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Leaving Judgement Behind

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. 

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10 comments to Leaving Judgement Behind

  • Recently I experienced a situation of judgment that is still with me. Another instructor was covering my regular yoga class + at that moment I perceived it as the worst thing ever. She played music that was not relaxing, used a mic + was not at all calming, it was a yoga-lates class and that was not what I showed up for! (the phrase “and pump it” should not be in a yoga class!). Afterwards I was gracious and thanked her for subbing for our regular teacher, but inside I was thinking- how dare you come in here with your Josh Grobin CD and create tension within me when I come here for relaxation! It’s not her fault. She did not do this to me, I created this tension. I should have been happy that the class was not canceled + accepted that this was the yoga class I was taking at that moment.

    • Shona, I’m sorry it took so long to respond! I’m glad this post hit home for you. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how we can change our own experiences so entirely?

      I found myself in a class like this recently, where when I switched my mind and just remained in the moment. And… gasp… I actually had a little fun and learned something. Probably wouldn’t do it in the future, sure, but I certainly had a positive experience when I gave it a chance.

  • ceridwen

    A concept I struggle with personally. I was brought up by very judgemental parents (both of me and others). So – I’m striving to find the right balance. I must be able to see the objective facts about a person/situation (as otherwise its impossible to deal with them/it appropriately). I have, in the past, gone to the opposite extreme and made very naive assessments of people that have resulted in me thinking they were nicer people than they actually were and, as a consequence, assuming they would treat others (including me) better than they actually would in the event. So – I dont want to make the mistake of assuming, at the outset, that everyone is a nice person and will always act fairly – because that plain just isnt true and I’ve “come a cropper” with doing that sometimes before now. On the other hand – one mustn’t “judge” people harshly just for being different to oneself (if what that “different” is is just a matter of taste or something – rather than them being “wrong” in some way).

    It takes discernment to learn how to tell when either someone else (or myself for that matter) is just being “different” or when they are being “wrong” (ie doing something thats immoral).

    This is clearly something where its going to be difficult for a lot of us to find the “balance point” between “judging” some people as being nicer/more “moral” than they actually are on the one hand and “judging” them just for being different to what we expected on the other hand.

    • ceridwen, it’s a good point that hasty judgements can work both ways – not just negatively. It is, as you say, all about finding the balance. I will likely go too far in not judging people this year, only to find the balance next year. :)

  • Ozquonk

    Melinda, I found this difficult. From my perspective, in your recount of the massage, you identified something you want for yourself, to “leave judgement behind” – a lovely idea – and then proceeded to simply overlay your original judgement with another one that you found more pleasant: “a pretty good massage from a very nice woman”. This is not leaving judgement behind – at worst it is thinking that you can simply abandon the judgement you already have by imagining a new one. This is still judgement. I firmly believe that the making of judgements is a normal psychological process and cannot be abandoned, even though the judgements themselves may change.

    Fighting your spontaneous impulse to judge will, I believe, be fruitless. The better option is to watch your thoughts carefully, acknowledge as many of your judgements as you can, and learn as much as you can from them. By carefully watching yourself as if you were another person, some unconscious elements of who you are may become conscious. This is real progress.

    • Hi Ozquonk, Thanks for your honest comment. You had me thinking through my notion of judgement.

      Here’s what I believe judgement to be: an opinion stated as fact, often used negatively as a snap judgement – so the first thought, the first reaction, before having time to fully evaluate. There is also something finalizing about a judgement.

      What I have become aware of in my own mind is that I can be very quick to judge a person or a situation, and that colors my entire experience of it. I don’t allow myself to first fully experience the situation – and then to make an evaluation if necessary… or, ideally, to simply let it be what it is, as it is.

      The reason I couple judgement with compassion is because compassion helps me see the other sides of an experience. The woman, the room, the situation, and even my own needs. All these things together can create an experience.

      But I fear it was just my writing that threw you, not my intent. When I re-read that sentence, I do see your point and I could have written it better! But, essentially my second take was one that combined all the elements of the situation together to form an experience. My experience was no longer based on my initial hasty judgement, it was based on the entirety of the experience – and yes, focusing on the positive because it was, overall, a very positive experience. And one that I am glad I allowed myself to enjoy.

      So far this subtle change in my perception has had incredible changes in my experiences. I am more likely to smile, to nurture, to be nurtured, to make informed decisions, to breathe easier, to take in the entirety of my experience…. and much more. Surprisingly, I’ve also found I advocate for myself more – for example if I were in that massage today, I might have asked her if she would focus on a different element of my body or go a little deeper.

      Does that help elucidate what I’m thinking?

  • Ozquonk

    Firstly, I’m grateful that you put up my post, and even more grateful that you invited my response! I’ve simply offered a view, and you are free to disagree.

    So, here’s my response: I don’t believe that your writing was at fault. (I ask you to read this next bit slowly and carefully …) You illustrated the desire to avoid having negative judgements of others. Why? I would say because you judge yourself badly for having negative judgements of others. If you simply didn’t have those judgements, you’d feel a whole lot better about yourself, because you weren’t being judgemental. The irony is that that is just another judgement: ‘I judge judgemental people to be bad, so I had better not be one’ etc. And so begins the psychological trickery that many of us use to get around these facts about ourselves – me included.

    I also don’t believe that you can fully experience something before making any judgement. I would say that you cannot control when a judgement will be formed, but you can make choices about how you react to those judgements; and you might decide to persist with something, despite initial judgements that would more naturally make you want to stop. In other words, make your thoughts control your actions, and not your judgements. Thinking and judging are two natural psychological functions.

    My thesis is that having judgements about anything or anyone is not only natural, it actually helps you make choices and guide you through life. They help you! And, in hindsight, we can all see that the choices we made were not always the best – but they were true at the time we made them. Not true about those people or things, but true as a judgement we made. And we can all be compassionate with our judgemental selves!

    Judgements are often spontaneous and immediate, but not always consciously so. And they can change, as you know – ‘I used to think that Joe was miserly, but now I see him as deliberately frugal with the Earth’s resources.’

    People often say, ‘don’t be judgemental’ when they might more realistically mean, don’t communicate, express or act on your judgements. But you cannot simply stop the judgements by wishing that they weren’t there. What that does is cover them up with other judgements that you like better, or distract you away from them. The opposite approach is to seek them out within your psyche, watch out for them, and notice the patterns that you/I/we have etc.

    Where I agree with you is the reaction you had to catching yourself making a hasty negative judgement, and I will speculate to some degree here. You saw that you had a pattern of quickly dismissing certain people (eg. this masseur) and noticed that if you gave them more compassionate attention, that initial judgement might change, and you might more comfortably include them. Good. I have certainly done that. In my case, I have met people whom I dismissed as not able to teach me anything I would value, and then found that I was wrong, and that they have taught me something valuable, quite unexpectedly. Conversely, I have found my initial negative judgement of a person to have been vindicated as more of what I didn’t like became visible. And at the time I formed my initial judgement I didn’t know what would follow, or how my judgement might change.

    I interpreted your last statement to mean that, on judging the massage to be not what you wanted, you could have guided her to make it suit you better. Perfectly good! What that would have done is not so much ‘leave that judgement behind’ as respond to the judgement to improve your experience. When you get lemons, make lemonade, so to speak.

    I thank you for your willingness to hear my view.


  • Melinda, I think that was a beautiful post. It has really inspired me in handling a situation at work, one in which I have very little control but by responding with compassion instead of judgment, I can still make it easier to deal with. Non-judgment/compassion is not the same as blind acceptance, or not making choices. It’s hard to explain the difference but I think, from reading your post, you might understand what I mean.

  • This post is loaded, for me… I am a 32 year old father of a 3 (in may) year old son. I have my own chips -that I wear like shoulder pads- that I carry with me and am not really trying to deal with them. I am more worried about my son and his development. I love him and I love people. I also have a fast temper and a booming voice and while not physically violent, a loud voice and almost any comment is like shooting someone with a non-lethal gun. And while I am worried about that, I am just as concerned about positively encouraging him in a way that he sublimates so that you can manipulate him with flattery or false encouragement (watch American Idol if you need examples of the latter kind of person).

    …..And so, your experience and attempt to deal with it, in this post or share that experience or capitalize on it, has actually helped me to advance my own thought process. Judgment vs. Compassion… it’s abstract and debatable but thought provoking. Personally, I feel like trying to deal with your past to some point or at some point becomes spending too much of the present dealing with the past. For that reason, you have to just let go of shit, stop airing your dirty laundry, accept who you are, love the people around you, and try to be good. It sounds too me like you are going out of your way to get to those places -which i think is good. I can change, and I can influence people around me with energy but doing common tedious tasks or by having a positive attitude or just listening. I cannot make people change. Only by being good and trying hard and having more energy, or just moving. *just paused to clean house for wife to put money where mouth is. Try to be happy, not to look down on people for being selfish and only caring about their own little bubble. That’s the best advice I can give myself.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • I haven’t visited this site for a while and I know that it’s not accident that I showed up today. This is exactly what I needed to read. I love that you were self-aware enough to know what you were doing in each case and the labyrinth meditation sounds like a very powerful one. I’m going to try it!

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