Recently I caught myself harshly judging another person. I was not judging their clothes, their hair, an annoying habit, or even their downdog. I realized that I was judging their judgments of me.
Haunted by a feeling that this person was thinking and saying negative things about me, I started thinking and saying negative things about them. This was turning into a pretty vicious loop.
I remember the first time I took a deeper look at the habit of judgment in my life. A good friend of mine was working on an exercise her teacher had given her and she invited me to try it: For one week, write down every single judgment I make. She noted that most would not be spoken aloud, but rather appear as an internal dialogue: “Ugh…I can’t believe she’s already in another relationship. She’s so needy.” “Did she really go to Lululemon again?”
I never did complete the assignment. Observing just one day’s worth of my opinions, it was clear to me that I had an issue and therefore an opportunity for understanding and growth.
Throughout the course of an average day, many things invite our judgment: the taste of food, weather conditions, traffic, the song playing on the radio, world news, not to mention the quality of our meditation practice, another teacher’s class sequence or a student’s response to a request. Nearly every moment, something or someone is inviting us to pass a judgment. Often without really thinking of why, we accept and render it. Frankly, this habit a huge waste of energy that has incredible potential to keep us emotionally and spiritually separate from all of those around us, friends and strangers alike.
In the years since that first exercise, I have observed several things that have helped me understand my own propensity to judge.
First, when I judge someone, I am seeing something of myself in them, either expressed or not-expressed.
We often judge others for expressing a behavior or quality that we also have, but haven’t accepted fully within ourselves yet. It’s very common to share some of the same characteristics we dislike in others. When we criticize someone’s lack of integrity for example, we would do well to take a deeper look at our own lives for where we may be lacking integrity.
This can be hard to digest at first: “No way! I am always on time. People who are consistently late are so disrespectful. I would never keep people waiting for me.” The behaviors don’t always mirror our own 100 percent, which is why you have to look deeper once you’ve been triggered. It may be true that you are always on time, but there may be other places in your life where you similarly don’t display respect to other people.
Perhaps you create and drive your family’s schedule without much input from them. Maybe you have a tendency to rush people in order to meet your “on-time” needs. Maybe you never answer certain people’s emails. This is part of a process of looking at and owning who you are. The gift here is acknowledging and accepting each part of your personality. It’s an exercise of true self-love and compassion. And, once you cultivate this for yourself, it’s easier to extend it to others.
Sometimes we judge others for expressing something we have yet to communicate. Jealousy is easily masked by judgment.
For example, you may find successful self-promoters annoying and wonder secretly if they are complete ego-maniacs. You know the ones––they post photos of themselves at opening galas, they were just published in elephant journal, they are teaching a retreat in Hawaii this Fall…oh….and join them for yoga class on the east side today at 5:30.
Yet, scratch beneath the surface of your annoyance, and you may find that inside is your soul calling for you to toot your own horn and live your own dreams. Look for the truth behind your reaction. Are you sharing yourself fully and authentically? Are you walking your path? Be courageous. Live big. Shine brightly. Here, beneath a rather ugly emotion is a valuable gift of freer self-expression. Let it be your inspiration.
Our judgments are like all aspects of our shadow side, just opportunities for refinement. Notice from where in your body judgments arise. They are often our mind’s strategy to avoid uncomfortable or unprocessed feelings so go further past that initial thought and see what you uncover. Pause before you react.
Becoming aware of what is underneath our judgments doesn’t mean that we will no longer have opinions or preferences. Truthfully, you may still find certain behaviors unpleasant. However, instead of creating separation between you and another person, you can interact from a place of compassion and understanding.
“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” ~Pema Chodron
Editor: Lindsay Friedman
Rhia Robinson teaches yoga and meditation in Houston, Texas at her studio, Yoga Collective. [email protected]