Do you ever notice yourself in the act of being judgmental or unkind, either to another or to yourself? When your “spiritual” self becomes conscious of this, what goes on inside? Do you look away? Do you tell yourself that being judgmental is indicative of a deep inner failing? Do you feel some change is in order — that you need to be more vigilant, try harder to to be more compassionate?
Perhaps your ego-self insists that No, in this case the judgment is “justified.”
Make note of the energy involved when all of this is going on. Notice how in-your-head you are, how the thoughts generate uncomfortable emotions. Realize that the intensity of mental and emotional turmoil is an indication of a colossal waste of effort . . . of life. Gently set aside the intention to do better, be more vigilant. Nothing fundamental can ever change in that environment of trying (one more time) to fix yourself. It is not going to help you change — let alone become liberated from all illusion.
The only change that’s ever been needed is for you to see through the illusion that your mind-enslaved ego is what you are — that it can ever fundamentally change. Never mind awaken.
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Even so, whenever you become conscious of being hard on someone, whether it’s yourself or another, there is a real opportunity for something illuminating to occur, something ultimately freeing.
Awareness does not generate emotion. It is restful.
This isn’t a call for self-forgiveness, for straining to forgive another their imperfection. It’s about backing up and looking at the whole thing from a larger perspective, a point of view where forgiveness is not needed, where judgment and resistance do not occur. It’s what happens when you look at your messy interior with the eyes of awareness, rather than with the eyes of the ego, which is equipped to see only good and bad, only progress and backsliding.
While the ego is a knotted mess of swirling thought and emotion, awareness simply sees. It has no capacity for preference or resistance. It holds no orientation of wanting anything to be other than it is. It does not generate emotion, making it conspicuously different from egoic scrutinizing. Awareness is restful and still. It infuses the moment with light, which has the power to reveal things previously unseen. This generosity of consciousness is potentially transformative, in a way that trying-to-improve cannot ever hope to be.
The spaciousness of observing yourself from the perspective of conscious looking does not stir fear. When fear (or any other powerful emotion) is felt to come into the picture, be aware of this: Something in you is able to notice that fear is happening. What is that “noticer”? Realize that it is not experiencing the fear, only seeing it.
This is what you most truly are, this one that sees but does not get lost in what is happening.
Yes, this is possible for you. (It’s possible for everyone, part of our innate capacity as intelligent beings.) Though your spiritual persona — a product of the ego — may be so accustomed to looking at yourself (and others) with a scrutinizing eye, automatically judging whatever’s there to see, that this neutral looking is unfamiliar territory. When you try to “go there,” and you notice yourself judging, resisting, recoiling (all of which are thinking, not looking) — as soon as you see that these things are happening — realize that the one observing all of this is not caught up in it.
Rather than getting lost in the content of what’s being observed (the imperfection, the perceived need to do better, the situation that set it all in motion), pay attention, always, to what’s doing the seeing: is it the emotion-generating mind (the one that wants to avoid or fix), or is it neutral, peaceful awareness?
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You may have become trapped in the mistaken impression that attempting to rein in unkind thoughts will lead to real change. Not only is this approach doomed to failure, to frustration and/or mounting denial, but it will do nothing whatever to land you in compassion that’s authentic, kindness that’s unconditional, indiscriminate. Genuine openness to self and other has never blossomed from self-discipline, from the strain to quiet judgment, to reframe negative thoughts.
Being harsh or dismissive of someone is really on the surface of things. It’s a symptom, an expression, of something being held under pressure, something about yourself you’re reluctant to look at. The outward-directed focus on the wrong-doing is a protective device.
When the light of awareness is allowed to penetrate what’s underneath, what does it enable you to see?
When a person judges another, even as a given episode of judgment may appear to be justified, something deeper is driving the disdain or intolerance. Judgment carries a perceived benefit-to-self; otherwise it wouldn’t keep occurring. The “benefit” is that the focus on the other person’s perceived imperfection protects you from having to face yourself. See how a voice in you keeps insisting, “No, judgment is justified here.” Courage is required to look at this. (Did you think waking up was for the faint of heart?)
Making another person less than you can be a way to feel better about self. Perhaps it comes from a desperate desire to forge a sense of identity, to know what you stand for. Or it’s a way to hide from something about yourself, such as a “flaw” projected onto another that is just as true of you. Perhaps it happens because of a feeling of inadequacy or even self-loathing, a buried anger or fear. There can be many motivators. What would it be like to allow yourself to feel the fullness of it all — to become entirely transparent to spacious awareness?
Judging appears to be about the other person, but seen more deeply, the surface emotions and thoughts are always about the one doing the judging. It’s for each person to look within, to see what it’s deeply about, to see what’s there. (Don’t expect the ego to warm to this.)
If you’re self-aware enough to notice yourself scorning another, the discomfort you feel is likely (due to rigorous spiritual “training”) to be chalked up to the lack of compassion. But really, it’s a kind of echo of the underlying pain within that you’ve been hiding from. If you focus on feeling bad for being judgmental, you will continue to miss the deeper point. It will revisit you again and again until you’re willing to go there — to look without judgment on the fullness of what drives this particular way of keeping yourself separate from others. To see how very identified you are with the whole convoluted mess.
There is an enduring reluctance to acknowledge the common fragility of us all, to see we are all much more alike than different, each of us subject to our particular conditioning and doing the best we can, in light of the baggage that goes everywhere we go.
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How well I know the perverse exhilaration of righteous indignation. Once upon a time I was drawn to any opportunity to feel the heat of fury rise up, to express outrage over someone having been reckless, or showing disrespect to me or a loved one. On and on it went. I lived there for many years, never seeing the terrible fragility that underlay the desperate attempt to make myself better than another, to protect myself from chaos, from some unbearable truth — like my own limitations, like instability and uncertainty. Anything but simply allow myself to be in the presence of another’s flawed humanity, to see how really alike we all are.
Looking down my nose at another (which I mostly managed to conceal in polite society) helped me feel okay about my flawed self, about the uncertain flow of forces perennially beyond my control.
We all have our reasons for lying to ourselves about what’s deeply going on when we scorn or lash out at another.
At some point I would come to understand that if somebody appears reckless or inconsiderate or narrow-minded, that behavior is a surface expression of their own terrible fragility. We will do anything to rescue ourselves from seeing — and feeling — the underlying mess that drives our behavior and attitudes toward others.
Bringing it all into the light of consciousness is not about psychoanalyzing or the need to heal. It’s about simply seeing the fullness of what’s operating. It’s about allowing no part of yourself to be hidden, about ceasing all inner divisions. Radical surrender is what is asked for: allowing yourself to fully feel whatever is there, however painful it may be. Surrender has a way of turning on the light, of bringing release.
Until you begin to look more deeply at what gives rise to disdain and resistance, until there ceases to be division within yourself (avoiding feeling painful truths, judging yourself, one “part” of you doing battle with another), there will continue to be perceived distance from others. Such division within yourself, like any apparent difference from others (you being better or worse than someone else), reinforces the impression that you are your ego-self.
Until you cease to put distance from any part of yourself, or from others, peace will continue to elude you.
Learning to gently, unflinchingly look at what’s deeply going on — without judgment or resistance — leads the earnest seeker into luscious terrain. It makes you whole within yourself, flooding every uncomfortable truth in an equal light. Even when it’s painful, which it will surely sometimes be. The separation within yourself melts away, and (who could have imagined?) you no longer feel so different from others. Neither superior nor inferior. We’re all just people, after all, doing the best we can, given our conditioning. As someone once put it, we’re all bozos on the bus.
With this newfound understanding, born of a deep inner fathoming, how can compassion for self and for others not abound? The discovery is made that each of us has always been doing the fumbling best we could, under the circumstances, given our particular wounds and histories and limitations. What do you know? And along the way, as your ferocious clinging to right-and-wrong is able to soften, it becomes apparent that what you truly are is not that imperfect one: you are what is able to observe the whole thing, with utter equanimity.
The “you” that appears to need to improve will never awaken from the whole mess. It is incapable of it. So stop trying to fix it. Instead, learn to become more attuned to the intelligent consciousness that is able to observe it all happening: the imperfection, the desire and effort to make correction, the persistent identification with it all. This conscious awareness is innate to you. It is what you deeply are. It is awakeness itself.