A fundamental attitude of mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, is non-judging, which is an awareness of the tendency to be ruled by an inner critic. When we are running on automatic pilot, everything we encounter is filtered through our likes and dislikes – categorizing experiences along a continuum of good to bad, pleasant to unpleasant, desirable to undesirable. We can even find ourselves judging the tendency to judge.
Its a matter of survival that human beings make judgments and we have been strongly conditioned to do so. Our habitual response is to avoid or fight against things that we deem undesirable and to chase after or cling to things that we desire. One problem occurs when we are unaware of what is happening inside us and our reflexive responses create suffering for ourselves and others.
Another problem occurs when we develop too many preferences and annoyances. When this happens, the world seems inhabited by all our likes and dislikes and it becomes harder and harder to be content with what is. The truth is that no amount of adjustment of what is outside of us can bring ultimate happiness. Equanimity – a calm, balanced state of mind – is available to us regardless of our circumstances when we are ready to tap into it.
Cultivating a non-judging attitude requires a willingness to notice this habit of judging. Rather than trying to stop the judging, we can learn to become aware of it as it occurs so that we can make space to respond more skillfully. In meditation and in daily life, we practice observing the judging mind and its associated feelings and body sensations with openness and curiosity, without trying to change it in any way.
Over time and with consistent practice, we may begin to notice that the judging mind recedes into the background while a clearer awareness predominates. We notice a willingness to look beyond our initial judgments – to increase our tolerance of ambiguity and discomfort so that we are open to things we may have never noticed before. Space emerges for consideration and wise responding over knee-jerk reactions.
Non-judging contributes to discernment, which is the ability to distinguish what is from opinions, assumptions, and preferences. When we see things as they truly are, we have the information we need to respond more appropriately.
Walk in harmony with the nature of things,
your own fundamental nature,
and you will walk freely and undisturbed.
However, when mind is in bondage, the truth is hidden,
and everything is murky and unclear,
and the burdensome practice of judging
brings annoyance and weariness.
What benefit can be derived
from attachment to distinctions and separations?
– The Great Way, Third Chinese Patriarch