Does judgment create your own suffering?
Last night at our Monday Meditation session one of our practices was a Loving Kindness meditation. As a group we acknowledged that this is one of the most difficult meditations we do as it is letting go of judgment of others and of myself.
We then decided as a group to take on a mindfulness intention for the week ahead – we will focus on practicing non-judgment.
The conversation grew around how hard this is. How other people want us to join them in their judgments. They draw you in to their arguments with someone else, or they want you to comment negatively on someone else to support their own judgments of that person or situation. Avoiding this is really difficult especially when it is in the workplace and you want to stay neutral, or in a family or friendship group and you just don’t agree with that judgment or want to be judging others.
Taking on non-judgment is a moment-to-moment challenge, because at every turn we have the opportunity to make a judgment on someone or something and our culture tries to demand it of us. ‘Follow’, ‘like’ or ‘share’ on someone’s social media posts or page, shows how we judge their opinion or position to be valid. We have television shows inviting us to comment via social media, even shows dedicated to watching others being judgmental about television shows! Our celebrity culture is driven by judging who is ‘in-vogue’ and who isn’t.
In our Loving Kindness practice we are to call to mind several people and acknowledge their humanness. Their ability to experience pain and suffering, which of course is an ability we all share by being human. Through Loving Kindness we recognise that our judgment can also create pain and suffering.
When we are judging others we lose our ability to acknowledge and recognise this person as a human, with human feelings such as suffering.
Loving Kindness also calls us to acknowledge a specific person who has caused us pain or harm and to send them our loving kindness, wishing them to be well – the most difficult level of Loving Kindness for some. Actually calling to mind someone who has hurt you and wish them to be well seems a betrayal to your own self. Of course it isn’t disregarding your own pain, nor is it a denial of the action that caused the pain. It is an acknowledgment that all human beings, experience pain and suffering, even those who have caused us distress or pain, who we may judge as not worthy of our loving kindness.
It reminds me to remember the phrase “hurt people, hurt people”. People can knowingly or unknowingly cause others pain and suffering. Non-judgment and letting go when people have hurt is very difficult, however if we recognise their hurt and pain forgiveness is that little bit closer.
Another part of Loving Kindness, which can be the most difficult for others, is the level of self-compassion. Acknowledging that I am a worthy human being. Acknowledging that I do suffer and become agitated, and that I am also worthy of being well and knowing peace.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional” (Haruki Murakami)
Life brings both inevitable pain and joy, however we often get stuck on the negatives that bring us pain, such as sadness, anger, embarrassment, disappointment, grief and loss.
These thoughts can bring about suffering, especially when our thoughts take us into the hurts of the past, like lost dreams, or disappointment in ourselves and in others. We can also suffer when we get lost in fantasy or fears of the future; the planning, the worry, the need to control the outcomes, the drive to be better and better. We can fall into judging if we are good enough before we have actually taken it on!
We can get caught constantly judging what we like, don’t like, what we want or don’t want. External judgments on others not doing things as we would like them to do; not holding or living up to our values; things not turning out as we want.
Internal judgments on ourselves can be constant; noticing when we have let others down; punishing thoughts of the ‘I’m not good enough’ story. Not a good enough mother/father/partner/sibling/friend/colleague/person. Judgment can be disguised as self-doubt – ‘I have never been able to do that well’.
You may judge yourself with ‘it’s just the way I am’, wishing you were different, better able to manage, control, or change things or yourself.
You hear judgments inside your mind of not doing something as well as others, of thinking too much, of being too emotional.
Judgments can be relentless, debilitating and consuming, with your mind becoming your worst enemy. Your mind can seem to have a mind of its own!
Practicing mindfulness you begin to see how the mind works
Mindfulness helps you develop an ability to watch your own thinking, noticing judgments without getting too invested or caught up in them. Mindfulness encourages you to view a situation for what it is, without judgment. A little like a curious scientist, just observing.
Have you ever found yourself judging neutral events like the weather? “I don’t want it to rain” or “I wish it wasn’t so hot”. It is weather. There is nothing you can do about the weather, and yet you pass judgments on it, not aware that you can experience it or you can suffer in it, either way, the weather doesn’t change.
As your mindfulness practice develops you can notice more often when you get caught up in your thoughts and judgments. You can observe the suffering thoughts can cause and you can learn to calm an agitated mind by letting go. With practice you can let go of judgment and watch your thinking with openness and acceptance, often the hardest part.
Why not make a mindfulness intention for yourself of noticing judgments and letting them go? Don’t judge yourself for having the judgment; don’t be hard on yourself. Most people can’t go 24 minutes, even seconds, without an internal or external judgment on something, let alone 24 hours or 7 days! Go gently, accepting yourself and others.
Letting go of judgment will free your mind to observe more, to accept more, to let go of suffering and to notice the richness and beauty around you.