Starting today and continuing for the rest of the week, we’re going to expand this week’s meditation on judgment. We’re going to demonstrate that the identities you’ve built for everyone you know, are actually judgments you’ve made about how you’re going to interpret and value the behaviour around you. You don’t see people you see your judgments about them.
Let’s use someone close enough to you that you know them but not so close that there still aren’t things you don’t know. Co-workers can be good for this, and in this case I would like you to choose one you don’t particularly get along with. Someone who you have negative judgments about. Maybe it’s some lazy person who creates more work for you, maybe it’s someone with a loud or brash personality–it doesn’t matter why you don’t like them as long as you have some issue with them.
First, take some time you used to use to think about yourself and invest it instead in imagining their life. Not in your habitual way. Think new thoughts about them. Make new guesses as to who they are. So if they have two kids at home are you sure both are healthy? Maybe one is sick, or struggling in school. Or maybe the kid is getting bullied every day and they’re worried about suicide. Take some things it would be easy to feel compassionate about if it was you and your friends and then apply those to the person you don’t like.
If at all possible start up a conversation with them. Ask them about their history. Tell a story about your parents and then ask them about theirs. Maybe you guys grew up in a very similar manner. Or maybe they were so badly abused that you very quickly develop compassion for them. Who do they admire? Who broke their heart? Just keep going until you learn something that expands your view and decreases your distance. Look for the things that erase the thought barriers you thought you had.
Notice how you’ll begin to feel differently about the person. Not only are you actively asking new questions about them, but moreover in doing so you’re also avoiding a narrative about yourself. A narrative that otherwise might latch onto the cold, or the time or how tired you feel or how much you don’t like this other person…. But instead there is no you created because your thinking is pointed outward; toward the collection and appreciation of the world rather than the judgment of yourself and your day.
Think differently about the person to the point where you find yourself genuinely feeling differently about them. Learn about their background. Find something that connects you to them. We’re all people. We all feel the same kinds of pains. Don’t let that close you off. Let it open you up with even greater empathy.
Pay attention to how flexible that other person is within your imagination. They never were any way. You saw them through a particular lens and that’s what made them appear to you as they did. They do the same with you. Always remember that illusion. Always remember that your views of anyone are subject to change, and indeed our personal freedom is achieved by realizing that the same holds true for ourselves. Others opinions of us are nothing more than that–a collection of thoughts and judgments that have no life outside of their own consciousness. You have nothing to fear.
Rethink the world folks. The Buddha wasn’t kidding when he told you that with your thoughts you make the world. You do. So make yourself a beautiful place to live. Have a wonderful week. Because if you seriously try on this exercise you’ll realize that your reality is much more flexible than you’ve previously imagined. Enjoy that fact! And use it to create a truly great day. All the best.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.