Welcome to the Course

In this introduction, Laura and Gavin explain what the inner critic is and the journey we will undertake to move beyond it.

Welcome to Beyond the Inner Critic!

The "inner critic" is a pattern of thought and feeling that undermines us and infiltrates our meditation practice. It keeps us striving. It keeps us stuck. This six-part online course will teach you to recognize the inner critic and disarm it through mindful investigation and contemplative exercises. Join Laura Bridgman and Gavin Milne as they show you how to disengage from painful self-judgment and enjoy life beyond the inner critic.

The meditation master Ajahn Chah said that insight is like a mango dropping from a tree. We can create the conditions for the tree to grow but we cannot decide when the fruit will drop, though it inevitably will. The pattern of thought we call the inner critic is a major obstacle to realizing the fruit of meditation, and it’s all too prevalent in today’s world. So frequently, we bring the habits of striving and self-judgment into meditation practice in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

The inner critic manifests differently for different people but we all have it to varying degrees. For you it may be a thought, or it could be a subtle tension in the body. With training and contemplation, we can learn to disengage from this critical voice. When we can do this other qualities naturally come forth to guide us. These are the five spiritual faculties and they align us with a freedom that is not bound up in harshness, self-judgment, and the vicissitudes of life. This is a path of wisdom and friendliness towards ourselves—a path that brings us closer to ourselves.

Beyond the Inner Critic is delivered from the beautiful grounds of Gaia House, a retreat center in Devon, England. Your teachers will be Laura Bridgman and Gavin Milne. Laura Bridgman is a former Buddhist nun and student of Ajahn Succito and Ajahn Sumedho in the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah. Gavin Milne trained under the guidance of Yanai Postelnik and has a keen interest in realizing the fruits of practice in the midst of daily life and relationships. As well as drawing on timeless Buddhist wisdom, their approach incorporates modern psychological perspectives to help us understand this persistent pattern of self-criticism, and go beyond it.

Key benefits

  • Learn how to recognize and disengage from critical inner narratives
  • Become more present and peaceful in the moment
  • Cultivate five spiritual faculties as a source of inner strength and wisdom
  • Disentangle your meditation practice from striving and self-judgment.

Who is this course for?

This course combines the traditional practice of insight meditation (vipassana) with modern frameworks to illuminate the inner critic pattern directly in our own experience. Whilst open to people of all backgrounds and experience, it is self-led and practice-based, so lends itself to those who already have some familiarity of meditation practice and Buddhist teachings, and who feel relatively well-resourced for inner investigation.

At whatever time you pick this course up, we advocate taking in this material at a pace that feels right for you (without the inner critic giving you a hard time about this). You will retain access to the course for as long as you need. Depending on what else is going on in your lives and within yourselves, each person’s needs will vary in meeting this topic. Since it is potentially vulnerable territory, we'd encourage you to sense into your needs with regards to timing and pacing and move through this course in a way that works for you. Life beyond the inner critic is a wonderful gift we can give to ourselves but the wisdom we are seeking involves not pushing ourselves too hard.

Course Curriculum

This is a 6-unit course. You are invited to study at your own pace and will retain unlimited access to the course for as long as you need. Each lesson will offer roughly 60 minutes of video teachings, guided meditations, contemplative exercises, and more. Additionally, Laura and Gavin will suggest themes to explore in your day-to-day life, and a program of meditation to deepen your understanding.

Unit 1 | Becoming Aware

Our first step is to recognize the inner critic and bring awareness to it. We so often identify with that critical voice inside us. We might unquestioningly believe its putdowns, or wrestle with self-recriminations without seeing this critical pattern of thought for what it is. Can we instead bring presence, kindness, openness, discernment, curiosity, and inquiry to our experience of the inner critic? Can we bring awareness? In doing so we'll learn to differentiate between a specific judgment that gives us useful feedback, and an unhelpful attack that makes a global statement about our value as a human being.

Unit 2 | The Worldly Winds

As we become familiar with the inner critic, we begin to see it more impersonally. We see its components and how the critic responds to conditions in our lives. The Buddha gave a valuable teaching on the "worldly winds" – eight vicissitudes of life that the critic is relentlessly invested in. If we get a promotion at work, the critic warns us not to mess this up. If we fall on hard times financially, the critic takes this to be a personal failing. But the Buddha is asking us to see such forces more as impersonal winds that blow through our lives and not, as the inner critic would have us believe, as measures of our self-worth.

We can also notice how the inner critic is all too keen to co-opt our meditation practice. Tendencies towards self-improvement come to the fore. We keep ourselves at a distance, looking off into the future to a time when we'll be happier, wiser, kinder, better meditators perhaps. But, ironically, meditation is really about getting closer to ourselves as we are right now, in the present. Laura and Gavin bring in the practice of GRAIN as a way of grounding ourselves and bringing kind awareness to our experience of the critic.

Unit 3 | Root Causes of the Inner Critic

The inner critic has its roots in our early development. It's something we all have to varying degrees. In order to negotiate our families in our early years, we learned to inhibit certain parts of ourselves and perhaps exaggerate others. And even the most loving parents will have brought some of their own psychological conditioning into raising us. So the inner critic developed to keep us safe and ensure that we were accepted by our family and peers. But we must also acknowledge that the inner critic has perhaps outlived its usefulness. As adults, we are capable of a more nuanced and accepting relationship with ourselves and others. One that supports us to be happy and to pursue opportunities that genuinely align with our aspirations and wellbeing. We will practice meditation and contemplation to ever-so-gently open to those parts of ourselves that may have previously been rejected.

Unit 4 | Acceptance and Non-cooperation

There are good reasons why the inner critic persists even when we are developing new ways of relating to ourselves. We stay engaged with the critic because of strong conditioning. Perhaps on some level we believe its attacks are justified. We may be used to learning through harsh lessons. We might use the critic to motivate ourselves and fear listlessness if we ever eased up. So we rationalize our situation, we placate the critic, or we fight with it. And all of these feed the pattern.

Fortunately, we can take a different path. We can disengage from the critic. We don't have to co-operate with it. We can say "no," transfer our energy elsewhere, look at the bigger picture, or disarm the critic with kindness. By tuning into the reality of our embodied experience with kind acceptance, we'll show up more and more in the wholeness of our being. The inner critic begins to relax, allowing helpful factors such as mindfulness and discernment to come forth.

Unit 5 | Seeing Through the Critic

Now the causes that support awareness are gaining momentum: kindness to ourselves, trust in ourselves, and right effort. We taste what it's like to disengage from the critic. Yet we may be used to having the critic's voice around – it may even feel lonely and strange to experience mental peace and stillness. Even so, the rewards for reaching this stage are wonderful. We find increased autonomy as strength and power that have been channeled to the inner critic—to living as who we think we should be—and are reinvested in being who we are. 

We take refuge in awareness and align ourselves with the reality of change and impermanence. We relate to the inner critic in much the same way the Buddha related to his antagonist, Mara. We don't need the critic to disappear. We simply see through its tricks. 

Unit 6 | Beyond the Inner Critic

As the critic weakens, the five spiritual faculties grow—faith, effort, mindfulness, samadhi, and wisdom—and we live more and more from a sense of self-sufficiency. When we bring mindfulness to our unconscious habits of mind it is in the nature of seeing to prevail over not seeing. And it is in the nature of these faculties to prevail over patterns that have kept us striving or stuck in the past. These five faculties are a much more wholesome energy to have at the center of our lives. Because of them, we begin to notice wise guidance arising within us—guidance that comes from the gut and the heart—and we find that we have outgrown the need for a harshly critical inner voice.