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How a Non-Judgmental Mind Transforms Us

Melli O'Brien






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How a Non-Judgmental Mind Transforms Us

Learning to be less judgemental means we are more present, compassionate and happy. It reconnects us to each other, ourselves and life.

When you first start to meditate,

the first thing you discover, if

you haven't already, is the fact

that you have a voice in your head.

Not only do you have a voice in

the head, but it's a voice that

pretty much never stops talking.

It goes on and on incessantly,

from the moment you wake up to

the time when you go to sleep.

And for some of us, it won't even stop

then, doesn't let us get any sleep.

Now, this voice, very

often, isn't helpful.

It commentates on our lives all day long.

It speculates.

It likes and dislikes.

It makes judgements about everything.

He is, she is, I am, life is.

It labels things.

It complains.

It compares us to everybody else.

It worries and plans for the future and it

constantly replays and regrets the past.

It makes up stories about our

lives, which often, don't actually

represent our reality at all.

It does all of this

quickly and automatically.

So judgments about all that we

encounter can quickly become

habitual and even automatic.

Often, we're not even aware we're

doing it, but this unyielding flow of

judgmental thoughts makes it difficult

to find any peace within ourselves.

The great majority of these stories

and judgments that the mind makes up

are what I would call snap judgements.

In other words, they're a quick reflexive

assessment of reality of what's happening.

And therefore many of them

are incomplete and inaccurate.

Some of them are quite unconstructive.

And many of them can generate negativity,

stress, and deeper forms of suffering.

In fact, the Buddha once said that our

own worst enemy could never harm us

as much as our own unwise thoughts.

And this feels really true

when you look at the suffering

our thoughts can cause us.

Imagine this scenario.

You're lying in bed one morning.

You wake up/ you open your eyes

and you look out the window.

And what you see is that it's raining.

And then a voice comes into the

head, a quick snap judgment that

says, Oh, what a dreadful day.

Now, is it true that the day is dreadful?

Of course not.

It just happens to be raining.

That's the reality of what's happening.

But if the mind comes in and says that

it's a dreadful day, and you believe it.

And guess what you're going to have?

That's right.

You're going to have a dreadful day.

So in other words, a thought like

that, if you believe it, if you

buy into it, creates negativity.

So if you haven't recognized the

difference between a thought and just

a snap judgment and what reality is

when you buy into the thought and

you suffer, you play out the thought.

So too often, we let our thinking and

our beliefs about what we know prevent

us from seeing things as they really are.

We fill up our minds with preconceived

notions, biases, opinions, and judgments.

And when our minds are full like

that, we can no longer taking

any new wisdom or understanding.

When we think we already know

everything, we hamper our ability to

see clearly and to grow and to learn.

We can so easily view people, events

and the world around us through a

veil of preconceived snap judgements.

Maybe you have an opinion about

somebody for instance, and you put

them in a box, as the saying goes.

She's a hippie, he's arrogant,

she smart, he's weird.

But here's the thing, if we hold on to

those mental labels about people thinking

that we know someone, you know what

happens, you really never meet them again.

So if you pay attention to the thoughts

that dart into and out of your mind

all day, you might be surprised at

just how often you pass judgment about

things, events, people, and yourself.

What mindfulness involves is

becoming aware, becoming aware of

the mind's habit of judging and

unhooking from those thoughts.

In this way, we learn not to take

our thoughts so seriously, and to

see them as simply mental events.

And we discover through this process,

what I would call a liberating

insight that our thoughts, they're

just thoughts and not reality.

And with this insight, thoughts

lose their hold over us.

By responding non-judgmentally to the

events and experiences of our lives, we

cultivate the capacity to be non-reactive.

We're more able to stay grounded

in peace, wisdom, and presence,

no matter what life throws at us.

By observing things and people through

the lens of non-judgment, we see them

with fresh eyes, as the saying goes.

Rather than making assumptions

about them, it reconnects us

with our innermost selves.

And we begin to see really

clearly reality just as it is.

A rainy day isn't a dreadful day.

It's just a rainy day.

Reality is what's left when

all of your judgements and

assumptions have been laid aside.

So why do our minds do

all this judging anyway?

And why does it jump so quickly

to conclusions about what's

happening around us all the time?

Why does it resort to these snap

judgements and start attaching what are

often unhelpful stories to our experience?

Well, as with many other unhelpful things

that the mind inadvertently does, it's

only trying to keep you alive and safe.

Your mind is evolved to

protect and serve you.

So think about your mind

as a survival machine.

To keep you alive, your mind

takes in masses of sensory

data in any given moment.

And it has to filter all of that sensory

data to figure out what's most relevant.

To do this, the mind, the mind's filter,

if you can think of the mind is having

a filter, it filters all your sense

perceptions through two basic questions.

The two basic questions are, What

does it mean?, or what is it?

and, what do I do?

So your mind wants to understand

exactly what's happening in your

environment by asking what does it mean?

What is it?

Your mind wants to make anything

unknown, concrete and understood

as quickly as possible so that it

knows whether or not you're safe.

And then it wants you to react

as quickly as possible to what

you're seeing, feeling and hearing.

So when it asks, what do I do, it's

assessing whether you need to run, fight,

hide, or whether you're okay and safe.

When your mind is making meanings,

judgments, and stories about all the

things around you, what they mean and

what you should do, it needs to do this at

lightning speed, as quickly as possible.

So when it comes to making these

stories, these snap judgements,

it's important to know that speed

beats accuracy, every single time.

That's why the judgements are best

described as snap judgements because.

They are fast, but not

necessarily accurate.

After all, a delayed response in the

hundreds of thousands of years that

have gone by, that could have meant the

difference between life and death for

some of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

If a Wolf was in the woods,

you need to act fast.

However, we don't know have

wolves on our tails these days.

It's not very likely.

In this world today, we're

often very, very safe.

Instead, what we tend to react to is, is

try imagining more like this scenario.

You're in a car park and you've

got your bags of groceries.

You're heading towards your car.

And as you step out into a laneway between

the cars, another car rushes past really,

really quickly, and it almost hits you.

It could have knocked you over, but you

were, even though you remain unscathed,

your body's flooded with adrenaline

and you nearly got hit by that car.

You're having a moment of slight distress.

So your mind takes a very quick snapshot

of what's going on, scrambling to make

meaning out of what's just happened in it.

It might just in a

millisecond notice two things.

The car that nearly hit

you is sleek and shiny.

It's a convertible.

And it also notices there's a woman.

You can see her reflection in the

review mirror of the car, and you

can see that she's got designer

sunglasses on and salon perfect hair.

Immediately the mind takes these

two bits of data and reacts

with the thought, rich bitch.

Now often when I tell this story in

my retreats, I'll use this example,

people laugh and I say, I know you're

laughing, but isn't this what minds do?

This snap judgment is quite typical

of how instinctive our minds are.

They just blurt out a snap judgment.

Now the trouble here is this.

If you believe that thought, that snap

judgment and allow it to truly influence

your thoughts and behavior, then maybe

if you believe that thought rich bitch,

you might, if she got out of the car, you

would treat her very, very differently.

And maybe if you see even other

people with designer sunglasses

or sleek, stylish cars, you might

feel animosity towards them.

And when this happens, when we

believe in a snap judgment like

that, we treat people differently.

We see reality differently.

We no longer see the human being behind

the sunglasses or the car they drive.

These snap judgements, have

the capacity to color our world

experience out, the way we view

the world and skew our perceptions.

But we can untangle ourselves through

the power of mindfulness and kindness, by

adopting what's called a beginner's mind.

A great way to unhook ourselves

from judgmental, these judgemental

tendencies of the human mind is

to cultivate this beginner's mind.

A beginner's mind is simply a

mind that suspends judgment.

A beginner's mind is open and receptive.

It's willing to experience everything

as if it was for the first time.

It doesn't condemn or assume

it already knows better.

The beginner's mind experiences, life

with a really open mind, free of any

expectations of what it should be.

This way of being reconnects us with a

fresh way of seeing and experiencing.

It unlocks our ability to be truly

present for the precious moments of

our lives and the people we love.

The next time you find yourself wanting

to judge what somebody is telling

you, and this is one of the places

where we can get really into judgment.

Instead of being judgmental or, you know,

letting that inner critic kind of come

to work, see if you can listen really

carefully when someone is talking to you.

And if you find something challenging,

if you find yourself judging,

you might like to say to yourself

mentally, Hmm, isn't this interesting.

This will open your mind to the

opportunity to learn something new or

hear something new, and you may surprise

yourself with the things you discover.

This is where your beginner's mind

could really begin to help you let go

of your snap, judgments about people,

places, and events in your life.

When you meet reality, moment, by

moment, you put aside your attachment

to these judgemental views and adopt

the openness of the beginner's mind.

Kindness is another aspect

of the beginner's mind.

In the beginner's mind, there's

an, a warmth and an openness to

experience, a befriending, you

could say, of life in each moment.

And this kindness, by the way, just

doesn't just apply to how we see others.

In fact, we often save the

harshest criticisms for ourselves.

That voice in the head, for many people,

often has plenty to say about how much

more we need to do in life to be enough.

It often berates us with

thoughts like you can't do this.

You're an idiot.

Who do you think you are?

It's quite willing to play these negative

criticisms to ourselves, in a misguided,

although well-intentioned effort, to

help us thrive and survive in life.

In mindfulness training, we learn

to adopt the kindness, the calm and

the openness of the beginner's mind

and observe these mental judgments

that cause suffering and stress.

We meet them with kindness and

understanding, knowing that the mind is

just doing what it was evolved to do.

And we untangled from them.

We let them go.

We realize they're not so serious.

In training in this way,

we become better and better

equipped to be kind to ourselves.

We become better and better then

also to offer genuine kindness,

friendship, and love to others.

If we can be less harsh, impatient,

and judgemental with ourselves,

we'll naturally be more kind,

patient and non-judgmental with

others and with life in general.

And we can become islands of sanity

and peace in a frantic world.

In this way, a non-judgmental mind

connects and transforms us all.

Now, like anything in life, cultivating

a kind and compassionate and calm

mind takes a little bit of practice.

And meditation is a really

great way to take the next steps

towards cultivating a kinder, more

compassionate, more authentic mind,

and a more wholehearted love of life.

After all, in the words of His

Holiness, the Dalai Lama, "What is love?

Love is the absence of judgment."

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