I am Curious About … Judgment

I admit it, I am a “Judge-y McJudge-ster” (hope I spelled that right).  It’s not a characteristic of myself that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.  And the few times I have thought about it, I’ve not considered it a necessarily bad part of my personality because I believe I judge myself as much or more than I judge others.  I’m not the crazy person publicly calling people out on their bad behavior nor am I the virtual arsonist instigating flame wars on social media, but inside I often find myself shaking my head and thinking, “Wow, [that person or group of people], really need to get themselves together.”  Or I’m thinking something along those lines with more specifics and  sometimes with bad words.  Sometimes I might share those thoughts with other friends and often we’ll all shake our heads and wonder at how people can do what they do.  With that said, though, I do play by the rules and withhold judgment when I’m supposed to — like in brainstorming sessions or when I’m listening to others’ troubles; I mean I’m not an animal.  I didn’t know that this habit of judging was actually limiting my perspective and also cutting into my ability to connect with others until my curiosity led me to a whole new way of looking at it.

One of the ways I’ve been indulging my curiosity has been exploring Brene Brown’s work around shame and vulnerability as a student in her “Living Brave Semester” program.  As part of the program, we were given the assignments to read Brene’s books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong.  Ordinarily, I read relatively quickly and have been known to devour entire books in one sitting (I have also been known to devour entire sleeves of Oreo thins in one sitting, but that’s a whole other topic).  With both of these books, however, I’ve had to read them more slowly than usual because with each one I’ve need to take frequent reading breaks to either think deeply on what I’ve just read or to cry because what I’d read had resonated so strongly with me.  Yeah, to say her books have had a strong impact on me is an understatement.

In Rising Strong, Brene details a frustrating situation and her difficulties dealing with it both in the moment and afterward — and judgment was a part of this.  In fact, Brene characterized those she was judging as “sewer rats and scofflaws.”  And as I read, I was totally cheering her on and thinking, “Damn straight, who does he/she think he/she is?!?!”  Or at least that’s what I was thinking all the way up until she shared an alternate perspective offered by her therapist:  What if those we’re labeling “sewer rats and scofflaws” are really doing the very best that they can do?  That they are not acting under a conscious effort to behave badly, but that they are simply doing the best they can do within their own abilities.  Whoa.  Yep, I had to stop reading so I could spend some dedicated time considering how my judgmental tendencies might be in opposition to my goal of living big.

By judging and labeling others, regardless of how quietly or internally I’ve done so, I’ve been creating my own limited circles.  By judging and labeling others, I have been easily dismissing and putting some people outside of my circles.  It’s not an attractive realization to make.  If I choose to stop that judgement process, however,  and instead approach situations from a default mindset of believing that most people are doing the very best that they can do I am invoking compassion, not judgment.  By halting judgment, I’m leaving open the possibility of connection and not further insulating myself into a known and unambiguous environment.  Being angry and self-righteous comes easily to me, but I find that compassion is complicated and if I’m truly being compassionate and believe others are doing the best that they can do, I can’t just shrink-wrap, label them, and stick them outside my circle of concern. How can I say I’m living “big” when I’m knowingly creating constraints and smallness with my habit of judging?

I didn’t expect a simple exploration of my curiosity to bring with it a breakthrough and whole new way of thinking, but it did.  Indulging in curiosity opens us up to new ways of looking at things, can inspire new ideas and creativity, and in general keeps those neurons creating new connections in our brains by forcing us to think in ways that are different from our defaults.  Curiosity expands us and isn’t that what living big is all about?



Ditching Plans, Being Present = Mindfulness

When I started this Masters Project, I approached it the way I approach any new project– I built a plan.  And while a plan is one of the necessary components of a Masters Project, at least per my syllabus, I realized within a few weeks that I was going to need a much more flexible approach to this personal development effort than the strict and rigid schedules I use for my professional work.

About four weeks in, I noticed that I was starting to feel irritated at having to taking time to “make marks” in my Thoughtlog each night before I went to sleep.  I also recognized that filling out a daily log evaluating each and every mindfulness, motion, and curiosity activity was seriously sucking the joy out of the process.  Typically, I would shove those emotions aside and just push my way through whatever was irritating me.  And I was well on my way to doing exactly that, when it finally it dawned on me THIS was an opportunity for learning: “live big and sparkle” is not a way of being that I can achieve by rigid scheduling and programming.  By doing so I was falling into the same old traps that have been limiting my ability to be truly present and enjoy life.  Managing (aka controlling) activities (aka everything)  is my way of dealing with uncertainty.  Or perhaps avoiding having to deal with uncertainty.  Not really a good way to be present and in the moment if what I’m being present in is actually a carefully orchestrated performance.  Collecting data is still an obligatory element of this Masters Project and collect data I will.  It was clear, though, my  original regimented method for doing this conflicted with living a truly mindful life.

The reality of all of the above was driven home when I traveled to Buffalo, NY last week to attend SUNY’s “Launching Mindfulness” academic conference. It ended up being a big growth and learning experience for me, particularly in those areas of being flexible, staying open, and being okay with ambiguity/uncertainty — and not just because of the conference!  Here’s what happened:

I was traveling with one of my besties and we’d decided to forego renting a car since the conference was within walking distance of the hotel.  Being the planner I am, I’d checked my MapQuest and Google Maps to ascertain the conference location (University at Buffalo) was indeed within walking distance.  I’d also scoped out the distance from the hotel to some of my fave spots in Elmwood Village (near MY campus, Buffalo State) and planned for us to taxi in for a late lunch and shopping after we landed.

The cab ride to Elmwood Village ended up being I don’t know how many miles more than what I’d researched and cost almost $45.00.  I could feel the annoyance rising as the fare on the meter continued to tick up, but I worked to keep my focus on the moment at hand.  We chatted with the driver about different types of yoga as he wended his way through Buffalo, I pointed out sights to my bestie, and realized when we arrived at our destination the annoyance was gone and I was just happy to be there – regardless of it taking quite a bit longer than I’d anticipated for us to get there.  Nothing would have been gained by becoming frustrated or berating the driver, but by recognizing what really mattered in the moment I was able to make the additional time enjoyable and interesting.

I’d also carefully planned my wardrobe for this trip and had worn a very practical outfit of leggings, boots, sweater dress so that I would have no issues transitioning from flight to cab to walking in town.  Except I had somehow grabbed a pair of what must have been ancient leggings.  After lunch in Elmwood village, before we had walked even a block, my leggings were halfway down my butt — and for the record, these were Spanx leggings, which I love and they NEVER behave this way!  Not only was this happening on a busy street, it was happening underneath a sweater dress and a down coat.  I ended up having to forego my polished appearance  and hike up my bulky coat and haul my leggings up — several times.  And you know what?  We laughed like lunatics about it,  indulged in a little shopping, marveled at a passing snow flurry, and had a blast.

The ultimate blow to my supreme organization and planning came the next morning when we headed off to the conference. It was cold — I was prepared for that.  It was icy — I was prepared for that.  And due to our less than stellar Google map reading skills we were heading in exactly the wrong direction to reach the conference.  We returned to the hotel to get the RIGHT directions and set out again, only to find that while University at Buffalo was indeed within walking distance, we were kinda sorta walking on a pretty busy four-lane highway that didn’t have any shoulder.  We happened across a blue University at Buffalo bus that had “EVENTS” emblazoned on it, explained our plight to the driver, and hitched a ride.  Another entirely unexpected foul-up in our best-laid plans, but instead of an annoyance or something to agonize over, we made it an adventure and reached the conference in high spirits.

Ordinarily, this much havoc wreaked upon my plans and schedules would have sent me into a tailspin.  Instead, by relaxing into the unknown and uncertainty, by being okay with staying open and being flexible, the trip ended up being an incredibly rewarding and fun experience for me and for my friend.  The conference was wonderful and I learned a lot,  but the biggest and most powerful leaning that took place for me was in experiencing the joy and happiness that comes from just letting life happen and being there for it.




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