One of the ways we’ve unknowingly learned to make ourselves the most uncomfortable is through the voice of our inner critic. I can tell you with great conviction: your inner critic has nothing new or intelligent to offer you, does not have your best interests at heart (and never will), and cannot be trusted to help you.
Your inner critic is designed to keep you safe, but miserable. It is designed to make sure you don’t take risks, and therefore stay captive to old ways of doing things. And, it is fundamentally interested in being right about you, from a terribly narrow perspective: the perspective that you are flawed, that you need constant monitoring, and that you need to improve yourself in order to gain acceptance and love. These are the ground rules for shame.
To free ourselves from shame, we must cultivate new ground rules, ones based on love. Love, in this regard, is how we express self-kindness, tenderness, and accountability. Making this switch will require you to look at your life through a new lens.
Many years ago, when I was in art school, we were given specific assignments to open our creativity. In photography, we experimented with different speeds of film, with shooting from the hip, and with developmental processes in the darkroom. Most exciting, we experimented with making our own cameras and lenses. We were being encouraged toward discovery, toward widening our options, toward breaking out of our boxes.
The process of moving from love, not shame, is like shifting the camera lens. It is a deliberate act of rebellion against the voices of shame and an intentional shift to love, self-respect, empathy, forgiveness, tenderness, and faith in yourself.
One of yoga’s fundamental teachings is that our basic nature is love. Love is experienced as a felt sense of belonging, deep contentment, abiding ease, and joy. It is an overarching feeling of acceptance, inclusion, warm welcome, and understanding. In love, we experience profound tenderness and affection toward all that is and has been. Love is expressed as innate respect and care for our body, mind, and heart, and for our thoughts, actions, and relationships.
Love allows us to feel what is precious and fleeting, without fear of the ephemeral nature of all things. It allows us to move fiercely toward truth, and it requires us to uphold integrity, passion, and fervency in the face of harm, or threat of shame. Love is the force through which any sense of inadequacy is burned away, allowing the blazing clarity of our deepest worth to shine forth.
Sarahjoy Marsh, MA, RYT 500, has been teaching yoga since 1993 and has specialized in yoga for recovery since 2001. She is the founder of the DAYA Foundation, a nonprofit yoga center that develops yoga therapy curriculum to train health professionals, yoga teachers, and students. She also teaches a Mother-Daughter Weekend at Kripalu in July.