Attitudes of Mindfulness (Part 2) - Non-Judging
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Attitudes of Mindfulness (Part2) - Non-Judging
When we practice mindfulness, what we’re really practising is clearly seeing the underlying nature of our moment to moment experience, as it truly is, rather than through the lens of our own stories, distortions and judgements.
Regularly dropping into this level of awareness can, over time, be very useful in helping us relate to our lives more skillfully.
The more skilful choices we’re able to make when responding to life’s inevitable ups and downs, the more contented and at ease we tend to be with life itself.
But how easy it is to look beyond the stories our minds create, in order that we can hang out with the raw, unfiltered, data of what’s happening moment to moment?
It certainly takes practice.
Why? Because it is ingrained in us to assign our own meaning to just about everything we encounter.
We do that by instantly and automatically judging our experiences, even the imagined ones, as being positive, negative or neutral.
Then we instantly and automatically create a compelling narrative that supports the correctness of our judgments, meaning we believe them to be true.
We forget that thoughts aren’t facts.
The problem with judging
Each of us has a lifetime of conditioning about what is good and bad, right and wrong, fair and unfair, beautiful and ugly... and it takes just milliseconds for us to get a felt sense of whatever we’re presented with.
It is so automatic that it feels like it is happening to us, rather than by us.
We assume the way we feel is a direct reaction to the person, the behaviour, the situation or the thing.
But it's not.
We’re really reacting to the judgement itself.
Our propensity for making snap judgements is a product of our evolution. It's a highly efficient way to stay safe.
By desiring only positive experiences and resisting the negative ones, we’re far less likely to venture into situations that lead to harm. Or at least that’s the plan.
On the surface, this sounds like a good thing.
And it is.
In real moments of danger, there may not be enough time for the mind to make calculated, conscious decisions about what’s best for our future wellbeing. So, making snap judgements is a way of automating our safety.
The problem is, this unconscious process of judging is a far from perfect system. It doesn’t discriminate. We end up judging absolutely everything. Even ourselves.
This often leads to unnecessary suffering for ourselves and others.
It's great for keeping us safe, but it's rubbish for keeping us happy.
The judging instinct has a negativity bias, meaning it errs heavily on the side of caution. When in doubt, it will lean toward perceiving something as a potential threat, just in case.
How judging blocks happiness
In order to work so quickly, the judging mind has to ignore much of the actual reality of a situation. So much so that we’re often blinded to other, potentially healthier and more joyful possibilities.
Judging, as normal as it feels, keeps us eternally spinning on a wheel of longing for pleasant experiences and avoiding unpleasant experiences.
Our conditioning would tell us that this is the way to happiness but, ultimately, it can only ever be a disappointing ride.
Being caught in the never-ending cycle of craving what we don’t have and resisting what we do have is a recipe for dissatisfaction.
So, how do we climb off the wheel, and what can that possibly do for our relationship with happiness?
Getting off the wheel
Firstly, climbing off the wheel is not a one-time event. We have to repeatedly disembark again and again by intentionally practising being non-judgemental toward our experiences.
It’s important to understand that having a non-judgemental attitude doesn’t mean training ourselves to stop having judgemental thoughts.
As long as you're breathing, judgements WILL arise.
Having a non-judgemental attitude means developing a sensitivity for noticing judgements as they arise, and then choosing to not get swept away by them.
Instead, we simply observe our judgements as thoughts taking place in the mind.
By themselves, they are harmless mental events.
Rather than getting hooked up on the content of the judgement, and being carried along on a proliferating train of thought about why ‘such and such’ is bad a thing and shouldn't be happening, we just bring awareness to the fact that the mind is thinking. That's just what minds do.
When we don’t react to a thought - when observe it but don’t engage with it - it simply plays out in the mind and then dissipates. Then all we’re left with is what is actually here, in this moment, right now.
The perfect place to practice non-judging is in the training ground of meditation.
When the body is settled and the attention is resting on a neutral anchor, such as the breath, it soon becomes apparent how much the mind likes to judge.
We might evaluate the quality of our concentration, or lack there thereof, and get down on ourselves for not being a ‘good meditator’.
A physical sensation might get labelled as bad or annoying, and there may be a commentary about how it's interfering with the enjoyment of the moment.
There may be judgement about an emotional state:
“I shouldn’t be feeling like this. I wish I felt more Zen.”
Sometimes we get lost in thoughts about ourselves; the kind of person we are, what we’re good at, what we’re not good at, how flawed we are...
Or, we can get equally lost in similar thoughts about other people.
We judge the past.
We judge the future.
We might even judge the present moment, wishing it were different - getting frustrated with the environment we’re in with all its distractions, making it hard to meditate.
And then, of course, we’re back to judging ourselves for having been lost in thought, when we should have been focussing on the breath.
So what’s the move?
The move is simple.
Each time you notice a judgement taking place in the mind, just bring your awareness to it and, without analysing it in any way, silently say to yourself “Judging”. And then gently guide your attention back to the sensations of the body breathing, or some other anchor.
It's important that this is a very soft mental note, delivered in a kind and friendly way.
By being compassionate in the noticing of the judgement, we’re acknowledging that it's not a personal failing that we judge. There is nothing to feel bad about.
We’re just witnessing the unfolding of a natural phenomenon that affects all of humanity.
And we can also see that, in letting them go, judgments don't have any power in and of themselves. They're not real. They are just thoughts that arise in the mind and then, if left alone, pass away like clouds in the sky.
The more often we repeat that move of ‘noticing and coming back’, the more we’re able to appreciate what is actually happening in the moment.
Just the raw, unfiltered, data of sensory experience.
It turns out that this capacity we have for observing the activity of the mind, without being drawn into the content of the mind, does wonders for our sense of well-being and mental health.
When we’re not being yanked around by the 'push and pull' of judgmental thoughts, we’re given the space to choose more wisely which lens to view the world through.
It means we can take a moment to skilfully respond to our circumstances, rather than simply react to them.
Practising non-judging may take place in formal meditation, but it's bringing that practice into our daily lives that allows the true benefits to be known.
What's an aspect of your life that would likely flourish if you were let go of some of your judgement about it?
We may not be able to stop mind judging, but as long as we don’t judge the judging and, instead, nurture the habit of noticing and mindfully redirecting our awareness, we are definitely able to experience our lives with more kindness, clarity and ease.
So, in closing, here’s a useful question I invite you to check in with at any point throughout your day:
“What’s really here right now?”
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