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Living with your heart open

Our mind is constantly busy judging wrong from right, bad from good, weak from strong, safe from dangerous and so on…. We can’t help the workings of our brain; it is called the default mode or negative thinking bias.  It is part of our survival mechanisms; thousands of years ago, we thrived because we were continually looking out for what could be threatening. It leads to our survival, but today it does not help us to be happy. We can calm our mind and open our heart, when we decide to judge less, but rather, to accept what is and seek to appreciate.

Most of us are afflicted by the heavy burden of judging.  Can we change our brain?  Through mindfulness practices, we can observe and re-shape the automatic thinking patterns.    Using self-compassionate awareness, we can begin to judge ourselves and others less, so we are more able to see the good that is in our self and in others.  This is a practice that we can adopt for the rest of our life which will assist us in developing deeply satisfying relationships for a happier life.

Even when we decide not to judge, we will still hear the judgments, assumptions and criticisms in our head; our brain can’t stop negative judgments straight away.  It is a matter of noticing those judgments, in those moments, while not justifying them,  but rather bringing kindness, or focusing on something else or seeking to understand or re-framing or seeing the positives.

You may argue that we need to judge, after all, it has served us well for thousands of years. But there is a difference between judgment and discernment. Discernment is seeing what is, rising above emotional judgments to come to a viable conclusion.   

Judgments are when we are comparing how people or things are and how we think they “should” be.  In the negative judgments, there is criticism, dislike, dissatisfaction with the way it is and what we want it to be. Judgment is fed by a desire for something to be different than the way it is.  Often, when we are judging, we are using unhelpful mind traps; such as generalizing, personalizing, black and white thinking, catastrophizing, exaggerating and so on.

We will have negative views on things, our brain is wired that way, but instead of automatically, justifying the judgment, we can re-think again, asking ourselves: what is causing this person to behave this way? Did I ever do that myself? What is the good intention in this person?  Everyone has stories of pain and joy, of struggles and ease, of success and failures.  I can choose to see how this other person is just like me!

The more we judge, the more we suffer, the more we resent.  The less we judge, the more we accept and find peace with the way things are.  And when we accept, we free our mind so we can be discerning and make better decisions.

Judging less does not mean that we have to accept abuse or dangerous situations.  It means that we can discern more and still avoid unpleasant encounters, but we are not doing it out of hate or fear but from the desire to care for yourself, to be safe and free. In our relationships, we can be assertive, not abusive or passive. We can choose from a calm perspective if we want to be with a person or not.  We are not feeding our anger, disgust or feeling of vulnerability. We can let go of our opinions of how other people “should” be and instead appreciate who they are, for what they are.

This person that we judged to be rude on the train, maybe was very preoccupied with her own overwhelming personal drama (maybe she is in a lot of pain or she has recently lost a loved one) and did not probably mean to be rude.  Judging others does not correct the situation or ease suffering but only stir more anger in us.

Can we let people be the way they are without desiring for them to be otherwise? Can we open our heart to the way they are?  We are more than our mistaken actions. We are all human beings perfectly imperfect. We all share the human condition of feeling inadequate and defective at times. The world is big enough to allow all of our differences but also to appreciate our similarities.

When we are on auto-pilot, we automatically judge; we hardly know when we are doing it. But with mindfulness and self-compassion we can become aware of when we are judging, in that moment, we review our intention,  we bring kindness, so we can better love ourselves and others, making peace with our world. When we replace judgments with compassion we are making the world a better place.