You’ve no doubt noticed that life presents you with situations that run the gamut from fun and happiness to worry and fear. But stop a moment and ask yourself: How and why do we judge those situations and events as good or bad?
As our lives unfold, we perceive situations, events (and even people), based upon what we’ve learned and have come to believe through our past experiences. That learning began when we were infants and has continued to the present moment. As a result, our brains become more and more efficient at interpreting, or judging, what’s happening now based on our past. This is an incredibly useful ability – To quickly judge if a new experience falls into the bucket of something we perceive as good or bad. However, if you look closely, you’ll find that judgments can be rather tricky, and not always helpful because they are based on our perceptions, which may not actually be true. They’re also rarely the complete story. Most experiences aren’t completely good or bad, and rather somewhere in between. There may even be “good” in what first seems to be “bad.” The problem is that we often act on our immediate judgments, without realizing they aren’t true until it’s too late.
For instance, imagine you get a piece of news that would usually cause you distress. Your mind is instantly ready to judge that news, and it’s the process of judging that calls upon your lifetime of learning and building beliefs. At the speed of thought, you may find yourself dreading what that news means. How you’ll be involved. What you might have to do. What hardships or even dangers might arise. When our judgment leads us there, our creative problem-solving skills and abilities become limited. We become trapped in a negative assessment that, in reality, we could have chosen to see from another perspective.
Mindfulness can help – Imagine that you could stand back quietly and observe the situation without automatically believing judgments of good or bad to be true. Mindfulness practice gives you a way to do that. In mindfulness practice, you’re training the ability to be present in the moment, curious about your experience, and to suspend judgment. Developing these skills, enables you to more quickly become aware of and gently override this habit of the mind that automatically tries to judge and pigeon-hole events as being either good or bad. You’re then able to explore beyond the immediate judgment, so that you can decide what’s actually true for you. You can even try out the perspective of finding the “good” in the “bad.”
How do you find the “good” in what at first seems to be “bad?”
First, step back from the news and change your language and focus. Rather than letting old perceptions and beliefs take charge, you can say or think: “That’s interesting” or “That’s great” or “That’s fascinating.” This automatically disarms your nearly instantaneous tendency to judge. You’ll find a couple of things begin to happen as you practice that.
- Increasingly, you’re acknowledging and accepting that something has happened, instead of immediately judging it. This doesn’t mean that you have to like what’s happened or that it feels good. Just the opposite: You’re not giving it a good/bad dimension. You’re acknowledging it without attaching those values to it.
- Seeing the situation as “interesting,” “great” or “fascinating” allows you to engage your creative problem-solving mind. You remain in the moment with the news rather than allowing your often less-than-reliable belief system to overshadow your natural talent for solving problems.
Mindfulness practice trains greater self-awareness. You’ll learn to notice the habit of the mind to judge, or label, your experiences as good or bad. You’ll recognize this as simply a habit which is useful much of the time, but not all the time. When judging an experience prevents clarity and being present with how life is unfolding before you, you can choose to let go of the judgment. That is, you learn to let go of your judging thoughts of how “it is” and instead connect to the experience of how “it is” – Actually accept what is happening. If the word “accept” sounds too strong, you can think of it as simply acknowledging, recognizing, or allowing what is…to be itself. Practicing mindfulness gives you the freedom to experiment with seeing what life hands us, allowing you to “be with” it as it is, and to respond with greater clarity and wisdom.
Conscious Breathing Is Your Anchor
Your breath is your most profound indication that you are alive. As such, it gives you a wonderful anchor for your mindfulness practice. In our classes we suggest you begin with a few deep, relaxing breaths, and then allow your breathing to resume its natural rhythm, paying attention to each inflow and outflow.
As you breathe, you’ll notice that your mind offers up thoughts that distract you from attending to your breath. It’s the nature of the brain to generate thoughts, but you don’t need to be distracted by them. Instead, just say “That’s great,” then return to focus on your breath. There’s no need to attach a judgment of good or bad to those thoughts and certainly no need to be self-critical.
Each time you notice a distracting thought or judgment pop up, simply take a moment to celebrate and rejoice at your ability to re-focus on your breath. Each distraction and refocusing is training you to extends this ability be fully present with “what is” in the rest of your life as well. Eventually you’ll notice that your mindful attention on your breath becomes an opportunity to find the “good” in the “bad.”
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Also published on Medium.