This is the second of a series reflecting on what Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to as the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness. As we cultivate our capacity for mindfulness it can be very supportive to develop these attitudes as a way of staying active in the process. The seven interconnected foundations are patience, trust, beginner's mind, non-judging, acceptance, non-striving, and letting go. Dr. Kabat-Zinn also plans to add two additional attitudes, gratitude and generosity, which we will explore later in this series. Cultivating our capacity for mindfulness is not limited to following a prescription and waiting for something to happen. The fruits are largely dependent on the attitude we bring to the practice and our experiences, moment to moment. When we begin to consciously cultivate these attitudes, together with engaging in the meditation practices, we are creating a receptive, rich, foundation for the healing power of mindfulness to emerge. In this piece we will explore the attitude of non-judging.
Non-Judging is conceivably the most challenging attitudinal foundation to cultivate and it is often misunderstood in the context of developing mindfulness. We are programmed as humans to make judgements and to some extent our judgements are useful to us. Right, wrong, like, dislike, good, bad, should, shouldn’t, lazy, stupid, wonderful, perfect, and the list goes on. On top of the judgements our mind innately conceives, society is pervaded with opportunities to express judgement. Just think about Facebook’s hallmark feature the “like” button! Mindfulness practice teaches us to allow things to be, just as they are, with an attitude of non-judgement. It understands that trying to make our judgements cease would be next to impossible and instead asks us to notice them as they arise, without judging. At first glance it seems like something nice to cultivate, but if we look closer, we can gain a deeper understanding of the power this practice holds for us.
For a moment, let’s look at the mechanics of mindfulness practice, using awareness of breath as an example. We sit on our cushion or chair and begin by becoming aware of the breath, not trying to change anything. Inevitably our mind begins to wander in to thinking, usually planning something for the future or ruminating on something from the past. The instructions are to notice that our attention has wondered and gently guide our awareness back to the sensations of the breath. Here, the sensations of the breath are the object we are using to cultivate our concentration, gradually increasing our capacity to stay in the present moment for longer periods of time. As we discovered in last week’s post on patience, the second component of mindfulness practice, is orienting ourselves in a specific way. As we sit with the breath, we practice befriending all aspects of our experience, including the wandering mind, the strong emotion, the boredom, and even the judgements themselves. Non-judging is, what’s called for in mindfulness practice, innately woven in to its fabric. In his poem, “The Guest House,” Rumi instructs us clearly; “Welcome and entertain them all! The dark thought, the shame, the malice. Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.”
When we are not aware of our judgements, they act as a veil, skewing our perception of the true nature of reality. If it’s possible, stop for a moment and close your eyes. Picture yourself sitting on a train or bus. The door opens and someone walks in and sits down next to you. What do you notice? If you are human, you likely begin to label and categorize this person in to boxes. This happens on many levels and begins with the point of contact on our sense doors. You notice what they look like, how they smell, and what their energy feels like. If they are close enough, you even notice what they feel like making contact with your body. Considering your previous life experiences, conditioning, and biases, you begin to either identify or unidentify with this person. It all happens automatically and at lightening speed. If you identify with this person, you relax, and go back to texting on your phone (or maybe attempt to speak to them). However, if you do not identify with this person, you begin to react in a way that has no true objective basis and further reinforces your idea of being separate. Some examples of how we may react are, at best, disinterest and, at worst, fear, anger, disgust, distrust, and hatred.
The truth is we all want to feel connected, joyful, and safe. Through practicing mindfulness we naturally become aware of the judging quality of our mind, giving us the space we need to broaden our perspective and allow things to unfold as they really are. We begin to sharpen our pen, so that we may discern what information coming through is useful and true, and what information can be let go of. Discernment means to perceive things and people as they are, without comparing them (implicitly or explicitly) to what we think they should be. When we judge, two things arise; dissatisfaction with something or someone and a desire for things to be the way we think they should be. When we discern, we see things as they are and have no attachment to them being any different. In this space, we get to choose what is best for us, without leaving a trace of judgement behind. We allow people and circumstances to be as they are and we use our energy to take care of ourselves. Walt Whitman once said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” Can we hold the paradox that we all contain multitudes, diverse on so many levels, and at the same time the multitudes we all contain were formed at the heart of star?