Awareness of our thoughts often leads to awareness of the multiple judgements we make from waking to sleeping, the liking, disliking and not bothered, and how they motivate even dictate our actions.
Sometimes people express concern that the practice of ‘non-judgement’, central to mindfulness, might result in the loss of valuable critical faculties.
As a social species we need to make judgments to help avoid enemies, form alliances and find suitable mates; flawed judgment can have serious consequences. 1
And yet not all forms of judgement are equal.
As we become more aware of our habitual thought patterns, many of us, myself included, may recognise the presence of a critical voice on regular replay. It might be self-criticism ‘I’m not good enough’ (a personal favourite), ‘I’ve messed up again’, ‘I shouldn’t . . .’, ‘I always . . .’, ‘I never . . .’ You may discover your own loop.
This critical ‘friend’ may also pass judgment on others, in which case simply substitute ‘I’ with ‘you’.
‘Judgement’ is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as:
1. The ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions
1.1 An opinion or conclusion
1.2 A decision of a law court or judge
2. A misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment
You’ve had a meeting and haven’t achieved what was expected or worse. Your critical friend may well pass judgement, on the situation, on you, on colleagues. On the receiving end, it might feel like 1.2 the decision of a law court or judge or even 2. a failure you ‘deserved’.
Mindfulness enables greater clarity of vision. In this case it can empower us to recognise the inner critic and see it for what it is 1.1 an opinion or conclusion. It is a pattern of thought. A powerful pattern, but no more than that. Not real. Not the truth. Not me.
How is it to recognise criticism of ourselves or others in that way? No need to find evidence to disprove it or back it up? No need to fight it for being so harsh?
Jack Kornfield invites us to acknowledge it “Oh yes, the judging mind” or perhaps “Thank you for your opinion.”2 How about saying it with a smile?
One of my favourite books is still Winnie-the-Pooh. In Chapter Two, ‘Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place’, Pooh visits Rabbit and eats too much so when he tries to leave he gets stuck in the entrance. Christopher Robin is fetched and on seeing Pooh he says:
“Silly old Bear,” in such a loving voice that everybody felt quite hopeful again.
How might it be to bring that compassionate recognition to ourselves and our thoughts, especially when we’re in a tight place?