Heading out on a Sunday morning dog walk at a local nature reserve with a small group of friends, and I’m noticing just how much my mind is off in judgment.
It’s a lovely cool day, respite from the 80-degree humidity of the past week. With yesterday’s thunderstorm, the shades of green around us are varied and rich. We see the swan family gliding easily on the water, the cygnets hovering close to mom and dad. My friends comment on their beauty and I try to look interested, but where is my mind? It’s off thinking about all the things on my to-do list and accusing me of laziness for taking this time outside. Now it’s zoomed off replaying my oft-repeating inner conversation with a friend who I perceive isn’t doing a good job relating to her teen. Now, telling me that I’m so much less articulate than the friends I’m with. And now, that I’m bad for eating that chocolate ice cream I ate last night.
I’ve come to see that my mind is a judgment producing machine! No matter what I’m doing, it’s at the ready and looking out for differences, for comparisons, for anything it perceives is something that shouldn’t be the way that it is. It hardly matters what it seizes upon, simply on the alert and ready to pronounce something as good or, much more likely, as bad. I’ve worked very hard on reigning in my judgments and yet, inevitably, off goes my mind again.
Does All the Judging Serve Us?
This morning, I’m finding myself questioning how this pattern of judging, judging, judging is serving me. I know it keeps my mind spinning, that’s for sure. And the spinning makes it difficult for me to be present. And that lack of attentiveness to what’s actually going on in front of me is not serving me well. It takes me away from being present with my son, for example, or with the friends I walk with this morning. Far away from the natural beauty offered to me on this walk. And having my mind spin in this way is also exhausting. It’s a lot of mental energy that surely I could be applying to more productive ventures.
And what about how my judging mind keeps me acting with unconscious bias? In ways I’m not even aware of, that same latching onto unimportant differences that my mind is so prone to do? The cost of this pattern is definitely not low.
So what am I to do?
I know from experience that, first and foremost, I need to be kind to myself. Judging my judging mind only creates more judgment, more ill ease, and invariably, more judgments about myself and others. What a dangerous cascade that can be!
I also know that I need to take many pauses. Pausing when I have a judging thought. Pausing when I’m about to say something that only serves to reinforce my judging mind. Pausing when I start questioning what on earth is wrong for me for being so caught up in judgment. Pausing, as I remind myself that it’s OK if I don’t get things perfectly right, and that I’m OK no matter what my mind tells me. These pauses give me just enough time to redirect my mind, to take a tad more control over it’s wanderings.
I can also leave my busy judging mind and come back to what’s actually in front of me. I can focus my attention on the gracefulness of the swan family. I can notice how the light hits the trees. I can pay attention to the feel of the cool air on my skin. Watching what the dog is doing is always an available option. My senses can always be counted on to provide respite from the machinations of my judging mind.
Most of the people I know want to be more present yet many of us find our minds off in judgment after judgment. And most certainly want to bring to our consciousness the ways our judging contributes to broad societal patterns that we all need to help stop. We’ve been conditioned to judgment so disrupting that pattern takes work. Lots and lots of work. Yet, it’s work that is deeply worthwhile.
I’ll keep working with my judging mind. Every moment seems to provide opportunity aplenty.
If you’ve missed any previous posts in our popular Mindfulness In Medicine Series, here’s a list of them for your convenience.
- Managing the difficult co-worker
- Patient satisfaction in healthcare and mindfulness
- Mindful parenting
- Self compassion mindfulness for physicians
- Mindfulness and non-physician healthcare administrators
- The top 10 common myths about meditation
- Doctor stress, overwhelm and physician burnout
- Being present with patients
- Mindfulness leadership for physicians
- How to prevent medical errors causes and physician burnout
- Beat imposter syndrome anxiety symptoms with mindfulness