‘This habit of categorizing and judging our experience locks us into automatic reactions that we are not even aware of and that often have no objective basis at all.’
(Kabat-Zinn 2013: 1193)
We can tend to run a constant list of judgements, labels, categorisations, and so forth in our heads, such as good, bad, right, fun, or wrong. This can have its uses in helping us navigate some aspects of life, and we will need to make judgements and decisions. However, there can be a tendency to constantly judge everything, automatically without totally understanding or being aware of what is really there or even that we are judging and adding our own value measures to events.
We can end up with our total attention fixed on our judgements, running dialogues and evaluations. This can generate so much noise it can become hard to appreciate the true nature of what is there. Notice for yourself how when you come across something, a thought, an object, a person, how you start to filter it, categorise it and judge it. We even do this with our own inner world, judging ourselves.
We not only make judgements in the form of thoughts. Our bodies often react to situations and this can be a way to notice judgements being made. Experiences such as pulling back, tensing up, moving forward, being open or having a sinking sensation in the stomach. An impulse to take action or a sudden arising of an emotion can all be forms of making a judgement.
Judging also places a filter between us and what is present in the moment. It can mean we are no longer aware of what is truly there, but of a version we have layered our judgements on, possibly comparing it to something similar from our past or playing out how we think it might affect the future.
This can also lead us into automatic reactions based on the judgement made. This can happen without our even realising it. Sometimes this can be useful; when touching something hot, automatically judging this is not good and reacting, is probably a useful thing; but these automated judgements and reactions may not always be effective or wise.
Even if we wanted to suppress these judgements, the process of judging is part of how we work. This means that if we try to stop judging we can set up more tension and stress; making judgements about judging, whether we have stopped, how well we have done and so on.
So, we look to develop the ability to step back from judging, to notice when we are making a judgement as far as we can, simply observing what is unfolding in our internal and external worlds becoming aware of judging happening. We could also try labelling the judging as we become aware of it.
Ultimately, we are trying to choose a response to events, not being driven to a reaction by being judgemental.
We can observe in meditation whether we are judging ourselves and how well we are meditating. Try a compassion meditation and notice if you are judging those you think of, or a body scan without noticing if a part of the body is feeling good or bad, or during a sound meditation whether the sound is pleasant or not.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (2013) Full Catastrophe Living. Kindle edition: Little Brown Book Group.