuality, there is no threat. In this moment, I was present. I am healthy. I am alive. I am blessed.
Marianne Williamson is quoted as saying,
“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.”
There is always something to worry about. The inner critic will see to it that you do. And don’t go calling me Pollyanna – I know that there are real problems in all of our lives. When the problems are there – then I suggest we deal with them. In that moment. When the problems are actually there.
I don’t deny my feelings in gratitude. I don’t try to create false positivity or bypass the depth of my experience. I couldn’t do that even if I tried, as my feelings have a life of their own. I acknowledge the duality in all things; it is the very essence of balance (check out my blog post on learning to love duality and balance). it is just a very powerful feeling to acknowledge the “have’s” in a time of “have-not’s”.
But I for one am tired of missing the beautiful fall mornings. I spent far too many years in the company of my critic believing the fear she whispered in my ear was real. I missed far too many opportunities to just be happy – and choosing to be grateful and present in the moment has been a way back to myself. To my birthright – which is love.
Every day, remember that choosing to be grateful isn’t just something we can do on Thanksgiving, or as part of a Facebook status challenge (all good things, by the way). It’s a lifeline back to your authentic self. It’s the road back to peace amidst the storm. It’s immensely powerful. And it’s yours any time you decide to choose to use it.