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Don't turn observation into self-criticism Barry Magid June 21st 2008

Someone was telling me about the diary she had started keeping. She was trying to keep track of and write down every time she got angry. How she got mad when the alarm first woke her up in the morning; how her coffee wasn't made just the way she liked it; how the subway was too crowded with all the wrong sorts of people. One thing after another. Page after page and she hadn't even gotten up to lunchtime on the 1st day yet!

We could all fill up a diary like that. And I think if you looked at all our diaries you'd see that there are basically two kinds of people in the world - those who are angry at the way the world is treating them and those who are constantly angry at themselves for everything they think is wrong with them. And so while it's an excellent practice to watch our anger, the point isn't simply to convert the first type of diary to the second. Where we're subtly but constantly criticizing ourselves for our anger.

We need to watch it. See what expectations or old hurts are being re-injured when we're angry, and begin to take responsibility for simply feeling the hurt or tension inside ourselves without reacting. But most important is that we observe ourselves neutrally, without making the act of observation the basis for a new level of self-criticism.

We should observe ourselves the way a naturalist would when he's discovered a new species of animal. He's never seen anything like it; he has no idea how it's "supposed" to behave, or what its life is like. So he watches. And immediately the temptation may arise to start comparing it to other animals. It's not as fast as a leopard. Maybe if only it were faster, the leopard wouldn't have caught it and eaten it! But in fact, our animal must have successfully evolved and adapted pretty well for millions of years for us to be observing it today. We should just watch without judgment or comparison and see what it is and what it does. Just be still. Don't frighten it. Watch.

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