“We get to do the things we judge”. That’s what a good friend of mine often says. And she’s right.
Take this blog for instance. Here I am blogging away about my journey of healing from chronic disease. I feel compelled to do it. I can’t explain what drives me but I write mostly for myself. It’s a bonus that others tell me it helps them. In many respects I’ve thrown caution to wind by exposing things about me that I’ve kept hidden for years. After all we need to be vulnerable to be authentic and this is a record of my authentic journey.
But I remember, a number of years ago now, a colleague of mine blogging while having, and recovering from, treatment for breast cancer. At the time I thought it was the worst possible thing she could be doing. After all, being a barrister working day and night in an adversarial environment means you do not, I repeat DO NOT, reveal your weaknesses or too much personal information. You might be judged for it and it will be remembered for a very long time. Barristers have large collective memories and love to gossip.
Yet, here I am. Blogging. Doing exactly what I judged her for doing. And loving it!
But this saying doesn’t relate just to things that we might yet do. I also find myself judging others for doing things that I myself have done in the past.
For instance, a month or so ago, a friend rang me. She was in a real mess. And if she couldn’t get the mess sorted out, she was going to have to give up something she really cared about. She was nearly hysterical. I tried to calm her down but in my head, all I could think about was how she’d brought this on herself, that her plans and designs had been so poorly executed. There was no way I was going help except to remind her to breathe. When we got off the phone, my head went on and on about it. I was deeply rattled by her chaos and the internal conversation about this being the consequence of her own actions continued for quite a few hours. I was agitated.
I rang another friend who always gives me sage advice. She reminded me of a spiritual principle that when we are disturbed, there is something wrong with us. I listened to that in disdain. Like that other saying, when you point a finger at someone, there are 3 pointing back at you. Hmmmph! Nothing wrong with me here.
But then I remembered that I’m willing to learn and I’m open to whatever the Universe has to show me at the moment. So I wrote out every little thing this friend had done that was annoying me. I left no stone unturned. This wasn’t easy because I like to think of myself as a spiritual person and struggle with the idea that spiritual people have ‘bad’ thoughts about others, even though they were rushing around in my head. But once I got into the flow, I managed to fill a page with her faults. As I saw them.
And then as I wrote out the thing she was going to have to give up, all my anger, my agitation, my judgment dissolved. My heart burst open with compassion for her as I recognized myself in her at that moment. Suddenly the paper was a mirror. She was the same as me.
Many years ago, when my life was messy and chaotic, I had lost the same thing that she was talking about giving up. It had happened because I was careless and irresponsible. I was selfish and inconsiderate and didn’t stop to see how my behavior affected others. That’s not what this friend was doing I have to add, but this was the source of my agitation towards her. Because I actually hadn’t forgiven myself. I hadn’t made peace with myself for that chapter in my life.
But immediately I recognized me in her and my heart opened, not only did I feel compassion for her, but I also felt compassion for the me of a time passed. Balm was immediately applied to that past hurt. And I was able to reach out to her and offer her truly meaningful assistance. Because it was a way of making amends. I was holding out help to the past me. It was a way of self forgiving, self loving and knowing that I had done all I could now to make it right.
So what she had done was shone a light on a part of remaining self-hatred. My judgment wasn’t about her. It was about my failure to make peace with myself. It showed me where I was not whole and healing is about making whole.
The Buddha said “He who loves himself, never harms another.” Given that in Buddhist teachings, harms can be committed by thought, word or deed, this must extend to judging others. That is, if I love myself completely and utterly, I will never judge another. Conversely, a key principle of A Course in Miracles is that if we attack another through our thoughts, words or actions, then because we are all one and the same, we are attacking ourselves. Therefore, if we love ourselves and do not wish to attack ourselves, then we must also refrain from attacking those around us.
But surely there is justifiable judgment? That’s the question I would be asking if I were reading this. Surely sometimes there is just plain bad behavior. We don’t have to accept it. And that’s right. But I don’t have to judge the individual for their behavior. If I can see why the behavior disturbs me, then hopefully I will have compassion for the person rather than judging or attacking them. After all, that’s what I would hope others would do for me. As Marianne Williamson says, sometimes the most loving thing to say is ‘No’. So I don’t have to accept unacceptable behavior. But I can set my boundaries in a loving and non-judgmental way. I can be kind.
Since this epiphany, I have been thinking about the times I judge others and what the underlying disturbances in me might be. Here are some of the things I’ve come up with:
- That I’m envious that someone is doing something that I’m too afraid to do myself. My story about the colleague with the blog is a good example. I was jealous that she was apparently unconcerned with what others thought of her. At the time, I was incredibly bound up in fear. But then something shifts or changes and I find myself doing that thing I had judged.
- That I have been like them. That I’ve behaved the same way, been in the same situations, and I am yet to forgive myself. In other words, what I judge in them is the same as what I judge in me.
- That I’m afraid. Full stop. Afraid that I could be just like that person. Afraid of letting someone into my sphere because they are different to me. I focus on the differences between us and fear those, judge them, rather than focus on our sameness. Differences separate us. Our similarities unify us as human beings.
So obviously fear plays a big role here. I believe that the antidote to fear is love (some say it’s faith in God, but if God is love, then it’s love). Self-love. Because when I love myself, when I understand that there is pure perfect love within me, unconditionally and eternally, I don’t need to separate myself from my fellows. I won’t fear our differences. I can focus on the fact that at the end of the day we are all human. We are the same. We all have our hopes and fears, our cravings, our dreams, our regrets, our attachments, our aversions. And deep down, we all have that place of love, even if it is completely obscured by our suffering.
Ultimately all judgment takes place in our own mind. We are the judge and the judged.
I have been reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Having considered accounts of near-death experiences and Tibetan teachings, Sogyal Rinpoche writes of the judgment scene experienced after passing over into death. “Ultimately all judgment takes place in our own mind. We are the judge and the judged.” Our mind will know only peace if we have been able to let go of judgment and completely forgive ourselves for not just the big stuff but also the little stuff. The things we wanted to do but were too afraid to do. The jobs we didn’t finish. And the way we treated others, including what we thought about them. We will ultimately have to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions. And I know that the person I judge the most ultimately is me.
I want to die well. I want to die, knowing that I did the best I could and knowing that I am love and I am loveable, especially to me. So since this episode, whenever I have felt judgment of another coming to the fore, I have subjected it to the same exercise as I did with my friend. What in me is disturbed? What am I afraid of? Once I can see that, I can focus on our similarities, our sameness, our humanity and be compassionate. Compassionate towards the person I am judging. And compassionate towards myself.
Be happy. Be well.
So be it.