A month after I packed in my job and started my own company, I decided to reward myself with a two-week meditation retreat. A few weeks of blissful self-reflection in the wilds of the Colorado mountains. A fitting start for a trail-blazing woman who has just left the madness of the corporate grind to embark on a new journey and start a business focused on personal development. It reminds me of that saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
The setting was indeed idyllic. I spent the two weeks in a tent in a very remote part of the Colorado mountains with 120 other brave souls. So idyllic, in fact, that often a chipmunk or deer would wander in during meditation sessions and stare at the strange humans sitting on mats, staring off into space for hours on end. I often spent hours longing to be one of those deer. At least I could have escaped.
The night before the retreat started, we gathered together for an orientation. During that session, it became clear to me that the meditation retreat really was just that – meditating. All day long. No rest for the weary. Sitting was to start at 7 am and end each evening around 9 pm.
And it was at that point, the panic started to set in. Two weeks? Two weeks of sitting on a mat? My legs will go numb. My back will give out. I’ll die of boredom. And it was just at that precise moment, in my infinite wisdom, I realized I had inadvertently signed up for two weeks of my worst fear. For some people it’s snakes. For some it’s death. I, however, fear boredom and will do just about anything to avoid it.
You may be thinking to yourself, “How could she have been so stupid?” (Which would be judgment, by the way, but we’ll get into that later.) And it’s true. It was indeed billed as a meditation retreat – make no mistake. But often the mind sees and interprets what it wants to see and interpret.
After the first day, I was convinced I was going to claw my eyes out. Between sitting sessions, I sought out other like-minded meditators for much needed conversation where I blurted out my fears and concerns like a bulimic needing a good purge. And then the unthinkable happened. The head meditation instructor announced that the retreat was to become completely silent. No talking, even between the sitting sessions during breaks. Not one single word. If there was an emergency, we were to write a note.
Resigned to my new silent fate, the next morning I was sitting on my mat, under the guise of meditation:
“Uuuugh, I hope Eric doesn’t sit next to me again. He smells. It’s so
disgusting, I don’t think he’s taken a bath since he’s been here.
Why do I always get stuck next to the smelly person? Doesn’t he
have any respect for his fellow meditators?
There’s Janice, she’s looking at me again. I can’t stand her. So
high and mighty. Thinks that, just because she’s writing a book,
she’s so much better than us. So condescending. No
wonder she’s single. No self-respecting guy would put up with that.
She must be really insecure. It’s always the really bossy types that
are super insecure on the inside.
And here comes Dawn. What a weirdo. And dreads are always so
stupid on white people. We don’t have the right type of hair to wear
them. Plus they just end up smelling. She probably lives out in
California like all the other beatniks out there that are trying to sell
you over-priced ayurvedics. What a scam.”
And hence we finally arrive back at the topic of this blog. Judgment. It was at that precise moment on that bumpy mat that it finally dawned on me. I was a judgment-making machine. My mind was a runaway freight train high on judgment. When you’re silent, you have no choice but to notice your judgment. Those sneaky meditation instructors whom I had previously dismissed as hippie dippies (could that be judgment too?) were really on to something.
So, story time over. When I lecture on mindfulness, I often ask the question, “What does removing judgment allow for?” (The answer I’m looking for is only one word.)
But how do you stop judging people?
How to Stop Judging People: Embracing Possibility
When you’re deep in judgment, whether it’s so-called positive or negative judgment, everything appears slightly distorted. It’s the equivalent of wearing glasses that are slightly out of focus. What you see is very real to you, but if you were to put on a pair of new lenses, your vision would change. Which one is true? Which one is right? The answer is both. Both are equally valid and true when you’re wearing the lenses. Let me give you an example of what I mean. It would probably be fair to characterize my relationship with my sister Lisa as a challenging one, if you were to look at our past history. We were often at odds, my sister being the practical jokester of the two of us. I recall a phase she went through when she thought it would be really fun to scare me and bought a collection of very realistic plastic roaches from the junk shop. I retaliated by sitting on her. I was the older sister, albeit only by two years, but I was twice her size.
I had concocted a number of theories that explained Lisa’s bossy behavior. I spent many hours pondering these theories, thinking of examples from our childhood to support my hypothesis. One of my favorite theories was that, because she was the younger sister, she was often living in my older and wiser shadow. This dynamic had given her an inferiority complex where she always had to be right.
Things came to a head when my husband and I got engaged. We were thinking of possibilities for the wedding, and the idea of traveling to Hawaii came up in passing. The next day I received an email from Lisa that was full of links to Hawaiian ideas for weddings.
“How dare she?! She’s already trying to tell me how to have my
wedding! I can’t believe this. She’s always trying to tell me what to
do! It never stops. Why can’t she just mind her own business and
I was relating these frustrations to my soon-to-be husband who patiently and silently waited until I finished my tirade.
“You know what’s interesting?”
“What?!” I replied.
“That with the exact same evidence, I would have drawn a completely different conclusion. Perhaps she’s just trying to be helpful.”
Damn engineer. So logical. I have to admit his statement caught me completely by surprise. Helpful? Not typically a word I would have ever used in relation to my sister.
I decided to sit and ponder this concept for a while and when I did, I realized this was indeed the secret sauce to how to stop judging people. The more labels I used, the more I narrowed Lisa’s and my relationship. The more names I called her, the less scope there was for any kind of relationship beyond an adversarial one.
So which one was true? Was she bossy or helpful? At that point, I realized that it didn’t really matter. I asked myself a different question. Which story served me best? It’s a question I often use these days when I find myself caught up in one of my stories. It’s a question I often ask my coaching clients.
Who in your life are you currently judging? How could judgment be sabotaging your relationship with them? What would happen if you chose to believe a different story?
Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them. Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!