a while ago i attended a day-long retreat with Donald Rothberg on working with judgments. by “judgments” i don’t mean discernment, or objective observation, but observations charged with anxiety, or derision towards others.
since then i’ve been exploring judgments deeply – their causes, how they feel in the body, to what emotional and mental processes they’re related, and how to deal with them. i thought that information might be useful to some people so i decided to post my thoughts here. hope it’s helpful.
so i started with a bunch of questions i wrote down in the workshop:
- what is “making a fool of oneself” and why do we fear it?
- how do we deal with the past?
- how do we deal with “fault” when the fault is our own?
- what does derision feel like? what is derision?
- what is “being annoyed?”
- how do we deal with shame?
- why do we fear anger and the judgment of others?
all these questions i have since found (at least in myself) relate to “anger” and fear of it. other people might think of judgment in other terms. so why is anger so scary and how does it relate to judgment?
“making a fool of oneself,” being “at fault,” feeling shame, being the subject of others’ judgment or derision or annoyance, and having a sense of a heavy or unprocessed past can all tell us that we’ve fucked up essentially…from the perspective of at least one other person. and maybe we have. that we have in some capacity hurt others. it could be quite obvious, like if we betray another’s trust. or it could be in some abstract way – like, for example, if i’m wearing an ugly hat one day, and others’ judge me negatively for this, they might see themselves as in some way superior to me by societal standards, as “good” people, or people who have knowledge or try hard or “care” about the face they put forward, whereas i do not care, don’t try hard etc. such “good” people are likely to value if not “care” about being other things, like being beneficent. when i feel shame it’s threatening, because i buy into the spectrum of “badness” that society offers up. buying into this spectrum is buying into the paradigm that if i’m capable of one bad thing i’m capable of all bad things, and thus not a “good” person. at least in me, this sort of thinking can make the mind go crazy with ways to avoid being the subject of derision, and this thinking is what i’d call perfectionism.
we all have solutions to fear of anger in ourselves and in others. my solution has been perfectionism. another solution is to be a “nice” person, someone who aims to be a person others do not fear, because they want to avoid being in a situation in which they have to FEAR OTHERS. example: a nice person avoids creating boundaries because they are afraid of having to experience others creating boundaries with them.
what does it feel like to be angry and why is it so uncomfortable? i’ve thought a lot about this and made a point of observing anger in myself, especially little blips of it since it’s easier to observe that way. qualitatively, i’ve found anger to be the same thing as hatred. anger, i think, is the same thing as hatred. it is the building block of hatred. who says hatred cannot be fleeting? i’d say that anger IS judgment IS hatred. and it’s scary when we feel it in ourselves or when we are the subject of it, because it could mean that we are deserving of hatred. so that got me thinking…is anyone deserving of hatred? if we buy into the societal paradigm of goodness and badness, the answer is yes, but i’m starting to believe that the answer can be no.
what happens when NO ONE IS ANGRY EVER? i’m not referring to “righteous anger” which i think is something different entirely, because righteous anger can still have love and respect in it. i’m talking about unbridled hatred. what if we never had to fear that we are innately bad and evil according to society’s measures? perhaps we have done objectively bad things to others, but we have to be able to atone and move forward productively and in good faith. conversely, if we have been hurt, it can be painful to hold onto anger because in so doing we hold onto the paradigm that will lead us ultimately to judge ourselves harshly.
that’s why metta (also called lovingkindness meditation) works for dealing with judgments. it shifts our instinctual tendencies away from societally-ingrained judgments/hatred to love, and compassionate consideration of ourselves and others.
i have experienced this shift. while i was doing metta in a sangha one time, someone made an innocuous noise. and i felt where the judgment in me should or could have been, but it wasn’t there. i only felt it pass through me. and i felt a little good-natured laugh inside, like “woops, that’s a bit embarrassing huh?”. but i felt no derision. i think it’s analogous to drinking water when you have the hiccups; you can feel where the spasm should/could have been, but something is there instead.
another way of dealing with judgments is to “sit with” the discomfort/fear/anxiety that arises with them. one day recently i came to the conclusion that it’s a perfectionist tendency to want nothing to hurt. if judgments are going to exist and they’re going to hurt, might as well just accept that, not fight the judgments, walk into them anyway. “face the music” so to speak. i don’t have to be “prepared” necessarily, what i’d call “braced against” the scary thing, in order to face the scary thing. in fact, being numb pretty much sucks.