I was at a beautiful vineyard hotel overlooking the Columbia River Gorge for a weekend retreat. There, midway through a hot stone massage session, I found myself thinking, “boy, she’s not the greatest massage therapist.” And internally I gasped.
Here I am splurging for myself on my 40th birthday, so that I can get some much needed R&R… and I’m not even letting myself enjoy it. I’m judging it. I’m wondering if I should have picked a different massage. I’m thinking over and over about my disappointment in myself, the massage therapist, and the situation.
And then I looked around. The place was beautiful, candles were lit all around me, there was a faint scent of clay and aroma therapy oils. I was about to have an amazing dinner with an amazing husband in a beautiful little winery with a fabulous view.
I’ve worked very hard over the last 3 years just to make ends meet. Finally my hard work was beginning to pay off – socially, enivornmentally and economically. At long last I was able to reward myself and recharge.
And, well it’s high time to reward myself and recharge!
So I stopped my thoughts and repeated a few times in my head, “Just be… without judgement.” After which I proceeded to just be, where I was right then, receiving a pretty good massage from a very nice woman.
And I relaxed. I enjoyed the moment for the good things it had to offer. I accepted the massage she was offering me and allowed it to heal me in whatever way it could.
Leaving Judgement Behind
When I was in the Arizona desert this winter, I found myself standing between a horse and a world reknowned psychotherapist. I was judging this man’s cowboy boots and hat, his aloof mannner, his psychotherapy jargon, his way of trying to get under my skin. And then I realized he had – he was under my skin, digging up details I needed to surface, uncovering things about myself that I needed to face. He was, in fact, quite brilliant.
I falsely judged a good man. The guilt I felt afterwards was shocking.
An hour later I walked a labyrinth as a meditation practice. This particular practice involved picking a rock from outside the labyrinth, mentally attaching to it something you were ready to leave behind, walking the labyrinth in meditation, leaving that rock in center, and mentally bringing something out in its place.
It’s a very simple but very powerful practice. I didn’t know what I wanted to take back in its place, but I knew I wanted to leave judgement behind. As I meditated around the labyrinth, it came to me so very clearly: I wanted to replace judgement with compassion.
Judgement’s counterpart for me is compassion. In the case above, this means compassion for the cowboy therapist who was trying desperately to relate to me – a city girl with a chip on her shoulder – so that he could help me, and do his job well.
And compassion for myself. Self-compassion. Because I could really use this man’s help to get to the next stage in my own awareness and happiness. Because as much as I devote my life and work to helping others, I need to make sure I’m healthy as well – I need to nourish myself so that I can nourish others.
It isn’t easy to give up judgement. I can probably never completely get rid of it, nor would I want to. But I can get much closer, I can be much healthier in my relationship with people and with the present moment.
And it takes time because you have to retrain yourself.
I read recently that you judge yourself the way you were judged by others when you were young. It’s just how you learn.
So maybe you were never quite good enough, never made the right decisions, were always in danger of getting fat… Maybe this will help you as it has helped me: think for a moment about how you were judged when growing up, ask yourself whether or not it might still be the way you judge yourself today.
I believe we also develop early habits of judging others as well, and they’re often very similar to how we judge ourselves. That other person isn’t good enough at what they do, they don’t make the right decisions, they are in danger of getting fat,… whatever it is for you, see if you judge others that way also.
I’ve found that the key to beginning to change is to be present in the moment, so that I can observe my thoughts and actions – plus learn and grow from what is happening now. This requires presence without judgement, of course (you can’t fight judgment with judgement!) – and presence with compassion.
My personal mantra has changed for me a bit since my 40th birthday. It is now, proudly:
Just be present… with compassion.