Most of us go through our days judging our experiences, other people, and ourselves. We “like” online comments by others, or pages on the Internet, we give a thumbs up or down to places we've visited, experiences we've had and people we've met. We rate, categorise and judge everything. It seems ingrained in our modern way of thinking - for better or worse.
Yet life - in her ample generosity - also gives us many valuable learning opportunities through the judgements we make and receive. And in today’s chaotic and complex world it is ever clearer that there can be no real progress without some “problems” arising. Indeed, throughout human history it has been acknowledged that we must make mistakes in order to be able to learn from them; that nature’s most effective evolutionary tool is in fact the dreaded "mistake".
The ancient wisdom traditions teach that the key to a happy existence is not to avoid "mistakes" but simply to relinquish judgement of them and surrender to life's perfect process. They teach that it is adversity itself that paves the way to transformation; that our suffering can in fact become the gateway to consciousness.
So, why do we judge?
Judgement is our Ego’s primary reaction to a situation that causes it to feel challenged and/or threatened. Judgement is the natural means by which we determine threat and danger. It is a tool for survival. And yet, those things we judge as "wrong" or "bad" often bother us so much that they can have a negative impact on our lives, driving us to rage, self-loathing, depression etc. In fact, our constant, and often unduly harsh, judgement of ourselves and others is often the root of all our suffering. And it seems that being overtly judgemental of the world around us not only perpetuates our outward striving but may also amplify internal strife.
As Brene Brown explains in this short video, the desire to blame (and therefore pass judgement on) others often stems from our inability to deal with our own fear. In so many cases to "judge" becomes to "blame".
The judgements we make can be directed outwards, at other people, but also inwards. This can result in feelings of anger, defensiveness, aggression and also shame and guilt. When we are acting from a place of judgement, i.e. in anger or shame, you can say that we “embody” anger, or we "embody" judgement. We all know from personal experience that when we act from such a place other people's reactions to us also become skewed. We may trigger in others similar feelings of anger, judgement or shame.
The act of judging can therefore become a vicious cycle, and one from which it is difficult to extract ourselves when we’re spinning within it. That's why, if we can manage to, it is often best to just walk away from a situation where our ego has been triggered, take a moment, breathe and give ourselves some space to simply recognise that judgement has arisen.
How can we practice non-judgement?
The simple practice of non-judgement has the power to transform the way you see the world! The process of becoming self-aware enough to consider where we judge is the first step. This in-sight into ourselves and how we think is one of the many healing results of Embodied Meditation. But there are many ways to become more mindful of where and why we judge, which include but are not limited to, meditation.
As Gertrud explains, the very process of becoming aware of where and why we judge is an act of mindfulness:
So, what would it be like to drop all of that judging as good and bad? What would it be like to simply experience something, without judgement?
Try it now: sit here in this moment, and don’t think about whether it is good or bad … just observe the sensations of the moment. Don’t think about those sensations, just experience them.
You will no doubt find the results of this simple practice incredible at relieving tensions, whether physical, mental or emotional. A simple yoga of the mind!
Why is it important to let go of judgement?
The wisdom traditions teach that it is important to practice non-judgement, self awareness and loving kindness for the same reason: when we embody our true selves, we experience our life and our relationships more deeply, more richly and with more vibrancy. We are mentally and physically more healthy and we can love ourselves and others more honestly and deeply. We can welcome more joy and peace into our lives.
As Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron so beautifully explains in her book When Things Fall Apart, the key to cultivating compassion for ourselves and others - and thereby learning to live beyond judgement - is to try and allow whatever wants to arises in life to arise, without judging it:
When we finally let go of judgement, joy seems to flourish. There is a growing sense of freedom and lightness when we stop beating ourselves up and criticising others. Humour, fun and laughter replace the heaviness of judgement. It is so infectious.
Cultivating joy in your own life is a choice. It is an active decision to allow the vast beauty in this world to wash over you each day and to surrender and therefore let go of judgement. Joy is a gift. It is an essential part of life that has been recently explored in depth by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in their latest joint project The Book of Joy.
As part of your own mindfulness practice you can simply start to take note how much emotional energy it takes to embody judgement: being defensive or aggressive tenses your body and your entire being, you are contracting. Unlike when you laugh and you have fun, the feeling is light, and bright, the feeling is expansive. That is when we are aligned with the naturally expansive energy of the unbounded consciousness. Practicing and learning to recognise the difference between contraction and expansion in yourself will effortlessly bring you into more intimate embodiment of your soulful self.