Would You Rather be Right or Know Peace? The Power of Non-Judgment

One of the key components of forgiveness that many of us struggle with is non-judgment. Non-judgment is essentially accepting what is at any given moment. It is observing what is happening without the need to make it right or wrong. It is seeing with eyes wide open and without the mental activity of needing to “know” what is occurring. When we take our life exactly as it is, with the perceived good and bad, we come closer to a full experience of what it means to be human. We are able to live authentically in the moment, without having to make up a story about how it ‘should’ be, how we wish for it to be, or how we believe it should be. When we choose to live in non-judgement by accepting what is, we don’t mask the truth from ourselves. We see everything as it is, we own it all and we take responsibility for our role in it. This is important because wishing is a form of yearning, and therefore, suffering.

In this context, judgment is very different from discernment. When we discern, we observe. “The sky is blue,” is discernment. “The sky is beautiful,” is a judgment. Discernment is observing, while judgment is evaluating and is usually based on comparisons and assumptions we make when we think things should be a certain way.

One challenge people face when exploring this idea is the false belief that non-judgment is passivity or “looking the other way” when injustice is happening. Non-judgment is not about burying our head in the sand or entering a state of denial; in fact, denial is an indication that we are judging our experience. When we practice non-judgment, we come into a wholehearted acknowledgment of the moment. We say, “OK, this is what’s happening now,” and our capacity to pay attention increases. So does our ability to do so without shrinking from existence.

So, why do we judge everything around us? Partly, we are taught to do so. We indoctrinate our children to evaluate their environment ceaselessly out of fear that they won’t be able to recognize danger. This is a survival-based instinct, and I would caution, however, that we do a disservice by orienting our children (and ourselves) to see the world through a veil of fear. But, given that this is how most of us operate, let’s explore whether or not it actually accomplishes its purpose: protecting or somehow improving our experience of life.

If we did not judge something as, say, perfect, would we still feel the awe of the sunrise on the distant horizon? What if the sunrise simply was? Would it be less powerful? No, in fact, in the absence of judgment we would have a fuller, more integrated experience. Why is that? Because as soon as we judge, we create duality. Alongside the concept of perfection, imperfection also emerges. This is the activity of judgment. And, while we might not be consciously aware of the subtle impact of this, what is happening is a movement out of the actual experience of what is and into the mental activity of evaluation. You have shifted your consciousness from your-body-in-the-world into your mind, the source of suffering.

Let’s look at another example. What if someone points a gun at your head? Surely, that is a good time to make judgments, right? It is certainly a time for discerning how best to respond. But judgments can actually increase the danger we face, because they are based on our past experiences and the assumptions we have about right and wrong. They cloud our ability to see what is. Is this the time to evaluate the situation as wrong? Take a moment and try to find the outcome of that or any judgment in a moment such as this. What is gained by concluding something is wrong or someone is a bad person? How will this help you in that moment? It won’t and you run the risk of missing an opportunity to see things that fall outside of your judgments when you pretend to know. Maybe it is a cry for help. Maybe it is a toy gun. Maybe it is a prank or a twisted reality television show. Maybe if you looked closely without the cloud of judgment you would see a child’s nature in their eyes and an opportunity to help. This is a time to observe our environment as acutely as we can and accurately respond to what we observe.

How does this relate to forgiveness? We judge because it allows us to move out of the suffering we feel and into a mental activity designed to distance us from the apparent, external source of our pain. Judgment not only separates us from our full experience of life; it disconnects us from others. In fact, that is precisely why we judge. We tell ourselves, “I would never…” or, “I wasn’t myself when I did that.” Think of someone you need to forgive right now and ask yourself, what judgment do I have about this person? Take a moment and imagine the possibility of letting that judgment go. How does that feel in your body and in your heart?

Forgiveness happens in the heart. In fact, that is where all healing takes place. Judgment moves us out of the heart and into our head. This is why it is essential to the process of forgiveness to be willing to suspend our knowing and simply allow ourselves to feel the pain. When we learn to do this in the presence of love and non-judgment something magical happens: the suffering transforms into love and gratitude. We create space for joy by letting go of righteousness and honoring how we feel.

There is certainly a time and place in life for judgment. Calling our wedding day perfect brings us joy. Naming another person as not good for us allows us to make choices about who we want in our lives. The power and importance of non-judgment is in being able to recognize when and why we are doing it. When we raise our awareness out of the compulsive nature of judgment most of us have been trained to do, we are free to choose when judging serves us and when it does not. You might be surprised to see how often it adds no value at all.

This is the effect of non-judgment. When we exercise faith in not knowing and respond to the cues life gives us, suddenly we experience the freedom and wholeness of living from a place of our highest good. Take time to notice when you’re engaged in evaluating or ranking the world around you and ask, “Is this creating peace?” If not, consider letting it go.