Do You Need a Learner’s Permit?

I ask because I just had a moment of shock at how unforgiving I was toward myself. And about nothing. I forgot something I meant to do and suddenly that familiar accusation landed on me. Stupid! Where did it come from? And why am I surprised that I can be so hard on myself? Why do I continually forget that only God is perfect?

Do you have the same problem? Are you transfixed by an automatic attack in the solar plexus each time you do or say something that you didn’t mean to? Sometime in our childhood we must have been scolded for something or held to an impossible standard. Maybe it is time to issue ourselves a learner’s permit.

Now I tell myself I am not unsatisfactory. I am only unfinished. When I say that to the autocrat inside, he is silenced. The black-robed judge who expects me to be always at my very best can’t deal with it. Try it for yourself sometime when you discover you are criticizing yourself. Say it out loud. “I am not unsatisfactory. I am only unfinished!”

The fact is, we are continually faced with situations we have never met before and yet we expect ourselves to solve them lickety-split. Otherwise we become a wimp. But who’s accusing us of that? You guessed it! The tyrant who sits inside, always on our case, the persona I used to think was the voice of my conscience. Psychologists call it the super-ego. It is much more powerful than our ego—our birth-to-death companion who thinks she is Number One.

So what to do? When I first woke up to its steely, unforgiving nature, I began to study it more closely. Twenty years later I even wrote a book about it—Taming Your Inner Tyrant. There’s a lot of good stuff in that book about how to recognize and deal with whatever judges our performance 24/7 (see

What helped me most was dialoguing with the inner Tyrant not as an adversary, but by asking it to explain why I was so inadequate. Gradually, as I listened more, it became less nasty, more informational. Finally it morphed into a persona I called the ‘Lord of Discipline.’ At that point another aspect of myself came into view: the Lord of the Heart. I began to forgive myself more often for being human.

Nevertheless, that stern voice doesn’t disappear. It’s the work of a lifetime to stay balanced between the critical head and the forgiving heart. On the one hand, we need to be able to make a promise to ourselves and others and carry through with it, but on the other we also need relief from toeing the line drawn by the judge.

Gurdjieff tells us that the forces of Holy Affirming and Holy Denying are cosmic laws that enter into every manifestation. But if we can grow our ability to become aware of both at the same time, to stand firm in the presence of the opposites, the Holy Reconciling force can appear. Then we can center ourselves in the middle path between them.

So each time I wake up to my need for a learner’s permit, I ask more often, “Aren’t I enough, just as I am?” Maybe I don’t need to change, improve, be better than before. Better than what? Better than who I am?

Surely our first obligation on this journey through life is not to make ourselves over but to find out who I really am, you are. Jungian analyst James Hollis often asks, “Have you stepped into your journey yet?” Now maybe we can answer, “Yes, I have.” Then we can move on to the next question: “What wants to come into the world through you?” Like Jacob’s long night of the soul doing battle with his angel, it may take a while to wrestle with that one!

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