Am I too Hard on Myself? An edited Zoom talk to given to MTTC. 22.11.2021

A transcribed, edited and adapted Zoom talk to Mindfulness Teacher Training Course. 50 mins. 22.11.2021. I invited a suggestion for the theme for the talk for the MTTC. One of the trainee teachers, Nshorna, said she felt this topic would generate interest for the participants.

Am I too hard on myself? Practice and the exploration of experience includes vigilance of the frequency of use of this single word I. The I does not emerge out of the being unaccompanied. That means the I requires a variety of conditions for it to arise.

An excessive amount of I arising shows the influences of the past, of habits and our conditioning, which generates thinking about ourselves. The I gets attached, identified and coupled with views and opinions. Recognised or not, feeling activity influences memory. The construction of this generates the I. I might carry the construction of a desire to achieve, to reach a goal, big or small, today or years ahead.

Accompanied with the desire and wanting, the pressure of the view makes us all, without exception, vulnerable to being hard on ourselves. Notice the times you are hard on yourself. Be clear as possible about this. What ways are you hard on yourself?

This reaction cannot arise in isolation and cannot always be present. This is a lie to say to oneself “I am always hard on myself.” It is a fiction, a mode of avoidance. This crude generalised statement confirms in such claims you are out of touch and hard on yourself. In certain areas, you can produce a vulnerability to excessive desire, wanting things to go your way and to accomplish targets and goals. You need to be clear about these desires and goals but such issues do  not happen all the time.

Just take today, or the last few days. Is there any such reactivity standing out for you? Were you hard on yourself before the undertaking, during it or after it? Were the thoughts of being hard on yourself due to not handling a task or situation very well. This is a long-standing pattern repeating itself regularly. You will get reactions to the view such as “I should not be so hard on myself.” This view is as much a problem as the view “I am too hard on myself.”

It is the shadow of the view. “I’m so hard on myself.”

We don’t like it. We feel the desire, the pressure and stress going with the view. The thought then arises, “I should not be so hard on myself.” You can’t have that thought without the prior thought namely “I am hard on myself.“ That reactive view of yourself doesn’t make any difference. This reaction confirms the same problem. To be for or against either confirm the polarised views co-exist. Both reveal a hard view.

Three Approaches

Here are invitations to explore diverse ways to dissolve the hard view. I will offer three approaches, then you will get the picture.

1.To be hard on yourself means excessive desire, excessive wanting and dependency on the result. You are trying to prove something to yourself. The mindset has a demand with around what you do or don’t do. This mindset comes from a sense of something lacking. If you are engaged in doing, doing, doing, it is because you have totally convinced yourself something is missing. The more you believe something is missing, the more intense the doing can become. Even if you get what you want, it can’t resolve the problem of absence. It can only reinforce it.

I hope you can follow this. The desire is what you want to end. You get relief from desire through getting what you want. After the relief, the profess starts up all over again.

“I’m tired of being so tough on myself. I’m tired of putting so much pressure on myself. I’ve got what I want but I am still not happy.”  You call it happiness. It is not happiness. Your ‘success’ is a relief from the desire, the pressure. The desire has gone out of your mind for a while. You call it happiness, but it is a temporary relief. The issue is not resolved. You start getting hard on yourself again.

We turn the wheel going around in the same old way. We haven’t resolved this dynamic of absence, something missing, a pressure to achieve, being hard on ourselves through desire. We might get a certain relief and then start over again. The Buddha gave a word for this way of living and this constant desire to feel good about ourselves. The word is samsara – the suffering of moving on from one thing to the next without any resolution. This is samsara. Hell on Earth is another way of saying Samsara. Reflection, meditation and exploration can support the dissolution of samsara.

Why am I so convinced something is lacking in my life?

What is it that I’m blind to?

What is it that isn’t nourishing me?

2. Despite all the painful issues in this strange, old world, there is still a huge amount to enjoy, to appreciate and connect with. We can experience enjoyment being alone, with others, indoors and outdoors. Nothing in this world can inhibit a sense of richness and nourishment. This receptivity to what nourishes us makes a precious contribution to softening this hard, judgmental, reactive voice.

You give extra time, show extra interest in enjoyment including enjoying beneficial teachings. This happiness has nothing to do with possession, with ownership of goods. Nothing to do with the market, nothing to do with buying goods or services or consumerism. We cannot purchase a deep joy, nor find it online.

Recognition of nourishment has a precious place, a beneficial influence on the softening of the hard view of ourselves. This step into receptivity is super rewarding.

3. Guided mindfulness and meditations express two key features. One feature reveals calmness of being through relaxation. The second feature reveals insight and clarity. The two features mutually support each other. The clarity that comes includes listening to our inner voice. Let us not get to the stage of the hard inner voice in a state of reaction, such “I shouldn’t be like this” or “This must stop.” This is the hard voice reacting which has no use. We listen carefully, before we get to that level of hardness in our inner voice.

Listening to the Old Voice

We notice the words we use. What is the tone in the language? What am I saying about myself? What is unhealthy in this voice? What is unsatisfactory about this voice? You then follow up with practice recognising this old voice until you are completely familiar with the hard voice. You listen first to the reactive, old and habitual voice. Then you listen to the softer voice, sometimes referred to as self compassion. I’ll speak about self-compassion later.

The non-hard voice doesn’t have aggression, but reveals care, respect and kindness. That voice abides deeper than the hard voice. It is not always easy to notice the deep because we have gotten used to this hard voice.

The Buddha gave an important one-liner. He said approximately: “Nobody can be so hard upon ourselves as ourselves.

“We can give ourselves a harder time than others gives us.” What we say to ourselves can be far more tough, cruel, reactive and harmful then what anyone else can say? We are our biggest threat. We can be our own worst enemy. Family, friends and others would never speak to us in this way, Mindfulness requires vigilance, so we catch this voice early. What does the non-hard voice say? What does the soft voice say?

One reason for difficulty to listen to the kind voice comes through fear. This fear may manifest in a few  ways. There is the fear to listen to the kind voice. “I won’t be able to do anything. I won’t respond, I won’t act to deal with issues. I believe the hard voice gets me to do things.” The hard voice gets you to push yourself harder and harder. Eventually, you can’t cope with it. Some other poor sod will find herself or himself on the receiving end of your internal pressure. This same inner voice which beats your up will beat up another.

If we justify our hard voice, we are afraid of change. We stick with this small, reactive state of consciousness until we will not be able to contain it. The pressure will require release. It will have to go somewhere. It could be self harm. It could be attacking, blaming or harming another with words, or actions. It could be withdrawal from others. It is in our deep interest to explore the hard voice. It is also in our interest equally to give kindness and support to others.

This is a major practice We can make a daily agreement with ourselves. The agreement consists of catching the reactive voice as early as possible as it has such an impact.

When that voice is not present, it is not there. Your reactive voice might not be present right now as you listen to Christopher. In the evening, you could experience a lovely conversation with another. You might love being alone, and you do not experience a reactive, conditioned voice. Consciousness does not have the self with the views, opinions and aggression locked into an experience. Know when the hard voice is not manifesting.

These times confirm you know a freedom from that agitated voice. Your experience and practices knows the absence of the voice. You experience warmth, happiness, quietness of the mind., Your recognition will allow and enable you to return and reconnect quicker with the non-reactive state of being.

You show love to yourself and others by recognising moments when that old voice is not present.

Is something missing in our life?

Identification with the hard voice fuels the hard voice. “I’ve got to get this to feel okay. I have to accomplish something to feel I’ve achieved something.”

We meet people in my age group – the white-haired club. The years go by. They have experienced much aggression and ambition. The mind might get to the point of being tired and  experience fading energy Yet, these people keep pushing themselves harder – hard on others and hard on themselves. Their hard voices manifests in complaining, nostalgia for the good old days and faultfinding, etc.

They argue with their children or grandchildren or other people. Their disgruntled voice can show in anger towards their children or grandchildren. It is the same old voice, tough on oneself and tough on others. Life draws to close. We are in the winter of our life. Goodness me. Why fill up the day complaining?

There is a lack within. What needs nourishment? Recognise it. You see the lack shows a pattern, a habit, which arises. Be clear about it. Recognise the shoulds of complaint about the hard voice. “I should do this., I should change, I should stop this or You should do this or that. That shows a hard demand.

Noticing that, we develop mindfulness and meditation. The kindness of others plays an immensely important part. You know certain people well. You feel a trust in them so you can listen to their feedback. Incidentally, I try not to use this word feedback. In some circles, it is no longer a neutral word, and often become sa language of aggression, a hard language. “I need to give you some feedback.” We need humility.

You approach your friend, children, grandchildren, lover, colleagues or whoever. You say to them, honestly, and truthfully. “I tend to have a hard voice. I often direct it at myself, and sometimes I directed at others. This is not good for me. This is not good for you.” Please point this out. When you have a genuinely good friend or relative in front of you, he or she will probably understand.

We might call ourselves a small public figure. We have the privilege of leading and facilitating groups. We offer public talks and share our knowledge. This requires a response or feedback from others. Others need to remind us of if we get on the moral high throne indulge in the self-righteousness. This is the hard voice, judgmental, divisive and self-opinionated. We may not notice it, not see that what is coming over from ourselves to others.

We put out the invitation for their response. Responses and communications from others straight away or soon after, genuinely help us with the spoken and written word. We address our style of communications to develop so we speak in a different way from the hard voice. We might well need support from others, so we express ourselves with an open and expansive mind.

This might mean you make an agreement with your partner, your work colleague, your boss or your neighbor to show mindfulness and care. This shows you have the maturity to take responsibility for every word that comes out of your mouth. Nobody, but nobody, ever can cause us to be angry. Nobody, but nobody, can make us aggressive.  Have we handed over to another person the cause for our angry and hard mind. “You are the cause making me argumentative. You are the cause for making me like this.”

This is not true. If the person the other is the cause for our anger, aggression or hard voice, then there is no escape. There is no change possible. There is no freedom. There is no peace of mind.

I do not want to live my life viewing other people, as the cause of my reactivity, I do not want to hand authority of my inner life over to somebody else. This is an ongoing exploration. We remember the experiences of knowing the non-aggressive voice, the non-argumentative voice. So, we can relate to this voice.

This magnification of the self, the I, intensifies exaggeration of an event. It builds up through causes and conditions generating a lack of self-worth. We experience the absence of the sense of our organic, natural worth, as a human being living on this earth. In the absence of this problematic view of ourselves, there is the reduction of the exaggeration of situations. When things do not work out for us, when it all goes wrong, a business project collapses, a woman or man in our life walks out of our life, when things go in a way that we never anticipated, there is a crash.

The crash easily triggers the lack of inner worth. We based our worth on the job, on the career, marriage or amount of money we have. Our sense of self-worth becomes reliant on impressing others. Not realising this, a situation changes not because we wanted it but due to distinct reasons, no matter how much effort we put into it. There is a crash, and this leads to the experience of lack of self-worth.

You cannot have self-worth without the building up of the self. Do we swing between building up of self and collapsing of self-worth swinging between one and the other? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Then death comes.

Let us give less thought to ourselves and spend less time self-preoccupied

It is wise and healthy to stay alert and to look at areas of vulnerability. We explore practices with a keenness to support ourselves and understand ourselves. This is a precious exploration without getting obsessive. Do not exaggerate our small life. There is life outside our small self

The bigger life can reveal a lot to us via the trees, flowers, hills, valleys, parks, people, the arts, colour, sounds, smells, tastes, touch the vibrancy of life. As a human being, let us be receptive to all of this. Let us engage with life and participate so that we spend less time in I, me and my. This expansive sense liberates us from contraction and puts our life into perspective. The hardness in the voice will go. The hardest of self-blame, fault finding and not being good enough is over. The striving and struggle for self-worth to impress ourselves and impress others is over.

We can get on with our life. We can give care and thought to the necessities of daily life with the capacity to listen deeply. This provides the opportunity to respond to the deep and know the importance of it. This feeling tone is different from the old, conditioned reactivity. This distinction to know this matters. We see the difference in the being of what is deep, insightful and creative and what is old, reactive and habitual. The latter overshadows daily life. This brings a breath of fresh air into our being.

We may struggle. Do speak and share on these things with others. Your good friend and loved ones experience similar challenges. We have no wish to be hard on others, no wish to reinforce any hardness already there. Others may respond in a comparable way to us.

The factor of intention is an important one. Intention confirms love. Let us say we spend part of the day enjoying an activity. Today, my grandson, aged six, and I played together. He’s learning chess. Bless him. He’s good at chess. I have not played for 60 years. We shared dynamic of interest in the match and happy whoever says “checkmate.”

The intention to play triggers the happiness of time with the little one. We then play another game at another time. Happiness is a great support for intention along with, mindfulness, inspiration of others and encouragement. We keep our heart, open our eyes and ears open and experience the nourishment of our volitional activities.

Final words

In our circles, we regularly hear the language of self compassion. I rarely use this language. People can use the language they wish. I experience a connection with the 2500 years of the Buddhist tradition. I prefer to preserve compassion, as a powerful human theme relating directly to the relieving of suffering of people, animals and the environment. I prefer to keep compassion to the wider vision of its application.

Let us only use occasionally the language of self compassion. As a person and as a teacher. I can feel contracted using the language of self compassion, self-help and self-acceptance. There is a danger that self-interest feeds the problem we are trying to resolve.

Outside of the self, me and my life, the bigger sense of things reveals which contributes to a proper perspective on our modest self. This is remarkable and precious. This is my contribution for the evening. If there are any responses, to add, subtract or contribute, you are welcome to speak. Anyone?

Two Appreciations

Q.  I have to say that my mind is blown. I feel tonight has been inspirational for me. I spend a lot of time on myself. I realise that that has been no help to me at all. This gives me a lot of curiosity to explore, as you said. I just wanted to say thank you very much.

Thank you very much. Heartfulness shows appreciation, gratitude thankfulness. Such beauty in the heart comes from the deep. We make these gestures of love. We hear and see something which we acknowledge as supportive and beneficial. The words resonate. Let us all remember to express words of gratitude in the voice, text message, email, or whatever. Such words land well with us who benefit from it. We need each other to cultivate and express the deep.

Our words do not have to be lightweight, nor superficial. As with your good voice, you clearly stated appreciation. Your intention came across. I heard it well and it sits well. Let us ensure we can find that same voice with each other in day-to-day life.

Q. My partner and I have been listening together today. It has been valuable tonight, extremely powerful. We took a lot from it. We can take on boards these areas. We can feel the growth and move forward. I just want to say I really appreciate it every time you come on. I always find it valuable. Thank you very much.

Thank you for your words. I feel the same appreciation as I listen. Much of what I said offers reminders so that we do not forget. There is nothing spectacularly new about the theme this evening. I offer a few pointers and practices so that we do not fall into forgetfulness. These teachings are about remembering, about mindfulness, so we do not forget. We will then be fine. Do not hesitate to respond to any areas of your practice.

Keep in touch with us, obviously.

Lots and lots of love. Thank you.

May all beings know the wisdom of the heart.

Good night.


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