Nonjudgemental awareness is a sought after topic within mindfulness because it sounds great and everyone wants to achieve it. But can you truly be nonjudgemental all the time? This is the question I get based on the looks of those who are being taught as they initially see it as a pie-in-the-sky concept. But it may be misunderstood, and here’s why.
The goal of Mindfulness is pure and simple: present moment awareness. This awareness can even mean that you are aware of your judgements as they occur. It doesn’t mean that you are judgement free, because after all our egos and fight-or-flight mentally naturally causes us to judge as a mechanism for keeping safe. Therefore, to clean up the confusion, Mindfulness does not teach you to be nonjudgemental but to be aware of your judgements.
If you are a photographer, does it mean that you can’t judgement one photo over another to determine and submit your best work? If you are at a restaurant, does it mean that you can’t judge the food your partner gets over yours to determine which you like best? If you are a parent, does that mean you can’t judge your child’s actions as dangerous? In all these examples we can see that judgement can be exchanged for the word discernment.
Discernment cannot occur with an object of attention and an observer. Otherwise, there would be nothing to discern. And it cannot occur if you are not paying attention. Therefore, if you are not in present moment awareness, if would be more likely that you would judge versus discern because judgement is a habitual pattern.
However, if you are truly aware and present, you can discern if the child’s actions are dangerous without making judgements about the child or the situation.
A good reason to adopt non-judgment is because of our habitual ways of automatically judging what’s in front of us as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, “fair” or “unfair” etc. Due to our conditioning, this judgement happens so quickly and automatically that it can catch you off guard if you’re not truly paying attention.
The gift that Mindfulness can give us through the practice of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, is to allow us to notice, pause, observe and then discren.
What you will soon realize with some experience is that all occurrences in your like are just phenomena in the world happening without any real meaning. The meaning you assign it is what you get out of it. They may appear happening “to” us but indeed are happening through us. And what really matters in life is what we choose to do with the experiences and how we choose to react to them. Therefore, our discernment rather than our judgement is really what’s called for moment-by-moment.
What judgement does is that it robs us of choosing in the present. When we choose the same response, we simply cannot be objective.
Today, you can make a conscious decision to see everything with nonjudgementally and distinguish where you are judging versus just discerning. Additionally, a great practice that can train the mind to be still and non-reactive is meditation. Just 15-minutes a day can really help re-wire our fight-and-flight responses. The most important thing is to make an intention that this is what you want and then go after achieving it. Watch the universe guide you towards it’s achievement and take your time with this. The process is really the most important part.
“Mindfulness meditation is the embrace of any and all mind states in awareness, without preferring one to another.”
— Jon Kabat-Zinn, M.D., Founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction