Discovering inner peace involves the letting go of our emotional reactivity, so that we can experience an open heart and a clear mind. Being judgmental is one of the ways our mind can react to the moment without presence. It may come in the form of criticizing how someone else is behaving, or what their beliefs may be. But it also shows itself in the way we respond to criticism, or when we become negative and frustrated about the ways we think we are not measuring up to an imagined standard. When a judgmental mind kicks in, we need to reconnect with inner peace so that we can be of maximum benefit to ourselves and to the world.
No one likes to feel judged. The idea of being seen as less than the wonderful beings we hope to be can trigger feelings of inadequacy and fear. When we feel judged, our knee-jerk tendency is to judge in return. Yet, this only perpetuates pain. Whether we judge ourselves or others, or we are reacting to someone’s perceived judging of us, we are experiencing the constriction of a mind in judgment.
A judgmental mind is like a vice grip. It is closed and holds onto its way of being. Disconnected from the whole, it insists that it knows best and that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world. This way of thinking leads to suffering for ourselves and others. It shuts us off from life in all its abundance, and from the cornucopia of support and possibilities available to us in every moment.
Being judgmental is different from being discerning. When we discern, we consider the whole. We remain in balance with natural flow. We consider the greater good of all life, including our own self. For example, it is not judgmental to know we should not put our hand in a fire. We make a healthy choice to keep our distance, lest we get burned. However, it is judgmental to talk down to someone who does not experience life in the same way as we do, or to criticize circumstances in our own lives that are different from how we think they should be.
There is a beautiful and striking quote by the Indian humanitarian leader Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, “When someone does something you find really offensive, check to see whether you are doing something similar to others or yourself.” To see feeling judged as separate from judging supports the notion of “happening to me”, a sense of being powerless and victimized by life. To see them as connected allows us to understand the capacity of others to judge us as no different from our own capacity to judge. If we did not have that capacity, we would not react to it in others. When we are humble enough to see that no one is perfect, ourselves included, we realize we have a countless opportunities a day to let go of our sense of self-importance and return to inner peace.
FINDING FREEDOM FROM JUDGMENT
We free ourselves from a judgmental mind when we learn to see a situation beyond the grip of emotional reactivity, that is, beyond our likes and dislikes. Our mind, driven by our ego, only knows how to divide and categorize. It does this in an attempt to feel in control because it believes itself to be separate from the whole. By pausing when the impulse to judge arises or when we feel judged, we can begin to understand what lies beneath that tendency. We may discover that we feel disconnected from the other person. And in that disconnection, we may realize that we feel sad and alone. In that aloneness, we may notice that we feel afraid. In that fear, we may doubt that we will ever feel loved. As we face our feeling of disconnection, we are left raw, real and honest in the moment. The reactivity of judgment was masking that naked, open vulnerability.
You may ask, why would you want to feel naked, raw and vulnerable at any time, especially around people with whom you feel judgment? Because true power comes from honesty, not from masks. You could pretend your fear and hurt don’t matter, but all the while, your stomach churns, your heart grows heavy and pain builds within. Your facade becomes tiresome to carry. In being judgmental, you think you are protecting yourself, but in effect, you are hiding from yourself and the world. How can you feel inner peace in that state?
In being honest, vulnerable and real with yourself and with others, you stop the cycle of disconnect and judgment. You take the leap into a heart connection with yourself and the world. And you experience rooted, vital, and expansive peace with the moment.
As with all painful emotions, we must practice the three steps of transformation: understand, witness, release. When you first notice yourself in any state of constriction, you are in disconnect. It means you are giving power to an illusion of being separate from the whole. Immediately pause and take three long deep breaths. Then look at the parameters of judging, its sharp edges that hurt you and others, the mask it places over the moment. Allow yourself to clearly see that judging only causes more pain.
Then witness the tendency to justify it, to defend it, to hold onto it. Like the impulse for a bad habit that returns, a judgmental mind may creep in and try to convince you that you need to be judgmental to protect yourself. Return then to three deep breaths, and your understanding of what is really going on: a judgmental mind only hurts you and others, and masks your fundamental fear of not being loved. As you practice clear understanding, and step into the non-attached state of witnessing it, should it arise, you no longer engage with its tricky tendencies. Then, release is automatic.
When you feel judged, or an impulse to judge someone, pause and notice the reactivity that is taking place. Breathe deeply and give yourself permission to be fully honest with yourself in this moment.
● What lies beneath this impulse?
● Do I feel safe and comfortable around this person or situation?
● What do I feel about myself at this time?
● In which ways am I doing something similar to what this person is doing that bothers me?
● When I listen to my heart, what is the most honest and compassionate thing I could do or say right now?
From my heart to yours,