I remember reading something about how people become kindred spirits when they feel empowered by you. Once, a friend described feeling that way from talking to me. She suggested it was because she felt as though I did not judge her. And I never did judge her. I decided I would tap into the reason and make it part of my daily experience. Not that I viewed myself as a judgmental person. I did not. However, it is easy to find ourselves questioning choices people make in very subtle ways, such as what they are wearing, or the things that they say or do. However, I don’t recall there being even a trace of judgement with my friend.
I now know that part of the reason I did not judge her was due to the fact that we talked for over a year before becoming reunited. Striking up an email conversation after going 20 years without seeing each other was a great way to discover this reality. Putting too much emphasis on physical appearance is something that acts as a roadblock to our discovery of the real connectedness of all mankind. In fact, it seems it is ALWAYS the physical world that gets in the way of connecting with Spirit. After all, it is noticing the physical differences in others that keeps us separate from them.
The Mind Creates Stories
I am reminded of a conversation I had at a basketball camp my team attended one summer. We were staying on campus and I was on a walk with one of my assistant coaches, when we came across two young women sitting on the front step of their sorority house. They were both very attractive and seemed quite intelligent. In fact, one of the young ladies went out of her way to try and appear intelligent! At least that was the way I judged her at the time. Because of this judgment, I lost any initial motivation I had to talk to her. I now realize that I could have viewed this behavior as a refreshing change from so many other young women I had met up to that point, who seemed to center everything on their physical appearance. However, these two women were doing the opposite, centering their being on their intelligence rather than appearance. Because of that, I felt somewhat uncomfortable talking to them, not really knowing how to interact.
In the past, I remember evaluating women when I first met them as being attractive or unattractive before listening to what they had to say. I am sure many other men who are looking for a partner have done the same thing. After judging their physical appearance, I found myself going through a process of selective listening. By that time I had already labeled them as marriage material, prospective date, possible friend, new acquaintance, unattractive, unworthy of attention, or a myriad of other possible projections of the mind. Then, as I listened to them talk, I would hear an inner voice that must have come from the picture that was painted in the mind. How unfortunate! Think of all the people we have had the opportunity to know and didn’t because we were too distracted by the art work being creating in the mind. On the other hand, think of all the people we can now know because we choose to look through an unfiltered lens, and really listen to their story.
Learning to be more present when listening to people speak can really help to clean that lens. If we find the mind wandering when listening to another, we need only repeat every word they are saying in our head. Then, the inner voice will be directed to the speaker rather than to thoughts about what is being said. I used to believe that it is important to formulate ideas about what the person was saying so that I had a response when they were done talking. That way, they could feel heard. However, after discovering mindfulness, I could see that what I was actually doing was filtering what the speaker was saying through perceptions gained from personal experience. In turn, I would miss much of the point of the person’s story. It seems like we do this often. Pity! If we would stop placing ourselves in other people’s stories we might actually become much better listeners!
After the practice of mindful listening, I discovered that not having a response is no cause for concern. If no words came to mind, I would just say something like, “That is interesting, I will give it some thought.” What I came to realize is that many times, the person does not even need a response. They just want to feel like they have been heard. And what better way to make a person feel heard than to listen to every word being said, rather than listen to the thoughts in our head?
When I first practiced mindful listening, I had to repeat what the person said often, as I found the mind wandering a lot! However, with practice, the mind wandered less and less. Eventually, the inner voice all but disappeared while listening to others. Occasionally, if I was tired or distracted by something big going on in my life, attention still waned. But the habit was created so the inner voice immediately began repeating what the person was saying without being consciously aware of it.
Many Perceptions Exist Simultaneously
Years ago, while sitting in a pub having dinner, I was reminded of just how far I had to go with regards to judging others! Yet, I also came away from the experience inspired that I was headed in the right direction, and there was no stopping the destination of complete authenticity. I can now see the ego in me very quickly, accept it for what it is, and simply let go of the unwanted thoughts. And it feels liberating!
In the lesson mentioned above, I was sitting at a table next to the bar watching a basketball game. Meanwhile, I was reading, writing, and reflecting on life, which seems like enough to keep the mind occupied. Still, I found myself eaves-dropping on a couple conversations. The first one was that of a man and a woman sitting in the table next to me, directly under the TV with the game I was watching. I don’t know what the conversation was about, but the woman was making provocative movements with her mouth and tongue while the man continued to make, what seemed to be casual conversation. Because the conversation appeared so innocent, the woman’s behavior seemed especially out of place.
I immediately found myself judging her with the thought, “She’s not even listening to him! How can she act that way in public? Who’s attention is she trying to get anyway?” Just as quickly, however, I caught the mind judging and dropped the inner dialog. Then it occurred to me I could have thought something like, “What a beautiful thing how comfortable she is expressing her sensual side like that,” yet I did not! I came away grateful for the experience, because not only did I quickly notice the judgmental thoughts, I was able to redirect the inner dialog to a higher energy level of thinking!
The Ego Judges Language
Another time I found myself judging others that night was when I overheard a conversation in which two men were using curse words while talking. I found myself judging them for using the “foul” language, but only briefly. It wasn’t long before I realized how ridiculous it is to judge others for the language they use. After all, it is all done in the head by the one who is listening, and the one who is listening is the human ego. The ego is the one who has learned, according to societal standards, which words are appropriate to use in public and which are not.
I find it very interesting that we judge some language as curse words, not to be used in public, and other words as “appropriate” ways to communicate. We can take four letters and arrange them one way and become offended, or we can arrange the letters another way and feel nothing. After all, how far is THIS from SHIT? It is the same four letters with only the first and last being switched. Interestingly, the simple movement of two letters can create the movement of energy from within, in the form of a powerful emotional response in some, while eliciting no response in others. Of course, all this begins in the head the moment we hear the word and begin to search our memory for its meaning. Then, because of what had previously been learned about the societal standard of word usage, either a strong negative feeling comes with the hearing of the word, or, if deemed appropriate by society, no feeling at all.
Next, I noticed that the two men using the curse words were having a conversation that seemed to be about nothing more than sports, and I judged them for that too! This was especially ironic given that I myself used to center my life on athletics, as I was a basketball coach for 20 years! I was also forced to acknowledge the judgment as being hypocritical, which cut especially deep given I always attempted to steer clear of that stumbling block!
I found myself very grateful for recognizing all of the judgments when they first entered the mind, and rejecting them before giving them a chance to fester. I could also take heart in knowing that it was merely the beginning of what has become a very enlightening journey.
To learn more about personal growth and moving toward a higher state of consciousness, see my newly revised book The New Season: Journey Toward Enlightenment