We imagine that if we lose the ability to judge things, people or situations as good or bad, better or worse that we’ll turn into passive, unmotivated blobs who get walked all over and for whom nobody does anything. We don’t.
So why the random picture of foxgloves?
I was away last weekend — my first ever 2 day break on my own, ever. I know! Even before kids I’d never done that. It never occurred to me. And it was wonderful. Two nights in a glamping pod on a farm overlooking fields and cows and hills. On the morning I left I went for a walk and passed these foxgloves — they made me chuckle at how obvious the direction of the prevailing wind was.
And then this quote from Ram Dass came to mind;
When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.
We have a mind that discriminates. It tells the difference between things. It’s useful to be able to tell a sandwich from a laptop, or a car from a tree. This mind also collects ideas — or judgements — about things — ‘oh look, cheese, I don’t like cheese.’
Where our experience becomes lost and confused is when we take these judgements or ideas, for truths and survival mechanisms. In the belief that they’re definite, fixed, solid and essential to survival our mind treats them like life rafts and resists anything that looks like a shark.
The mind’s been programmed to believe that these judgements or rules say something about me— who I am, my worth in the world — and so it can look like we need to hold fast to what we want or don’t want, to what we believe or don’t believe, or else we’re a doormat, we have no backbone, no foundation or we don’t know who we are — we’re not safe.
We’ve been trained into this
I remember overhearing a dad with his son in the post office. His son was choosing stickers ‘no, don’t get those ones, you don’t like spiders remember’. When a parent or teacher or other person who looks important to our survival tells us these things we come to believe they’re truths— the person who provides me food and shelter says I don’t like spiders. Right. Best keep that in mind so I keep being able to eat and stay warm.
It makes perfect sense.
Until it doesn’t. And we get to a stage in life where the volume of rules for survival has become so great and so conflicting that we feel lost, confused, disillusioned. Or we find we’re in huge resistance to a world that isn’t conforming to our safety story.
This judging mind, believing it needs to cling to its beliefs to be OK, will inevitably push away what challenges them. ‘You like cheese? OMG, well, we can’t be friends then.’
Given all this, inevitably the judging mind comes part and parcel with comparison and competition. ‘If my survival relies on the extent to which I dislike cheese then I need to make sure I’m the best cheese-disliker in the world! This inevitably means I need others to be worse than me and will involve resistance of them and beration of myself if it looks like they could be better.’ And so we strive and cling to win the cheese-disliking race.
What goes on in here gets mirrored out there
So inevitably. Inevitably! From this position we judge others —it looks like we have to do this in order to be OK. Jostling and elbowing and getting one-up on them; or shrinking and retreating and hiding when it looks like someone’s topped us.
We’ve been doing this for so long we don’t even realise how much it features in our mind’s activity.
And so, unlike the foxgloves that we look on affectionately, seeing how they’re doing their very best given the wind they’re growing in, we look on ourselves with judgement and an idea that somehow we should be doing better or different than we are, believing that we’ll only be OK if…[enter anything here]. Resisting all experience that doesn’t conform with the rules set up in the mind, and clinging to what we imagine is keeping us safe.
And then we do the same with everyone we meet. ‘Are they like me or not? Are they better than me or not? Oh they’re a bit useless because… I can’t believe they would do that, think that, act like that. OMG they’re better than me. Quick! Look impressive so they think you’re great too.’
But we’re all just foxgloves
Lost in judgement, competition, and comparison, we’ve forgotten that we’re all just foxgloves. All our lives we’ve been doing our very best in every moment based on what looks true to us in that moment — based on the prevailing wind at that time. From the boy in the post office who didn’t choose spider stickers, to the CEO of an organisation clinging to beliefs about how the business should be doing and resisting and reacting to evidence to the contrary.
When we start to see this and see the suffering that the clinging and resisting brings — with no benefit. When we see how we’re psychologically fighting with reality while nothing is actually changing. When we see how all this belief in the activity of a judging mind is a limitation and an energy drain, not a safety feature…when we start to see all of this, the mind naturally learns and adjusts and judgements fall away.
When in non-judgement we see that we still operate, we still act, we still make decisions and choose, just without a layer of suffering over the top, judgement just stops making sense to pay attention to. The mind doesn’t need thought-management strategies to experience non-judgement. It just needs to see what’s happening for what it is.
And, unlike the mind’s imagination that all hell will break loose in the absence of these rules, we rediscover the natural move towards and away from, what we like and don’t like, that we lived in as a child, without needing a story or a reason or a justification. Without it saying anything about us or them.
Because in the absence of the mind judging good-enough-ness, the competitive, comparing mind that clung to ‘I’m this’ and therefore required you to not be that; in the absence of all that, saying no to someone or something is just a no. Saying yes is just a yes. Pulling back is just pulling back and speaking up is just speaking up.
Simplicity, clarity, and honesty prevail.
If Ram Dass’s practice of seeing yourself and other people as trees (or foxgloves!) looks like something to experiment with, give it a go. Notice for a day how your experience changes.
If it looks obvious to you, you’ll keep doing this for as long as it makes sense. And notice if you stop that the mind might jump up and down with judgement at your inability to maintain a practice!
And start to notice where resistance to the world (including towards yourself) is showing up and notice how judgement is entwined within it. Just see it. Nothing else.