This month at Happy Melon we are exploring the mindfulness attitude of non-judgement.
Before we get into the practice I think it is first important to establish what we mean by judgement. The reality is, we live in a constant state of judging; it is how we measure ourselves and the world around us, a barometer of sorts. As human beings we have been gifted with enormous amounts of intelligence, and it is this ability to access, evaluate and choose wisely that has propelled us forward as a species. So the issue is how do we incorporate this practice into our lives without throwing the baby (intelligence, necessary discernment) out with the bathwater (judgement)?
Our minds are conditioned to make snap judgements based on our past experiences and ideas of how things ought to be. We view the world through a veil of thoughts, concepts and patterns, like looking through the lens of a camera or, for the instagramers out there, a filter. Mindfulness suggests that the problems arise when we grip too tightly to our particular lens or filter. This creates a duality (conflict) between the way things are and the way you believe they should be – “this is good” or “this is bad”, “I like this” or “I can’t stand that”, “this is right” or “this is wrong”, which in turn leads to suffering when the cards don’t fall in your favor, when your lens doesn’t match with reality.
Therefore in order to reduce the suffering that arises out of this duality, the practice of non-judgement asks us to release our attachment to objects and outcomes, let go of our default tendency to pass snap judgements and loosen our grip on how things ought to be. Instead, adopt an approach like that of a curious scientist. This involves being more curious and less critical of ourselves, our thoughts, our environment, and our experience as a whole. It encourages a willingness to open up to our reality with a more accepting attitude.
From a psychological point of view this makes perfect sense. Take fear and anxiety for example, both of these will create discomfort and you will feel a strong urge to get rid of or avoid these feelings. Avoidance works well when we are confronted with a physical threat but unfortunately fails hopelessly when dealing with psychological challenges like anxiety. In fact it is our efforts to avoid these emotional states that generally leads to neurotic behavior. As Carl Jung put it “neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering”. So rather than struggling against negative emotional states, the practice of non-judgement suggests we move into them with a curious mind and see what they have to offer us. Now this doesn’t imply some passive resignation to circumstances, on the contrary it encourages us to look deeper into our reality with less reactivity in order to respond to life in the most intelligent way possible.
The ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism suggests that by suspending our judgement and need for things to be a certain way we can align ourselves with the natural flow of nature. Rather than working against the volition of our circumstances we can intelligently navigate the path of least resistance. I like the analogy of sailing here. The art of sailing is being able to use the elements in your favor to get you where you are going as efficiently as possible, as oppose to rowing which is the use of brute force. Now the real skill of sailing happens when the wind is blowing in the opposite direction to the way you want to go. The skilled sailor does not get blown helplessly in the wrong direction nor does he wear himself out by working tirelessly against the wind. Rather he tacks, angling his sails in a certain way that the wind still works with him. The key is to stay open to all possibilities and then intelligently respond to life, working with the stream instead of against it.
I will leave you with a quote from HH the Dalai Lama that I feel illustrates this use of intelligent discernment over judgement: “I am a Buddhist who is critical of the present state of Buddhist practice, which is often too involved with ceremony and ritual. The proper practice is to use our human intelligence to transform our emotions. I am a human being, I also experience destructive emotions, but the only difference is that I use my intelligence to discriminate which of my emotions is helpful and which is harmful. I then try to restrain the harmful and increase those that are helpful and this gives me peace of mind.”