Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dealing with Criticism

ah, criticism.

that stick in the mud voice that calls your party to a halt; triggering the trap door through which your heart sinks to your stomach. That stabbing feeling that sucks the wind from your creative sails, leaving your ship of dreams marooned upon reefs of doubt and islands of worthlessness.

Criticism, especially for an artist, can do untold damage and if given at the wrong time can destroy the seeds of brilliance faster than a morning after pill.

Unless you choose the path of renunciation and go live in a cave, chances are that you're stuck living in some form or another, with lots of other people. This is called society and when you were born you unwittingly signed a contract that made you a part of it. This society feeds you, schools you, takes your garbage away, collects your taxes and makes sure that your un-molded blabbering self becomes productive in some way.

When you choose to deviate from social norms you get dealt criticism. It starts with your parents and extends out through your teachers and peers. Then, like some irksome insect, it burrows into your heart and soul, becoming part of you; questioning your god given right to dream, hope and create.

Criticism comes in many forms; it can be subtle or it can be overt. It can come in the form of eye contact, words, body language or violence. The methods by which we hurt each other through unchecked criticism are infinite.

Outside of us it takes the form of gossip, mockery and ridicule. Inside it manifests as self loathing, worthlessness and impotence.

Sometimes it originates from a place of jealousy and wounded idealism. Perhaps you've always wanted to be a great painter but haven't been successful, so you go to an art show and criticize someone who has found their success. Its not limited to the arts either; if we're honest we'll see we're critical of everything: people's driving, women's bodies, someone's film, her boyfriend, his girlfriend and on and on. Hell, tabloids make billions every year on it.

So how do we untangle ourselves from the nasty web of criticism?

Any fundamental change in our lives begins with self awareness. This is not a theory, its an immutable law of life. The Yogic tradition has always taught that the path to enlightenment, peace and contentment is achieved through rigorous self examination.

As we become more and more aware of who we are, we begin to understand how we got here. We dig deeper into our own hearts and start to unearth our patterning, we begin to see that we are who we are because we've come to believe certain things about ourselves.

Slowly we realize that most of these beliefs have come from outside; from parents, neighbors, peers, television and media. They are things people have said, out of their own hurt (but perhaps masquerading as good intention), that have in turn hurt us. Things we have accepted about ourselves that we have come to believe as true. All these 'acceptances' over the years have created mass tangles of contradicting neurosis that drive us further into madness.

Criticism triggers these painful tangles, these deeply held but mostly unquestioned beliefs. It begs the question: If we could untangle ourselves and heal our destructive patterning...would we be immune to criticism?

No, we'll always be criticized, but perhaps we'll no longer be so hurt and wounded by it. Perhaps we would begin to see the hurtful words of others not as an indication of our own self worth but rather as a reminder of how much healing and love we all need.

As we dig deeper into our own knots we begin to see how deeply knotted everyone else is and voila, we have the birth of compassion. Compassion comes from acknowledging a common suffering and since all suffering is self created, when we investigate ours, we see it in others.

So whats the solution to criticism?

Be aware. Try and intuit where the words are coming from. Be discerning; is there some truth that you're avoiding? If you feel its from a place of jealousy and hurt...can you try to generate the compassion? Most importantly, compassion for yourself?

Sometimes criticism can be welcome. It can come from a place of love, from a person who genuinely cares about you and wants the best for you. Sometimes we really need to be criticized, because our actions are harmful...but we also need to generate the wisdom to know the difference.

The more we focus on knowing ourselves, our patterns, our reactions and sensitivities the better we will be able to differentiate the many different layers of criticism we encounter everyday. Instead of the customary and reactive "F$%k you!" when some says something to us we don't like, we can start to question why it bothers us in the first place...leading us further away from mindless reaction and further into self awareness...and peace.

As was written above the gates of the Oracle in Delphi:

"Know thyself"


Tutu Mama said...

ah criticism. it has been one of my most handy tools in learning about myself. Before I started doing this, criticism was quite crippling. Thanks for the reminder Martin! Great post.

shopaholicann said...

A very thought provoking piece. I think that compassion, or the lack of it is the key.

shopaholicann said...

A very thought- provoking piece. I think that compassion, or lack of it is the key.

Unknown said...

I love this post. Well written and just what I needed. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing post - thankyou! I'm sure I'll be reading this one over and over again.

Vivek Kunwar said...

I am amazed by your thoughts and the way you articulate them both in words and photographs.

You rock Martin....

Jason Malouin said...

wow... thank you.

Jason Malouin said...

wow... thank you.

ChrisWerner said...

Nicely articulated post, Martin. Well-timed, and written with a wonderful dose of compassion.

michaelcraigharrisphoto said...

Yours is one of my favorite blogs to follow and this is yet another great example of why! Very nice.

Mark Dunlap Photography said...

As someone dipping my toes into the commercial photography world and taking a chance on myself for once, instead of resorting to yet another JOB, with benefits and insurance and restrictions and owners and managers who place little value on me as a person, this post is right on time. While I start bringing in a small assignment here, get a phone call or two there, members of my loving family are doing their level best to steer me back to what I'm trying to escape, throwing out as many negative and critical comments as they can come up with to break me. It's a scary undertaking, putting myself out there like this with no guarentee of success. It would be nice to have a few more people believing in me and cheering me on. Posts like this one are wonderful.