Probably safe to say that every mindfulness teacher emphasizes the non-judgmental quality of mindfulness practice. ”Be awake in the present moment; notice; do not judge; if you find yourself judging, do not judge the judging, just notice it.” I’ve probably said that or something similar thousands of times, to my students and to myself. It’s the heart and soul of mindfulness work.
But being non-judgmental does not mean that we suspend our capacity to make a judgment. What we are sacrificing is the personalization of the judgment that we felt inclined to make. There must be hundreds of moments every day in which I have to exercise judgment concerning the events unfolding before me. In those moments in which I must make a decision, I am called to be judicious, that is, to exercise wisdom concerning the best path to follow. If I personalize that event by making it about myself, then I cloud my judgment with my point of view about the other person. Let me give an example from my clinical practice. This example IS NOT about any particular client, but is a typical scenario that I encounter as a counselor.
A man comes to see me needing help in his marriage. His wife berates him about his habits, which he finds difficult to change. His habits are not life threatening, but they are not healthy either. When he thinks about his habits without taking his wife’s criticism into consideration, he realizes that he’d be better off exercising self-discipline around his lifestyle. But when he thinks about his habits AND his wife’s criticism, he becomes angry at his wife (judgmental, that is; she is WRONG! to be so critical of him, he thinks) and his personalization of the bad habit issue clouds his judgment. In therapy, my role is to gain his trust through empathy, authenticity, and my own non-judgmental attitude, and then begin the process of seeing his lifestyle habits AND his wife’s criticism with clarity. If I was seeing his wife concurrently we would work on her anger about her husband’s unhealthy habits, wondering if there was some other “stuff” behind all that anger. If I am somewhat successful as a therapist my client (the husband) would be able to exercise judgment concerning his bad habits once he has stopped being judgmental about his wife. I would also hope to be able to help his wife stop being judgmental about her husband, and instead see his bad habits as information about him, not evidence of anything concerning her character.
When I am mindful I am less inclined to judge the people I’m with and more inclined to exercise judgment. Being judicious allows me to make wise decisions, to be sagacious (a cool word if there every was one!). When I am not personalizing what is happening in this moment I see the events with clarity and the next right action becomes apparent. Though I can’t be in sitting meditation all day, what emerges from that sitting meditation is the mindset that accepts what is happening, makes no judgment about the person or persons involved, and then is free to exercise the best judgment about what comes next. One thing I can say about this mindset is that it makes life a lot simpler to navigate. God only knows how much stress life can bring to you on its own without me adding any drama by being critical and judgmental about the people in my life and the ones I meet along the way. I like the simple life!
So, let your mantra be “Judicious (Sagacious!) today, not judgmental.” And have a simple day!
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