Healing the Habit of Negative JudgementBy
I’ve been working with several private clients – some with eating disorders, some dealing with stress or irritability, and some who have physical discomforts that they need to work with.
Often, in my private sessions & classes, there will be a “theme” that emerges – something that everyone seems to be working with (and/or it’s what is becoming more obvious to me) and that always allows me to create new strategies and try them out in multiple settings.
The “theme” that has been blaring with several people I work with is that of judgment – especially self-judgment (and, of course, I’m implying that is it negative self-judgment.) I will write in another entry more specifically about self-judgment, and for now, I will address the issue of judging our experience in any way.
In my correspondences with my clients, I will often write, in any email, about the strategies I presented in our sessions, and what follows is one such communication:
In my opinion, the central or key “strategy” for releasing the unpleasant emotions (& thoughts) that keep arising is to suspend or let go of judgment regarding whatever arises. Judgment acts as a form of “tension” or “friction” and makes it all feel “not good.” In fact, I often say that judgment in the mind is tension in the body. It’s a way of holding ourselves away from whatever we deem bad in our sensory experience – or of tightening around it – and that never feels good in the body.
We’re often not aware we are judging our experience – but when it’s unpleasant it’s really hard not to, so some effort does need to be applied to see it in a different light (to allow the natural process or digestion to take place without disrupting our normal activities and obligations.)
And I used the word “digestion” rather literally, i.e. when you stop tensing around or away from your sensory experience, it naturally flows and that is the digestion process that needs to take place – i.e. nutrition (insight/wisdom) is extracted and waste (judgment, unhealthy or distorted emotional reaction) is discarded. And then we can move on with what we want to do in the world.
We are told as children not to go into the water right after eating because we need the time to digest. And, yes, I’m saying that we need to allow this digestion of our thought-feeling responses to happen before we can “go into the water” of our daily activities, tasks & obligations with clarity, ease and creativity.
In our session, I outlined several ways of doing this, of letting go of judgment and allowing the thoughts & feelings to “digest” or flow on through:
1. Balance the mind’s natural inclination to notice negative with deliberately focusing on pleasant or positive – so that you actually engage the brains sensors to “rewrite” previous judgments. For some, I suggest noticing pleasant or positive in any moment – i.e. that red is a pretty color, or my dog is so adorable – but ALSO to literally say the words or positive commentary to yourself in your head. That helps re-write the (possibly subtle or unconscious) verbal or pre-verbal judgment – and this usually creates immediate ease in the “circuitry.”
2. Do things that are kind and even indulgent as a form of nurturing – to make you feel taken care of – by actually taking care of yourself – with love. This may mean curling up in a big soft fluffy blanket and watching a movie or a warm candle-lit bath or crying or just petting your dog. Maybe it will mean not scheduling things too tightly to give yourself a bit of space between tasks or appointments, maybe it will mean scheduling more social time in your week. What is pleasant and/or nurturing for you will be different than for someone else – and will also change for you from day to day – and throughout the day – i.e. what feels nurturing when you wake up will most likely differ from what feels nurturing at 3pm. Explore how to create ease and a nurturing, self-care experience during your day.
3. Adopt a “merging” practice with some familiar, loving and wise “spirit essence or guide” (of a spiritual icon or diety, of someone living, dead or a fantasy) of whom you would ideally like to ask advice or know how they would handle things – and then “wear” or “merge” with them (or, for me, I am enveloped within this larger entity/energy.) And then, just try looking around at the world through their eyes – maybe look at a problem or task from this “borrowed” perspective. This can actually be a very powerful practice. I noticed that Jack Kornfield did a version of this at his public talk recently here in Santa Monica – and I think it was the most impactful part of his presentation.
4. And, of course, by no means the last choice here, is the power of the mindfulness practice – especially the way that Shinzen Young breaks down sensory experience into “See, Hear, Feel” – where you can tune into each arising as an activity that’s happening with fascination and/or acceptance – not being concerned with content. In fact, the process of just attending to the visual impression (letting the auditory and emotional sensation components be in the background) and seeing it as simply colors & shapes (that may be moving, changing) can automatically create the detachment from meaning which is where judgment lives.
In the meantime, KINDNESS is key. If you’re feeling like you HAVE TO relax around something and do it in a grumbling attitude, it kind of defeats the purpose – so if you can find FASCINATION or KINDNESS – that lubricates the whole thing and basically creates an environment where this process of digestion (with ease) can happen naturally.
Any one of these strategies should create some ease, and I suggest you go to whichever one feels interesting, good or easy to do at any given time.
And/or just understanding that whatever arises is a form of processing – and not necessarily connected to external events (although external events may trigger them) – that alone can help all of this naturally occur.
So we are using our awareness skillfully to tune into our experience with acceptance and kindness and even some strategic visualization or deliberate focus on positive or pleasant, to help balance our system – activating the parasympathetic nervous system, developing new neuropathways – and allowing the natural process of digestion of the stuff that stress is made of (i.e. congealed thoughts and feelings – and yes, lots of unnecessary and unkind judgment) to flow on through leaving us wiser and more at ease with ourselves and our experience.