I received an email yesterday. Here's the key passage:
"I am struggling with those people out there who are not following the rules. This makes me frustrated, annoyed, and angry."
The person then gives an example of people she sees visiting family regularly, despite there being no seeming justification for flouting the current rules.
The email finishes with "Is it possible that Martin could touch on this, and how to deal with these situations that we cannot control."
Let me start by saying I am incredibly judgemental. I have been practising mindfulness and working on making my mind produce healthier and more helpful responses to life for over twenty years. Still the judgements keep popping up. So this is hard work.
I know I am not alone in being this way. In particular I judge television presenters critically, especially the way the news is presented, or how an interviewer asks questions. I judge politicians harshly. I have automatic like/dislike views on songs and music artists. And I judge people's driving to the extent that I find myself looking out to see if someone is about to drive poorly, say, not indicating at a roundabout, or speeding through an amber or red light.
Most of the time my gut reaction turns into thoughts. These turn into words, which are sometimes spoken out loud, sometimes suppressed for obvious reasons, and sometimes kept under a measure of self-control, as mere thoughts in my head.
So my personal experience is that, despite really trying hard for half my adult life, negative, judgemental thoughts keep churning out.
But all is not lost.
Regardless of my instant reaction - gut response, negative thoughts, angry words - the next moment will of course arrive. And the next moment is always an opportunity. That's when I do usually bring my mindfulness to bear on the situation, as follows - and you can try to treat this as your own practice from now on:
I notice my negative state or frame of mind. I see that it is in reaction to some news or something I've just observed. This is now me being mindful.
[NOTE: Most people don't get to this first point. They just move onto the next negative thought, then the next, then ruminate or feel rankled for minutes, often hours, sometimes days, weeks, years - no exaggeration!]
2. CHANGE FOCUS:
I THEN focus lightly but clearly on my breath, sometimes my feet on the ground. The breath - clear flowing in, quiet and peaceful flowing out - helps to stabilise the mind, bringing greater clarity and calmness to its fraught state. The feet on the ground I treat as me grounding myself, rooting myself, so that I feel more stable.
3. ACCEPTANCE AND NON-JUDGING:
Then I practice the most difficult bit: a combination of Acceptance and being Non-Judgemental. I have found that doing my mindfulness practices - big or small ones - times dotted through the day, even for as short as two in-and-out breaths, really helps me become more Accepting and Non-Judgemental, albeit a little bit after the initial negative response.
4. REPEATE AS NECESSARY:
This usually deals with the state of mind ie. it eliminates it. However sometimes the reaction comes back, maybe even several times. But each time it is weaker and more easily dealt with by the same process:
> Notice the negative mood
> Focus mindfully on breath or similar
> deliberately bring Acceptance and Non-Judging into your mind.
Finally a little bit more on Acceptance and Non-Judging:
We are genetically programmed to react, not accept; and to judge rather than not judge. So we are up against ourselves from the start.
Common sense tells us that if we can't change something, only harm can come to us if we keep thinking about it. But our genes don't do common sense.
So we have to work at it every day. Slowly but surely acceptance will become part of the way you think mindfully, if you keep trying to assess everyday situations in terms of just accepting them if you can't change them.
In this regard we are lucky if we live in Scotland. We have the weather. We can't change it or control it, and it is notoriously unpredictable. So do use acceptance of bad weather as a starting point to practice on.
Non-Judging is a big challenge, even after the event.
Regardless of whether you consider Jesus as God, Son of God, a great teacher, or just another person in the history books, he made powerful points emphasising non-judgementalism as good practice in living.
"Judge not that ye be not judged."
"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"
"Don't point out the splinter in another's eye before removing the beam in your own."
However you view it, judging others almost always serves no purpose save to make you feel negative, and that's a bad result.
There is another way of looking at things. It's practical, it works, from my personal experience, but it is hard to embed in us because we are so conditioned to judge others, and also to wish others to be punished for what they have done wrong.
The method is to believe that they are actually not to blame. That they are just acting out what their conditioned, programmed minds are telling them to do.
If we genuinely can believe that they are not to blame, we won't judge them. We don't blame the coronavirus for what it's doing because we understand that it has just evolved and the consequences were unintentional.
Think of it this way. We all admit we get negative and judgemental about others. Did we choose to respond that way even though we know it only hurts ourselves?
The answer is no, or at least, not usually. What is usual is that these reactions come out at the speed of light, and with a fierce force, so fast and so strong that they exist as thoughts, negative emotions, and words even before we've had a chance to reflect on the situation.
Isn't that right? And if it's right doesn't that tell us that we, ourselves, the ones who are judging others, are not able to control our own reactions, thoughts, and decisions at times? And if that's the case, are we not all, at times, victims of our past life experiences, upbringing, genes, etc?
And if all of this is true, which I think both science and our own observations of how our mind works tell us is true, then it's not fair to judge others. Rather just accept that they, like us in other circumstances, are playing out what their mind urges them to do, and that they, like us, often do not have sufficient degree of control over their own minds to do the right thing.
If people were really in control of their minds, our jails would be mostly empty. Instead they are mostly full, full for the most part by people who reacted automatically to a situation with violence or greed or whatever.
So work on Acceptance of what you can't change. Real acceptance, not reluctant, moody acceptance. Just let it go completely.
Work on Non-Judging as a way of seeing the world. You'll have plenty of oppotunities to practice with, believe me!
If you create Acceptance and Non-Judging as two ways of seeing life's inevitable challenges you will be much happier, healthier, and know greater peace of mind - and you'll have lost nothing at all in the process.