Monthly Archives: September 2015

They Judge, We Judge

Part of social life is to present our best self to every situation. Part of presenting our best self is not presenting that side of us that we think is not our best. That is normal social interaction. We read people and we present ourselves to them so that they will like us. If we know something they won’t like, we don’t present that.

We also dress to expose and hide parts of ourselves. If we are at the beach, we expose a lot. If we are at the theater, we expose a little. The same issues of pride and shame come up whether we expose our personalities or our bodies. People judge us, we judge people, we judge ourselves, we judge what people may be judging about us. We feel good or bad, comfortable of uncomfortable, depending on what judgements we are experiencing.

We can’t stop other people from judging. They will judge and they will suffer. We may not be able to stop ourselves from judging. We have strong habits of judging and suffering. We judge parts of ourselves to be good and parts to be bad. That kind of judgement leads directly to suffering. Even if we can’t stop ourselves from judging immediately, we can work with our habit to be compassionate in our judgements. We can notice when we are judging.

Intellectually, we can all understand that we are basically good people who don’t want to suffer and don’t deserve to suffer. We can understand that we are no better or worse than any other person on the planet. We can use that understanding to help us judge ourselves less harshly, more gently. When we notice ourselves feeling ashamed of a part of who we are, we remind ourselves that we are good and we are trying our best under difficult circumstances.

When we notice that we are worried about what somebody else is thinking of us, we do the same thing. We remind ourselves that no matter what another person thinks, we are good and trying our best under difficult circumstances. If the people judging us were better at being compassionate, we would not be feeling the sting of their judgement. We can feel compassion when we understand that their judgements are hurting them, just as our judgements hurt us.  With practice, when we stop imagining that parts of us are bad and shameful, we develop a sense of security in who we are. When we are comfortable with who we are, other people’s opinions will not bother us as much. We will still feel happy when people like us.


Meditation and Mindfulness Working

A high achieving person, who was struggling with high ambition and high anxiety, wrote to me and asked if I could help him manage overwhelming feelings of stress. I suggested that he begin with mediation and he tried it. It began working for him, but stresses continued.

He wrote again, asking me to help make sense of all the various spiritual  practices and advice that we are exposed to in our searches. In response to that I wrote, A Simple Practice. He tried it. It continued working for him, but stress continued.

His meditation and mindfulness practice and searching nature identified a fundamental cause of his suffering to be a difficulty with self acceptance. I reposted Loving Yourself, How to Love Yourself and Judging Yourself from the archives. He found the posts helpful, but stress continued.

He wrote again, suggesting I write something to help people who are struggling with the pressures of setting off on a college/career path. I wrote: What To Do With the Rest of Your Life? He also found that one helpful. Stress continued.

The thing about meditation and mindfulness is that it is a lifestyle, a process, and a skill. It does not make stress go away. It does not prevent stressful things from happening. It allows us the freedom to work with it when it comes. Meditation builds the skill of focus, of noticing and releasing thoughts, of remaining still and clam in the face emotional activity. Mindfulness carries that practice into the non-sitting part of our lives, as life and thoughts create new and compelling stresses for us.

Because stress is so compelling and confusing, we need something we can rely on to be there for us when we need it to guide us through our confusion. Our breath is that force, our anchor, that tethers us to the present moment and brings us back again and again. Once we are aware in the present moment, we can remember to be compassionate and kind and notice our judgements. When we practice using it in the face of real life crises, we find that it works. When we practice it enough, it becomes our habit. It continually works, again and again and again. Our skills continue to improve.

We often imagine that these skills and practices might work for other people, but we don’t think they can work for us. We never know if we don’t try. It is satisfying for me when I see people try meditation and mindfulness to work with their difficult emotions. After less than three months of practice, in the midst of a tremendously busy life, my friend wrote:

…I have been doing great. Meditation, returning to my breath and mindfulness in general is a frequent practice. The peace I feel once I return to my breath is amazing! I’ve used it in stressful situations and it calms me down instantly. For instance, at work I felt myself being rushed by others and a little stressed and once I returned to my breath, I realized how pointless it is to rush around and how peaceful the present moment is.

I found this note to be an elegant testimony about how meditation and mindfulness can work and a beautiful description of how and when to do it. I hope this person’s success in practicing how not to worry so much about being a success can inspire others to try it and find that peace in the present moment. Try it now. It may work for you. Breathe.


A Simple Practice

There is no end to self improvement advice. When you read all the things you could and should do to find happiness and peace, it can get overwhelming and confusing. In order to simplify all that you read into a single, easy to access practice, practice checking in with your breath regularly throughout the day.

Whenever you notice stress, or any other emotion, take a conscious breath and see what you are thinking and how you are feeling. When you notice what you are thinking and feeling turn off all judgement.

If you are confused about what to do, take a breath.

If you notice yourself judging yourself or others, take a breath.

If you notice yourself comparing yourself to others or to an idealized version of yourself, take a breath.

If you meditate regularly, checking in with your breath throughout the day will come more naturally.

Another simple practice is to be kind to yourself and others in your thoughts and actions. Practice generosity and generate good feelings. Notice the good feelings. Smile and appreciate smiles around you. Take some time to think about people you love, and who love you. Look for beauty wherever you are.

These simple practices will help you both be who you want to be and appreciate who you are.


Breaking Up

When an intimate relationship comes to an end, and one or both people decide that it’s time to stop being a couple, there is suffering and confusion. The amount of suffering and the style of suffering will differ for each individual. The amount and style of confusion will also differ from person to person. Sometimes the confusion causes more suffering, sometimes the confusion masks the suffering. Confusion is confusing that way. Suffering is just suffering. To break up the confusion from the suffering that comes from a break up, you need to look at yourself, and look at your thoughts.

Confusion lives nowhere but in your thoughts. Confusing thoughts about yourself tend to cause suffering. When a couple breaks up, what was one becomes two, and each person has to redefine that part of themselves that was attached to being a couple. It is especially hard to figure out what you are, when there is so much suffering going on. It is hard to deal with the suffering when you are so confused about what you are. To get out of the cycle of thinking and suffering you need a handle to hold onto to get your bearings. That handle is your breath and the present moment.

When you suffer, thinking that you will always suffer, that you will never love, that nobody will ever love you, or anything like that is normal, but it is also pure confusion that comes with suffering. If you notice any of those thoughts, take a breath, and notice your confusion. Noticing confusion is wisdom, which breaks up confusion. Compassion, noticing suffering, looking into the cause of suffering, and doing something to ease suffering, will break up suffering.

When you are the more suffering person in a broken up couple, it may be difficult to find compassion for the less suffering person, so begin by practicing compassion for yourself. To depersonalize the pain of a lost relationship, it helps to look at the cause as confusion, a changing definition of yourself, rather than imagining fixed character flaws and personal deficits. To add compassion, remember that you are a good person, going through a difficult time, that you want to feel better and deserve to feel better.

When you learn to meet your suffering with compassion and meet your confusion with wisdom, you will soon come to terms with the break up of the relationship and the break up of your idea of yourself. If you use the suffering and confusion of a break up to learn to know yourself, and practice compassion, you will become the less suffering person of the former couple. When you, in your wisdom, can see the suffering and confusion of the other person, you may notice yourself feeling compassion for them. Compassion is powerful like that, it can beak up all kinds of thinking. The practice of breaking up confusion and suffering begins each time with a conscious breath, over and over again, for as long as it takes.


Dealing With Other People

Humans are social beings. We need each other. We love each other. We couldn’t survive without each other, but we drive each other crazy. We all share this incredible experience of being human, but we all come at that experience from a different angle. Each region of the world has its own culture, which is an unspoken, or painstakingly codified, set of rules for how to deal with each other. Within the larger cultures of countries, there are smaller cultures of states, cities, neighborhoods, right down to families and individual family members. We each have our own culture that is us, it is our way of being, our way of dealing with other people.

Dealing with other people is difficult because they each have their own culture too. Dealing with people in our own families can be especially difficult because so much of the culture is shared, that we have strong habitual ways of behaving toward each other. We expect our family members to behave and misbehave just how they do, and we then behave and misbehave just how we do in response. We may feel lots of love for our family, but we also experience great frustrations with them as their being who they are makes it hard for us to be who we are.

As complicated as things are in a family, as soon as we leave our families, things get more complicated. Then we have to deal with people who we don’t know. People we don’t know can be scary. They may do anything. We don’t know. Fortunately we are able to get to know people and make friends. We form friend cultures, where we can be something a little different from what we are in our family culture. Then we go deal with the school culture or work culture, or we travel the world and deal with international cultures.

The one constant as we move from our families out into the world is us. Wherever we go, we are the ones who have to deal with other people. We also have to deal with ourselves as we deal with other people. Even though that constant of ourself seems constant, the only thing constant about us is that we are constantly changing. Each micro and macro culture we encounter changes our personal culture. We grow.

If we want to grow happier, we have to deal with ourselves as we deal with other people. When somebody makes us angry, it is easy to blame the other person for our anger, but the anger is only ours. It is our personal culture to get angry and blame others for our anger. It is our culture to get sad and blame our circumstances for our sadness. To grow happier, we practice compassion for ourself, for our family, for our friends, and for people all over the world. We recognize how hard it is to deal with other people, yet how rewarding it is at the same time. When we think we are having trouble dealing with other people, we can remember that we are having problems dealing with ourselves. Even if we have a hard time recognizing somebody else’s suffering, we can recognize our own suffering and remember to be compassionate. The more we practice compassion, the better we get at it. It becomes our culture. It grows to include other people, friends and family, then the world. As our compassion grows, our relationship to suffering changes. We grow happier.