First published on elephantjournal.com
“Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” ~ William Shakespeare
I used to pride myself on being non-judgmental—but since taking up meditation and activating my inner witness, I can now see that I was deluding myself.
I judge—a lot.
I judge myself, others and external situations. All the time.
And what’s more, I judge myself for being judgmental.
I have been trying to get past this for a long, long time, but I still struggle with it.
On the one hand, I’m trying to “release judgement,” as advised by the great spiritual teachers—but on the other, I’m also questioning whether it’s possible at all.
Do Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and other highly evolved beings really never, ever judge anything? Is it possible to have an opinion about something, without it being informed by a judgment? How do we really, truly not judge anything?
What I’m starting to consider is that I may have to let go of judging my own judgments.
If I could observe my judgments—acknowledge them as judgments—but not judge myself for holding them, I might actually (and ironically) begin in earnest the journey of becoming less judgmental.
And maybe that’s the critical shift I need to make—aspiring to being less judgmental, rather than completelynon-judgmental. Because who am I kidding—the latter is highly unlikely to ever occur.
And where there is my self-judgment, there follows judgment of others. Or, to get real, my projection of my own sh*t onto others.
If we have to love ourselves, before we can love another, then we have to accept all of our own flaws (including the propensity to judge) before we can accept (not judge) others. So, it is a two-fold battle. I’m fighting my judgments whichever way I turn.
And what we resist persists. So, the more I resist being judgmental, the more frequently I’m likely to fall into judgment.
The thing is, if I’m totally honest, I don’t actually want to become completely non-judgmental at all.
Judgment (of character) can protect us from potential harm.
Judgement motivates us to fight against injustice.
If I were to not judge, then I would shrug my shoulders and accept the forthcoming extinction of orangutans due to the incorrigible (ahem, more judgement) palm oil industry—just to cite one example of so many morally corrupt (sorry, can’t stop) industrial and business practices that need to be either completely abolished, or be significantly transformed, for the good of the entire planet. (And sorry for the extremely long sentence—I judge that too.)
While spiritual teachers encourage us to release judgment, they also talk about discernment as a vital tool that we need to develop in its place. But really, what is discernment? Only another (less obnoxious) word for judgment.
According to Collins Dictionary—“discernment” is a synonym for “judgment” and one of its cited definitions is “keen perception or judgment.”
I’m not pretending that I don’t understand the difference, because I do. It is a subtle one—judgment conjures up a more negative and critical nature, while discernment has a more pleasing and softer resonance to it.
But, fundamentally—the two are differing degrees of the same critical faculty.
I suppose it’s a question of balance, and the more I contemplate the matter, the more I’m coming to understand:the problem is not so much about being judgmental—it’s about awareness around the judgment.
With awareness, we can question (discern, even) how much of what we’re thinking is true and how much is merely judgment. When we allow ourselves to consider the possibility that we’re being judgmental, we make room for a shift to take place.
We make room to release the judgment.
And so, I’m coming to see that my “struggle” with judgment is yet another practice—noticing the error in my thinking and making adjustments. When I see it as a practice—rather than a transgression against myself and everyone around me—I ease up on myself.
We aren’t terrible people because we’re judgmental beings—but releasing judgment brings us peace, and it can also bring about a shift in a circumstance.
So, let’s stop judging ourselves for this aspect of our humanity. Let’s be kind and loving to our inner critic, and she will become kinder and more loving in return.
Photo: Flickr/Robin Hutton