4 Questions to Diffuse the Inner Critic

La Sarmiento
January 12, 2024
A cat sitting in a basket

Editor's Note: Ten Percent Happier podcast host Dan Harris once spoke with meditation teacher La Sarmiento about how to turn down the volume on the inner critic. They shared a few questions they ask themselves when they notice that judgy voice coming online:  

La: “Is my heart open or closed? Am I suffering or am I free? Am I feeling empowered or disempowered? And am I feeling connected or disconnected?

“I think for me, these particular questions just kind of go to the root of it, because if I’m feeling disconnected, my heart's shut down. I'm not feeling empowered. And if I'm suffering, it's painful. It's physically painful, it's emotionally draining, it's mentally exhausting. And then especially around feeling disempowered, it's like, ‘Oh, I've given away my power again. Or I've appeased someone or I've allowed someone to step all over me again.’

“And it just helps me remember what's most important to me, and that's to keep an open heart, to not suffer, to be free, and to feel empowered. And so it really is this way of checking myself, like, ‘Where am I right now in this moment around those four particular aspects?’”

If the first question around “an open heart” is a little too lofty, La responded to that:

La: “Our culture tends to assume your heart is either wide open or closed, like an off and on switch. And a teacher of mine often asks, ‘What if we upgraded to a dimmer switch?’ So rather than be 100% open or 100% closed, depending on the situation, we use our dimmer switch. When I listen to the news, my heart is about 20% open, but when I'm playing with my dogs, it's like 95% open. And so there's this continuum of open-heartedness, so that it's not making oneself totally vulnerable. And at the same time, it's not totally shutting ourselves off from life altogether. But it's like, can I discern how safe I feel and how open my heart can be in this situation or with this person?”

Dan: “When you say your heart is open or closed, what does that actually mean? Is it your openness to the information, your openness to processing other people's emotions? What do you mean specifically?”

La: “I would say it’s my capacity to be willing to engage, to be willing to cultivate patience, understanding, respect, love, and compassion. So it's having that capacity to be present with life no matter how it's unfolding, whether it's something joyful or something that's really challenging and painful. To be there with whatever is happening is what I mean by my heart being open.”

If you’d like to try it out, La has recorded a meditation that goes through that 4-step check-in.

If four steps sounds like too many to remember, La makes it even simpler…

La: “Am I feeling stressed in some sort of way? Am I suffering? Can I pause long enough to get what's going on with my body? What emotions am I feeling right now? What thoughts and stories are going through my head? …Can I hang out with this right now? And then investigating it, checking it out. .. Even if you just carry that phrase around with you, ‘Am I suffering right now?’ That would be enough. … The Buddha taught two things—suffering and the alleviation of suffering. And that's what all this practice really is about, is how to be with our suffering so that we can actually live our lives fully.”

La Sarmiento (they/them) is a mentor for the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program (MMTCP) and a teacher with Cloud Sangha. They have taught meditation retreats for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, Teens, and Young Adults, and everyone in-between around the United States since 2010 and are a 2012 graduate of the Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leader Training.

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