In mindfulness meditation we work hard. We work hard to refocus our attention. We work hard to sit in what can be an uncomfortable position for longer than our knees would like. Cultivating mindfulness isn’t easy!
It is tempting to fall into habits of self criticism when we meditate. Perhaps the most common way this happens is when we notice how distracted our minds are, and think, Focus, dammit! What’s wrong with me? I’m terrible at this. Sound familiar?
At those moments in mindfulness meditation, remember: be gentle with yourself. No one ever self-criticized their way to enlightenment. In fact, no one ever self-criticized their way to a few minutes of tranquility. Rather than trying to be the first person to do so, let go of the meanness, the muscle tension, the impatience as completely as you can, and refocus your attention on your breathing.
Self-criticism has an effect
Mindfulness can help reduce self criticism in a few ways. For one, we practice coming back to the present moment. Secondly, we practice taking a nonjudgmental stance toward our thoughts and experience. Both of these helps us to be kinder to ourselves. But the nonjudgmental stance does so in particular.
As we get familiar with our minds through regular meditation practice, we become increasingly aware of our mental tendencies. Practicing non-judgment in meditation reveals what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls “a steady stream of judging” that becomes apparent during our practice (see video below). Being gentle with ourselves is only fully possible once we develop some distance from our judging tendencies.
In mindfulness meditation we work on what Kabat-Zinn calls “the cultivation of being gently nonjudgmental.” We see how reflexively we judge our thoughts, our experiences, and other people. Eventually we see how we judge ourselves too. The more we meditate the more we are able to gain some distance from this tendency. Being gentle with yourself will further help you hone your ability to practice non-judgment on the meditation cushion.
Meditation helps you be gentle with yourself in the rest of life
When you get down to it, meditation is just practice for the rest of our lives. Many people say that practicing mindfulness helps them to be more mindful throughout the day. The more you’re able to be gentle with yourself when you meditate, the more it will carry over into your life outside of meditation. This is especially helpful for those of us with an overactive inner critic.
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