by Byron Katie: I’ve come to see that there is no such thing as criticism, there are only observations.
And there is no observation that does not enlighten me, if my mind is open to it. What could anyone say to me that I couldn’t agree with? If someone tells me I’m a terrible person, I go inside myself, and in two seconds I can find where in my life I’ve been a terrible person; it doesn’t take much searching. And if someone says I’m a wonderful person, I can easily find that, too. This is about self-realization, not about right or wrong. It’s about freedom.
When someone tells me that I lied, for example, I go inside to see if they’re right. If I can’t find it in the situation they’ve mentioned, I can easily find it in some other situation, maybe decades ago. I don’t say that out loud. But inside me, it’s a joining. And then I can say, “I am a liar. I see where you’re right about me.” We agree. That person is realizing who I used to be, the very thing that I began realizing twenty years ago. I fall in love with people who are angry at me. They’re like people suffering on their deathbeds: we don’t kick them and say, “Get up.” It’s the same when someone is angry and attacking you. This is a confused human being. And if I’m clear, where is it that I couldn’t meet him? That’s when we are the happiest, when we’re giving ourselves without condition.
If a criticism hurts you, that means you’re defending against it. Your body will let you know very clearly when you’re feeling hurt or defensive. If you don’t pay attention, the feeling rises and becomes anger and attack, in the form of defense or justification. It’s not right or wrong; it just isn’t intelligent. War is not intelligent. It doesn’t work. If you’re really interested in your own peace of mind, you’ll become more and more aware of that sense of wanting to defend yourself against a criticism. And eventually you’ll be fascinated to find the missing pieces of yourself that your critic is helpfully pointing out, and you’ll ask him to tell you more, so that you can be enlightened even further.
Criticism is an immense gift for those who are interested in self-realization. For those who aren’t, welcome to hell, welcome to being at war with your partner, your neighbors, your children, your boss. When you open your arms to criticism, you are your own direct path to freedom, because you can’t change us or what we think about you. You are your only way to stand with a friend as a friend, even when she perceives you as an enemy. And until you can be intimate with us however badly we think of you, your Work isn’t done.
After you’ve done inquiry for a while, you can listen to any criticism without defense or justification, openly, delightedly. It’s the end of trying to control what can’t ever be controlled: other people’s perception. The mind rests, and life becomes kinder, and then totally kind, even in the midst of apparent turmoil. When you’re aware of being a student, everyone in the world becomes your teacher. In the absence of defensiveness, gratitude is all that’s left.