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How to Transform a Judgmental Mind into a Discerning Mind
Two Types of People
We normally find two types of people around us: those who are highly opinionated and appear to have strong ideas about everything; they usually don’t listen and must prove themselves to be always right (or prove others wrong). People in the other category listen more than they talk and express a rather balanced opinion; they are flexible and appear to have an open mind.
At the core of our behavior is the mind and its conditioning. The mind does what it has been conditioned to do, that's all. Highly judgmental people don’t know that they are judgmental. They are almost stubbornly attached to their thoughts (judgments) and feelings and take them for truth.
We may call the first category of people as having a “judgmental mind” – a mind which always already knows. It is a “full” mind and all the time it already knows. It is waiting to react and offer its opinion; it is certainly a reactive mind. In contrast, the second category exhibits a “discerning mind.” It is an empty mind and is ready to grasp, or learn, or know. It is a receptive mind. Since it is not already filled with “knowledge” it is non-judgmental and non reactive.
A “judgmental mind” is fixed, rigid and opinionated. In contrast, a discerning kind is flexible; it has the capacity for intuition and creativity. It is a fertile mind not limited by the boundaries of reason and logic. It can go into unseen territories and explore fresh ideas.
Since there is already an opinion in a “judgmental mind,” it is already identified with it. So, it is like an anchored ship; not free to move. The discerning mind, on the other hand, is not attached nor identified. It is free to agile; it is free to see into things and take up or discard opinions when appropriate. It is a moldable and cooperative mind. It can shift its stand as the situation changes.
A “judgmental mind” cannot connect with other people; it only connects to whatever confirms its judgment. It has a tough time dealing with difference of opinions and thus resorts to controlling behavior. It strives to be better than the next person and thus alienates other people; and gets pushed into the pit of loneliness. Its fixation and rigidity also makes it hard to recognize change. It is uncomfortable in the frequently changing situations. In contrast, a discerning mind is not threatened by difference of opinions. Thus, it has no need to control others.
What makes People Judgmental
It is the blind attachments to various things like material possessions, religious faith (and consequently what makes better people), social status, educational degrees, that goes into making judgmental people. The mind cooks up arguments so that “we are always right” and filters everything to sustain the belief that things are exactly the way we think. To some extent we are all guilty of living in such a “make believe” world.
Now, what precisely is a judgmental mind?
Stated simply, a judgmental mind draws conclusions or makes assumptions about people or situations based on stereotypical beliefs. It is a biased viewpoint coming from past training rather than current facts. It is a mind that operates on what “should be” as opposed to “what is.”
In contrast, a discerning mind starts with a “blank slate” and evaluates “what is” and forms a balanced opinion. This mind operates uncolored by the past impressions or future projections. So, present facts rule such a mind as opposed to the feelings or dogmas of a judgmental mind. A discerning mind has no difficulty in changing its stand if facts or situation change.
“When I look at a person, I see a person - not a rank, not a class, not a title.” ― Criss Jami
“It has always seemed that a fear of judgment is the mark of guilt and the burden of insecurity.” ― Criss Jami
“Wise men are not pacifists; they are merely less likely to jump up and retaliate against their antagonizers. They know that needless antagonizers are virtually already insecure enough.” ― Criss Jami
“Sometimes you can tell what something is by what is isn't.” ― Kenneth Copeland
How is Discernment Different from Judgment
Three things separate discernment from judgment: 1. It focuses on benefit vs harm rather than right vs wrong, 2. It focuses on specific actions and not conclusions, and 3. It acknowledges the reality of change (impermanence) by staying in the present moment. A judgmental mind operates around value judgment and subjective thinking, “what a rude fellow” or “that is so wrong.”. The moment we invoke the issue of right or wrong, we get cut off from the present reality. A discerning mind would comment along the line, Wow, that was a rude comment” or “that isn’t right.” Here the focus is on the actions which is impersonal. Note that discernment is also synonymous with wise, insightful, perceptive, prudent, sagacious, and sage.
Nature of Thoughts
Thoughts are not reality; they merely symbolize reality. Thoughts are the map and not the territory. Therefore, judgmental thoughts have no reality; they are just emotional opinion.
The best way to relate to thoughts is through discernment. Judgment and discernment are very different things. Judgments are much less accurate, and thus much more divorced from reality than discerning thoughts. Discerning thoughts underscore basic distinctions in reality, such as “There is a car on the road.” It is purely an objective statement; more like a statement of fact. A judgmental thought would be something like, “The car is old,” or “The car is white.” This is “colored” thinking because judgment has colored the perception of reality. It has an element of authority. There is no room for reconciliation.
Thoughts are truth or reality only while you are thinking them. For instance, if you have a self critical thought such as “I am bad in programming,” as soon as a new thought, say “I will go to see a cricket match tonight”appears, you are no longer bad in programming. What a relief!
Thoughts only have power over us when we identify with them. It happens when we are not aware that we are thinking. It is something like when we are lost watching a movie. The good news is that all we have to do is wake up and become aware of what we are doing. The moment we let go of the thought and bring back our attention to the present moment the thought or the movie vanishes from the mind like a bubble.
Can a Judgmental Mind be Changed?
The transformation of a “judgmental mind” into a “discerning mind” is a journey from rigidity to flexibility, from bias to un-bias, from closed to open, from reaction to action, and from stress to relaxation; ultimately from misery to happiness. Can it be done? Yes, certainly. But How?
Mindfulness is the tool that can transcend a judgmental mind into a discerning mind. The practice of mindfulness is perhaps the simplest form of practice for self-exploration. Anyone can learn to observe oneself; all it involves is to watch the mind – with its thoughts and emotions – with a dispassionate attitude. It has nothing to do with contemplation or concentration. As you begin to notice your mind you notice its tendency to find fault or blame people, to complain, or pronounce righteous judgments.
With practice the clarity of self observation increases and you can very clearly see your mental habits (tendencies). As the faculty of awareness grows, the mental tendencies weaken. You will also discover how you have been living with the burden of negativity which blocked spontaneity and ease of your living. The practice of mindfulness demands that you don’t suppress anything, but merely allow the negativities to stay in the mind maintaining watchful alertness. The practice necessarily involves compassion for your mind.
Any judgmental tendency is harmless as long as you take note of it but don’t identify with it. Alertness is needed to make efforts to avoid identification with mental contents. Then gradually as you sustain the awareness, strength of the tendencies weakens. Becoming friendly with the present moment is the key.