After a conversation with authors Neal Allen and Anne Lamott, Rabbi Rami explores the power of spiritual conversation to quiet the inner critic.
Archie was complaining about me again this morning.
Nothing he said was new or surprising. I’d heard it all from him before: at least since high school when the real Archie (my dad) forced me to give up my dream job as features editor of our school paper and take a full-time after-school job washing dishes at an ice cream parlor. “You’ll never make it as a writer,” Archie said. “Nobody reads what you write. Nobody understands what you write. Nobody cares about what you write.”
Of course, when I did give up the editor job, he told me I’d never make it as a dishwasher either, but that was my dad: Life sucks, and that’s the good news.
My dad was so adamant about my failing as a writer that he wouldn’t allow me to gift my mom a subscription to Spirituality+Health or even bring her a newsstand copy when I visited their home.
Over time, Archie-my-dad became Archie-my-inner-critic who, as Neal Allen, author of Better Days: Tame Your Inner Critic, told me during our podcast conversation, I should have outgrown by the time I was seventeen. Sadly, I didn’t. Archie continues and his mantra is the same. Taming my inner critic is aspirational at best. But I have learned to respond to Archie with “We’ll see,” and continue to write and publish as often as editors and luck allow.
Neal Allen is married to Anne Lamott, author of a number of wonderful spiritual memoirs and Bird by Bird: Some Lessons on Writing and Life, which has a pride of place on my writing bookshelf. She joined Neal and me on the podcast and has a marvelous master class on writing alongside an excerpt from Neal’s new book in the November/December 2023 issue of Spirituality+Health.
I was hoping to talk Anne into graduating from what she called her “kindergarten Christianity”—a simple heart-centered faith in a Christ who was born of a Jewish virgin, died on the cross, and was resurrected on the third day—to my post-grad head-centered Christian archetypology where the crucified Jesus represents the self that must be crucified on the cross of dualism to be reborn as a God-realized Self manifesting the nondual God in a world that is nothing but God. As I write this, I hear Archie saying, “I told you: Nobody reads what you write. Nobody understands what you write. Nobody cares about what you write.” We’ll see. Certainly, Anne wasn’t interested in exchanging her faith for mine. And Neal came with his own sense of things. And that made our conversation all the richer.
Conversation at its best is a spiritual practice where the inner critic is quieted, and the goal is to respond honestly and compassionately to what is heard rather than to win an argument. Indeed, conversation as spiritual practice leaves no room for argument—only listening deeply and responding lovingly. The result is a palpable sense of joy.
If you want to give a loved one a priceless gift this holy day season, an hour of conversation as spiritual practice might be just the thing. For both of you.
Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this essay here.