by Marshall Bowden
We live in a judgmental culture that leads us to compare everything: richer/poorer, thinner/fatter, prettier/less pretty, smarter/not-so-smart. That tends to make us very restless and less satisfied with our lives, because even though we judge ourselves to be above others on certain scales of comparison, we inevitably find that we must judge ourselves to be below others on other scales. So our happiness often seems to hinge on things that are beyond our control and changing all the time.
Our constant judgment parade puts every experience into one of three categories: positive, negative, or neutral. But what we fail to realize is that the positivity, negativity, or neutrality comes, not from the experience, but from us. In addition, since we have no control over what will happen right now or ten minutes from now in our lives, we do have the ability to observe events as well as our reactions to them without our emotions to carry us away.
And that’s a recipe for suffering. Just ask the Buddha or any yogi you may encounter in your travels.
This attitude of equanimity is central to both yoga and Buddhism. In the Bahagvad-Gita, Krishna tells Arunja: “Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure. This equanimity is yoga.”
When we don’t let go of constant judging and fail to live with an attitude of equanimity towards life’s constant challenges, we get lost.
How can we live and appreciate our life when we are constantly judging ourselves and others, and labeling each event as positive or negative? How can we enjoy life when we are lost in keeping score?
The answer is that we can’t. Instead, we keep our lives on constant hold, waiting for the series of events that will make everything blissful: the right job, the right mate, the right balance between work and family life. But when we reach one goal, we are already setting up the next thing we need to be satisfied.
Thich Nhat Hahn describes this all-too-familiar way of living our lives: “We wait for the magical moment—sometime in the future—when everything will be as we want it to be.” Even if that magical moment comes to us—and for most of us it will, many times during our lives—it will not last. It will be impermanent and as a result, we may not even notice or take joy in the brief period of perfection in our lives.
The truth is that our lives are always already perfect. They are perfect reflections of where we need to be at that moment in time, of the people we need to be with and the lessons we need to learn. The catch is that things are not necessarily as we want them to be.
What’s the best way to keep from getting sidetracked by judgement?
Try to attend to the present moment, whatever experience that is. If you are tired, be tired. If you are angry, be angry. If you are hungry, be hungry. Experience whatever feeling or emotion or sensation you are having. And try not to judge. Try not to judge those who seem more ignorant than you, try not to judge those who seem lost or on the wrong path. Try not to judge your emotions, your experiences, your asana practice, your meditation, your work, your home, your cooking, yourself.
You will, often, fail miserably. But the mere awareness that you are now judging someone else or yourself or an experience as good or bad will increase your level of equanimity. Just keep doing your best.