Yoga Assignment: The Yoga Judgement Cure
It is impossible to go through life without making certain estimations about the world. In fact, it would go against the very nature of the human mind to float freely with no regard for the environment. We constantly judge things. These judgements can be harmless, necessary, harmful and sometimes unnecessary. For example, when you’re about to eat a banana it’s useful to make an assessment as to whether the banana is ripe, unripe or overripe. I personally love my bananas when they are just between ripe and overripe. I look for a few brown spots on the yellow skin and a familiar banana odor when selecting a banana. We do this with everything, not just bananas. Whether you find yourself looking at cars, dogs, houses, or people chances are there is an inner commentary that takes stock of the situation. While this state of mental assessment is the unavoidable nature of mind, there is a line between intelligent discern and divisive judgement.
While judging the ripeness of a banana by its exterior is relatively harmless, making that same estimation of a human being based on the color of their skin can be extremely harmful. As a yoga practitioner it’s important to work on your judgmental mind from the paradigm of the spiritual path and take responsibility for your thoughts. First and foremost in the world of yoga is the notion that thoughts themselves are not true, but merely practiced. No thought is independently true or deserves a-priori value. Instead, thoughts, like actions, are choices that we make moment to moment. We may assume that our thoughts are true and real, when in fact we may have made a faulty estimation or drawn a wrong conclusion. Sometimes still what we assume to be true may merely me a cultural assumption passed on to us by our community.
Thoughts, and the judgements that follow, are not permanent or fixed. We can change our thinking and thereby also change our world. When working with the judgmental mind, remember this—don’t believe your thoughts.
There is a difference between discernment and judgement. I’d like to unpack that a little. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras presents “Viveka Khyatih” as the end result of years of continual practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Translated into English as discriminative discernment, this yogic state is defined by the ability to see things clearly and purely, free from any bias. Another way of thinking about the state of Viveka Khyatih is to think about it as the bringing things into the light of awareness. Only a calm and equanimous state, free from the chains of the ego, has the power to be truly revelatory. In clear sight there is no emotional hook, no agenda and nothing personal. It simply sees what is without any attachment to a particular outcome. In order to see clearly, the yoga path first asks for the ego to be purified and burnt up. Otherwise, as long as the ego is present, it will obscure the clarity that of Viveka Khyatih. Think of this like a laser beam that can focus in on any area of attention. If the laser beam is blocked by filters or clouded by dirt, the light will not reveal the truth. But if all occlusions have been removed and only the laser beam shines, then the light will reveal simply what is. Most of us, myself included, have a long way to go before we rest in the purity of egoless awareness. There are moments of clarity mixed in with many other judgmental thoughts. The second yogic principle that applies when working with judgements is to do the work of inner purification. In other words, we all need more practice. As long as we are triggered and we personalize the experience, the voice of the ego breeds more separation and judgement and we won’t see clearly. While it’s tempting to point the blame outside, yoga encourages you to turn your attention inward and purify your own mind. The more righteous you feel about your judgements, the more world you probably have to do. At least I know it’s that way for me!
When I look inside my own mind, I am sometimes shocked at the judgements I see. Some of my worst judgements are about myself. I feel shame for failing at work or speaking harshly to my partner. I judge my words and actions and start a circle of self-denigration that ends badly. If you find that your harshest judgements are towards yourself, then I recommend finding an antidote to self-hate in a loving-kindness meditation. Sit for a few moments and bring your attention to a neutral point such as the breath. Then, once the mind calms down, bring your attention to your heart center. See yourself happy, fulfilled, peaceful and joyful. Next, forgive yourself for any mistakes and say a line similar to this—“Even though I may not have done everything right, even though I messed it up, I forgive myself. My love is not based on any success or failure. I love myself unconditionally. Self, I want you to hear this, I like you and I love.”
Judgement stems from separation. When we judge ourselves we feel separated from our true nature. When we judge others we see them as “other”. The ability to see yourself in all people, all beings and all things is the definition of an open heart. A belief in otherness is the beginning of bigotry. Compassion and empathy are triggered when you see sameness and identify with others, whether human or non-human. The illusion of separateness is what normalizes hate and abuse. There are all sorts of judgements that can be weaponized to build walls of identity and exacerbate grievances, but none of those things are real. In fact, there is a kind of automatic defensiveness gets sparked whenever someone is called out for participant in systems of injustice, whether knowingly or unknowingly. It’s like we instinctively know we shouldn’t harm others, yet we do it anyway. Then, when we are confronted about our moral failures it touches such a sort spot of shame that it feels more natural to be defensive. We lash out and get defensive instead of listening and opening our hearts. We judge others and push them away rather than drop down and feel their pain. But somehow underneath it all, it’s like there is a moral meter built into the circuitry of our inner being that we have to willfully ignore in order to harm another. We participate in systems of oppression to the degree that we accept the otherness of the beings that are oppressed. If we didn’t judge them to be “other” we could not stand by and watch them suffer. We would instead be compelled to act out of compassion.
So much of what we do in the yoga practice is about tearing down the hardened walls that line the heart. Enlightenment has always traditionally been presented as an act of service for the benefit of all beings. Your liberation is defined to the degree that you’re able to love others. I have never seen anyone change their mind as a result of a heated argument. I’ve only seen people get entrenched deeper into their point of view after being yelled at. Maybe what works is the willingness to remain open-hearted in the real world, to get offline and out of chat groups and to treat all beings how you would like to be treated yourself, that is, with respect, understanding, forgiveness and love.