Practicing Non-Judgment

posted in: Mindfulness | 0

In meditation group, we talk a lot about the idea of observing without judgment, and this week I made that the focus of the guided meditation. Letting go of judgments can be particularly challenging, and yet it’s an essential part of living a mindful life. That goes for judging others as well as judging yourself.

Judging others or fear of being judged by others can often prevent you from leading a full life, so I invite my groups to think of how you would live your life without the burden of judgment.

Judging is part of our evolutionary development. It was important to be able to judge when something is “bad” or “good,” that’s how we survived. But evolution can’t keep up with the rapid changes in our society, where we are much safer than the days of old. What’s more, our behaviors are dictated by societal rules, norms and mores, however those don’t always makes sense, or don’t matter, or are just plain dumb.

Case in point: The other day, I was at a local coffee house and there was a man in there enjoying his coffee, wearing the most interesting, uh, costume. He had little American flags sticking up out of a band around his head, sparkly leggings and a mid drift shirt, with loads of shiny, sparkly bracelets. I did a double take for sure. Here was a man living his life in a very unique way. He wasn’t hurting a soul and it clearly made him happy. In fact it probably made most of those around him happy. So who am I (or anyone else) to judge?

Judging of other people has led to catastrophic events throughout the history of humankind. People have been judged for everything from the way they look to who they love. Whole cultures have been targeted, and, in fact, still are, as being judged inferior in some way.

Perhaps the most difficult judgments to let go of are self-judgments. As children, we were taught what behaviors we must exhibit to be socially accepted and we were criticized when we went against that socially accepted behavior. Or, we were praised for conforming.

We eventually come to internalize this, and our own inner voice becomes critical of our actions. That inner voice can range from frustration to name-calling. Soon enough, like anything else, self-judgment and self-criticism becomes our default reaction.

So how do we break that cycle? That’s where a consistent mindfulness practice comes in. And believe me, it isn’t easy. For some of us, myself included, self-judgment is so ingrained into our being for so long, it takes a lot of effort to undo. Through meditation we learn to become curious about our thoughts, without judgment, and done over and over again, we slowly re-wire our brain. You can be aware of your thoughts, knowing they are just thoughts. Judgments pass, let them go. There’s no need to build a whole story around them or let them lead you anywhere. In fact, sometimes it’s helpful to label them as in, “Oh, that’s a judgment,” and then go back to your breath. In other words, notice your judgments without judgment.

It also might help you to change those judgments in to a positive statement. You might think to yourself “Wow, I’ve really put on a lot of weight. I need to do something about this.” Instead, how about turning that around with something like this: “I’m eating healthy and exercising regularly. I’m taking good care of my body and I feel great.” Isn’t that what matters after all?

From personal experience, I know this is not easy and I’m definitely a work in progress. I will not judge myself for that. It takes time, consistency and dedication. I am patient and I improve every day, and you can too!

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