Sure, sure, clever. I get it. And if applauding her cleverness were enough, problem solved, but when she surfaces, she wants much more. Sometimes she is actively aggressive; sometimes she is passive aggressive.
AmNasty comes out when she feels she isn’t getting her due. She thinks the performance coach should compliment her for what she already does well. He wants her to twist her body, strain her legs and back and burble nonsense like “rubber baby buggy bumper”, but she’s already a good speaker and performer, thank you. Is it unreasonable to want affirmation?
Had AmNasty chosen to speak up rather than act out, she would have said, “I am not liking to do this, but might be willing if someone would acknowledge my abilities,” but finding no kind way to say so, she could only sulk, be surly and leave early, exeunt stage left.
I say “exeunt” because it means more than one character is heading into the wings. In truth, a myriad of Alisons walk out. AmNasty, my self-righteous aspect, surfaces when affirmation is in short supply. And faster than you can say Namaste, my inner critics rush in to join her in the conversation.
Birtha is chief among these inner critics. For as soon as I assert my self-righteous self, she swoops in. Swiftly and invariably, self-hate follows self-righteousness. Sudden and ruthless, Birtha rides in astride the second arrow.
Buddha teaches that the second arrow is the suffering we cause ourselves after we are struck by the first arrow, pain from the outside. Such pain may be criticism, rejection, death of a loved one, even failure to feel connected. You did not cause the pain of the first arrow. But pain from the second arrow comes from the story you tell yourself. Shoot, don’t shoot. It’s your call.
I actually see Birtha manifest the morning after a workshop on Transforming Inner Critics. I see her at my bedside when I wake up. She stamps her tiny patent-leather tap shoes on my bedroom floor and fires at me, “Are you really better off today than you were yesterday? Do you think you can do without me?”
But I am prepared to greet her. Welcome, I say. Let’s go for coffee and talk then. She is surprised not to be rejected but rather invited to go on an outing. I dress quickly. I take her down the stairs, showing her how I pause mindfully at the top so as to be fully present in the descent. We enter the parking garage and I pull out the car. Then she gets in, and I make certain we both buckle our seat belts.
At Starbucks, we sit where we can see everything, and I take out my journal. I am aware of her silence and am so grateful that I push the other chair closer to the table so she doesn’t feel excluded and shoot from the hip. The music is rhythmic and bluesy. She wants to dance. I feel optimistic, so we go around the corner and dance. When the barista Chang comes by the table, I ask him, after the fact, if dancing is permissible in Starbucks. He says he guesses so and doesn’t see why not.
But Orville, another inner critic is not so sure that dancing in Starbucks at 6:30 a.m. is okay, even if the store is empty. As the arbiter of appropriate and inappropriate, he says I have gone too far, done too much and taken up too much of Chang’s time.
Next time, I’ll invite Orville to surface prior to the fact rather than after the act, when it’s about the arrows and the pain. And there will be a next time. For inner critics, there will always be a next time. For self-righteousness too. So Namaste to all the selves that I am as well as to the performance coach, who wants to do the right thing, for himself and for others in that group who may need and appreciate his help. Namaste, Namaste, Namaste.