Meditation for Life
Judgment Calls, Part 1: Using Discomfort
Discernment vs. Blame
So here's the question: How can we discern when something is wrong, without being judgmental, without disliking the perpetrators, without filling our own mind with negativity? On the inner level, how can we change our own difficult personality traits, our fears and tensions and resistances, without judging them or judging ourselves for having them? Is it even possible to eliminate the "bad" kind of judgment, without losing the good kind?
The No-Fault Perspective
Let me mention one thing at the beginning: despite our tendency to confuse them, judgmental blaming and discernment have as little to do with each other as dogs and parakeets. In fact, they come from entirely different levels of our psyche.
According to traditional yogic psychology, discernment is a quality of the buddhi, a Sanskrit word that is sometimes translated as intellect but which really means the higher mind, the seeing instrument that our inner Self uses to observe the play of our inner world and make decisions about what is of value and what is not. Other traditions say that discernment comes from the heart. It is an awareness, often wordless, a clear insight that is prior to thoughts and emotions.
Judgment and blame, on the other hand, are products of the ahamkara, usually called the ego, that part of the psyche that identifies 'me' with the body, personality, and opinions.
Ego has its uses; after all, if we couldn't create a boundaried sense of 'I', we wouldn't be able to engage as individuals in this fascinating game we call life on earth. The problem with ego is that it tends to extend its portfolio, creating structures that block our connection with the inner Self, with the joy and freedom that is our core. When that happens, we find ourselves assuming what is sometimes called the false self.
Not to be confused with our natural personality (which, like the structure of a snowflake, is simply the unique expression of our personal configuration of energies), the false self is a coping mechanism. Usually devised in childhood, it is a complex of roles and disguises cobbled together in response to our culture and family situation. The false self claims to protect us, to help us fit in with our peers, and to keep us from feeling naked in a potentially hostile world, but actually functions like badly fitting armor, or like a costume that is always threatening to fall off. Because it is fundamentally inauthentic, when we're inside our false self we often feel clueless, as if we're getting away with something and at any moment will be unmasked.
Discomfort as a Signal
Blame is one of the smokescreens that the false self throws up to keep itself from facing the pain of our human fallibility. Blaming, like anger, creates drama, movement, action; it is, as politicians know, one of the greatest of all diversionary tactics. If you look at what happens inside you when you feel unhappy, confused, or threatened by a situation, you may be able to catch the moment when blame arises. First, there is the discomfort, the sense that something is wrong. This feels unpleasant, and the ego doesn't like unpleasantness. So it squirms, looking for a way to resist or avoid the feeling. At this point, you start to explain to yourself why you feel uncomfortable, and to look for how you can fix it. Often you do this by looking for someone or something to blame for the situation that has created discomfort. You may blame yourself, thus creating guilt. You may blame someone else, feeling like a victim or perhaps like a potential hero coming to the rescue. You may blame fate, or God, which usually creates a feeling of nihilistic despair. In any case, you will have created a screen to separate yourself (at least momentarily) from the initial feeling of discomfort.
An internationally known teacher of meditation and spiritual wisdom, Kempton is the author of Meditation for the Love of It and writes a monthly column for Yoga Journal. Follow her on Facebook and visit her website at www.sallykempton.com.