judging others

Feeling the Edge of My Circle of Love

The month of Christmas, for all it's wonder and festivities, can also be a season where our "edge of love" can rear its little head. I call it the "edge of love" because even the most loving, non-judgmental, and kind people among us all have a perimeter, or boundary, of who and how we love.  I love easily the people and moments in the middle of my circle of love: girls nights in front of fireplaces, snuggling with my husband, talking on the phone to my sister, getting together with family I adore.

Shasta's Circle of Love

But... certain types of settings and certain types of people (or even very specific people) don't invoke in me the same pure love. I can feel myself show up with a lack-of-love as I reach the outer edges of who and how I love.

My goal, of course, is to make that circle of love so big that I can show up in nearly every setting with absolutely anyone and feel nothing but innocent love for the people in front of me.

But I am still far from that:

  • When I'm tired or have been around a lot of people lately.... I notice the circle closing in and getting smaller.
  • When I hear certain rhetoric or politics on the news... I notice myself feeling tempted to move an entire segment of the population outside of my circle because of my judgments.
  • When I feel forgotten or neglected or uninvited to something... I notice myself closing up a bit, which also shrinks the circle.
  • When I am so focused on my to-do list that I can't sit and be with people in meaningful ways... I know that my agenda is filling up too much of my heart.
  • When I am in certain settings that don't feel obviously meaningful (i.e. school programs, parties with people I don't know well) I am tempted to believe and expect little, therefore not showing up with an open heart.
  • When I am with a certain friend who has felt more draining than fulfilling, I can feel the edge with her where I want to love her but am not feeling expansive.

Maybe you know the feeling, too.  We know we are loving people; there's no question of that.  But if we're honest, every single one of us has an edge to our circle. I invite you to close your eyes and ask yourself where you're seeing the edge of your love show up recently.

It's more important than ever this year.  Practicing loving others is for our benefit as it leads to greater peace and joy in our lives as we watch ourselves judge, worry, or fear less. But this year, with all that is going on in the news, it's not just us that needs to feel more peace and safety, but our entire world is moaning with out it. Fear shrinks and closes us; love expands and opens us.  We need a world where humanity is still showing up with open hearts.

Loving Others Can Include Boundaries. To be clear: we're talking about a circle of feeling love for someone, which isn't the same as having boundaries for what we can give or do for others.  The circle of love doesn't mean I have to seek them out and hang out with them, spend time with them out of obligation, do whatever they ask of me, or give them all my time and energy.  It does mean that we see the value every person has-- that we see them as the innocent and loved people that they are even if we don't understand them, agree with them, or if they act out of brokenness and wounds, like we do, sometimes. It means I can think about people, or see them in person, and want to only send them love and light. It means showing up able to wish every person the very best and mean it.  Even with someone with whom I need to set boundaries with or limit my time with:  I want to be able to think of them and feel love. In fact, I set the boundaries because I love them.

Loving Others Is About My Need for Healing. And when I don't--or can't-- I know it's because there is something in me that is wounded and still needs healing. And I want to see that, own it, and pray for healing in me that I could then show up with greater love for the other.

It's not their fault I have a hard time loving them, it's my invitation to become a more loving person.  It's my responsibility to:

  • Invite in all the love I can from the people and places that fill my tank up.
  • Engage in the self-care and self-love that helps me hold all the love in my tank.
  • Choose self-awareness over blame so that I have more opportunities to ask myself "Why does this really bother me? What is it triggering in me? What's this about?"
  • Practice looking at those who annoy me and silently think "I love you anyway. You deserve love in this world," while simultaneously praying "Keep healing this in me so I don't feel provoked."

Loving Others Is the Work of a Lifetime! Oh I am far from this.  It's one thing to write-up my ideals and quite another to actually reach them.  But I will say that I have seen my circle of love grow bigger over the years, and that's encouraging!  I can think back to people and situations that would have bothered me years ago where now I can stay peaceful or better able to access my joy. I can see the growth in me! That excites me!  It reminds me that whatever "edge" feels impossible right now could feel easy this time next year!

This holiday season--whether you're with your in-laws who exhaust you or reacting to the news we see in this world--if there's anything we all wish we could put on our wish list, wouldn't it be more peace, love, and joy?

My prayer: Oh that we might see our love expanded this season. Replace our judgments with a willingness to see people differently, increase our ability to see people the way God does, and keep healing in us anything that limits our love.

The Log In My Own Eye (a.k.a. I'm Still Judgmental!)

Last week I was on one of those long, glorious walks with my husband along the Bay; the sun was shining, and our conversation was rich as we were both sharing what we were each choosing to celebrate about the day of work we had just completed.  And then...

My Thoughts of Judgment

And then, this guy walking his iguana on a leash passed us, all the while talking to his pet the way new parents talk to babies.  As heads turned and people pointed, I purposely

iguana on a leash

looked out over the ocean; ignoring the guy who I was sure was only out there for the attention that pet-walking an iguana can do for you. I internally rolled my eyes and didn't miss a beat of the conversation with my hubby.

A little further along and I saw a couple of guys just proudly standing by their cars.  It struck me that they were only there to show off their cars... like they somehow felt cooler just watching people look-over their cars with admiration.  Instantaneously, I felt both judgment that anyone would care that much about a car, and pity that their identity was that tied into a possession.  I'm pretty sure I looked back out at the ocean. I was not going to be one more gawker who gave them their jollies.

Neither interaction was really in my consciousness; they were just a few of the many thoughts we all see flow down our streams of thought.  Had it only been one of them I doubt I would have even realized I had thought it. But choosing to look away from humanity twice got my attention.

I immediately began to process with Greg.  "Wow.  We're out here in the most beautiful weather, getting fresh air and exercise, and I find myself judging people as we walk by them!  What's that about?"  I was determined to observe it in myself and bring it into my consciousness.

Picture of Trikkes, 3-wheel bicyce things

Then a couple came toward us on what I now think were things called Trikkes.  (I just learned that by googling "weird stand-up bike thing.")  They were standing on 3-wheel machines that they were guiding to go back and forth, think like a slalom course, by leaning one way and then the other.  They definitely had to take up a lot of sidewalk to navigate through the  crowds. You, unfortunately, now know where this is going.  Why don't they just ride bikes? Only people who want attention would use those!

Understanding Why I Judge

And while I felt an impulse of guilt that I was judging again. The value of having so many examples all at once helped me see the pattern: I was judging people who I deemed as wanting attention.

We then spent the next hour talking about 1) Why I had even assumed that those people had attention as their motive? 2) Whether that was even a bad thing if that was, in fact, their only motive! 3) That don't all humans crave attention, so why would I hold that against someone? 4) Where in my life I seek attention and whether I must think that my way of seeking attention is somehow superior to their method? 5) And that, if that was their call for attention, why was I so set against giving it to them?

It wasn't lost on me, at all, that I love attention.  That was a little painful to admit because I apparently hold some strong beliefs that we're not supposed to seek it, that we must pretend it doesn't matter to us, and that we can't admit we like it.  But I do.  I do like attention.  And my guess is that while we all want it from different people and perhaps in different ways, we all want to know we're noticed for whatever is important to us.

My processing has gone on all week... I've been watching myself like a hawk as I interact with people and process their behaviors.  Why should someone wanting attention bother me?  And can I be more honest with what I see as the shadow-side of me, perhaps looking at where I want attention and why I think I need to act all "false-humble" about it?  I've been blown away with some of my thoughts.

My Judgment Says More About Me Than It Does About Them

What wows me is how easy it would have been to not notice this tendency in myself.   Or, to notice it, as I may have done before, but not really ever taken the time to really see why it bothers me and what that says about me.  Because it's not really strangers on the road that can disrupt my peace; it's what they symbolize to me that I'm reacting to.  And I'm reacting to them because there's something in me that wants to react differently.

The Christian Scriptures have often-quoted verses in Matthew 7 that basically say: "Why worry about the speck in your friend's eye, when you have a log in your own?"

I hate to think how long I've been living with judgment in this area.... assuming that there was something wrong with those people.  When really there was something far bigger in me.

Because the truth is, when I sit with it, as I have this week, I want to admire people who don't look mainstream and who choose their own unique path in life.  That man with the iguana, taking pictures with kids and walking slow with his short-four-legged friend, probably brought more smiles and felt more joy that day than I did!  And those guys with cars?  Good for them for taking pride in something. And I should just be thrilled that they are hanging out together, being with their friends!  And now I'm way impressed with that couple who was willing to go to those lengths to not just exercise, but to be adventurous, fun, and daring.

I am choosing to consciously be fan of people who do things differently.

Now, as I go on my walk, I'm looking at people and whispering, "Good for you!  The world needs your spark! I love that you're willing to express yourself!"

And I'm hoping that what I practice giving to others will benefit me too... for one day, I may need to give that same love to myself when I choose to do something different.

Who could have ever guessed that I actually had that much to learn about me from an iguna-walker, boys with muscle cars, and Trikke-riders? Ha!

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Other posts on judgment:

The Judgment of Weight

Are We Competitors? Or Can We Be Friends?

How Annoying People Can Grow Me

 

 

 

 

Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity, and Judgment

I've been thinking about bodies, weight, and insecurities a lot lately. I was somewhat shocked when my last blog post ("The Judgment of Weight") skyrocketed to first place as the most read blog on this site. In hindsight, I shouldn't have been surprised as it hasn't gone unnoticed by me that nearly every woman's magazine puts the word fat or weight on their cover every single month. Clearly the subject sells.

And I know why.  We all want to be "acceptable."  Every single one of us goes through this journey called life trying, in our own ways, to "be enough," "prove valuable," and "feel loved." So certainly it would matter if we're told that there is something "wrong" with us.  Especially something so obvious to everyone else.

It's not my intention or training to talk about weight specifically-- whether we need to gain or lose, how to do it, why it's hard, or how it's affecting our health and longevity.  But from a relational perspective-- the judgment we have surrounding this issue has to keep being addressed. It's affecting all of us.

Your Weight Bothers Me

In some ways it doesn't seem to matter how public Oprah is about accepting her weight, how many Dove campaigns go viral, how many "over-weight" celebrities provide new role models, or how many more articles we read that emphasize health over weight-- we are still showing up with such deep judgments.

Less than half of the 1800 women who took the survey chose "neither" as their answer when asked to choose from pairs of words like ambitious or lazy to describe a woman they knew nothing about except that she was “overweight” or “thin.” (And in that particular question we were 11 times more willing to peg that imaginary woman as lazy!)

With two-thirds of Americans being overweight or obese you'd think we'd be more compassionate since the chances are high that if we're not personally in this category that someone we know and love is.  Ironic also that most of us claim we want to lose weight while simultaneously judging thin women as being superficial, mean, and controlling. If we believed that, why would we want to become that?

Those judgments are hurting us. Personally.

Not just because we risk dismissing potential friends because of our prejudice, though that's a strong reason to practice befriending those whose body types are different from ours.  But because we damage our own psyches when we judge others.

The judgments we are putting out there are the same judgments that are coming back and biting us in our ass--be it flat or plump. We think we might feel better if we devalue others,  but when we do, we are reinforcing the same judgments that we'll hold against ourselves.  We're putting energy out there that becomes our own critic, our own slave master, our own prison.

We cannot judge without feeling judged.  It's impossible. If we make the judgment about her, we're telling our brain that this belief is true to us. Which means that same brain will give us that message about ourselves.

What we say about others reveals way more about our own story than it does about theirs.  We are reacting to them from our own insecurities, fears, and doubts.

When we can't accept them it reveals that we can't accept ourselves. The two go hand-in-hand.

Getting Naked Literally and Figuratively

I felt a moment of that truth last week when a friend took me to a Korean style spa--a bathhouse where you wear the same thing you would if you were taking a bath at home. Ha!

The first two minutes are the worst.  Not used to disrobing in front of strangers (or my girlfriends who were with me, for that matter!) it does feel very vulnerable.

And then, it doesn't. Seriously.

A swimsuit just gives the illusion of being covered. Without it comes a freedom:  No sucking anything in, no pulling anything down, no adjusting anything, no worrying if it is in style, or flattering, or appropriate.  There was simply nothing to hide behind, nothing to judge, nothing to worry about keeping in place.

When we risk showing our scars, birthmarks, cellulite, rolls of fat, protruding bones, tan lines, faces without make-up, boobs without push-up bras, and wet hair-- we realize we're all way more alike than we seem to remember when covered with clothing.

To see one woman walk by with only a scar where a breast used to be--I was reminded how grateful I am for life.  To see one woman sitting on the edge of the jacuzzi with rolls of fat around her middle-- I found myself cheering for her courage, grateful for her acceptance, challenging myself to accept who I am, too.

As I accepted all the bodies around me for just what they were, letting go of any need to judge those who were willing to be vulnerable in the same space with me, a self-acceptance washed over me.

I felt beautiful even as I gazed at the parts of my body that can sometimes cause me shame.  I didn't feel it then.  I completely and totally accepted myself, even as my chest flattened when I laid on my back. Oh that we all had more moments where we could be that relaxed and at peace.

When I stopped judging those around me, I found it easier to give the gift to myself.

Or maybe it was when I first disrobed, proving I was willing to accept myself that I was able to accept all of them.

I don't know which came first. But I do know the two went hand-in-hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Annoying People Can Grow Me

Call the Holy Spirit your still small voice, your intuition, your wisdom, your highest self, your conscience, your place of peace, or whatever it is that guides you, but don't miss the profundity of this upcoming statement.  Marianne Williamson, in her bestseller book, A Return to Love reminds us that we are not centered on what matters if the actions of others continue to dictate how we feel and show up.

"We're not aligned with the Holy Spirit until people can behave in any way they choose to, and our inner peace isn't shaken."

That's the kind of statement that our heads can agree with, but is simply so hard to practice, isn't it?

In our day-to-day lives, it is far more tempting to fall for the deceptive thought that others determine our mood, that circumstances dictate our peace, and that the behaviors around us require our reaction.  But that would be a victim mindset, a belief that leaves us feeling as though we are at the mercy of others, dependent on their whims. It's a defeating belief to feel we can't find peace until everyone, and everything, is fixed to our liking. Which is why our peace can be so hard to come by if it relies on our bosses, our kids, our romantic partners, our colleagues, our friends, and our in-laws all being in peace first!

Hard to Hold Inner Peace

Applying that statement to my own life, asking myself "where do I sometimes give away my peace because of others?" I found a few whispered answers.

  • Moods of Others: My husband and I work in the same office in our house which can create a fabulous synergy most of the time.... but it also means that we're at risk of stepping under each others black clouds.  Sometimes when our wireless modem takes him offline, I feel the stress that he expresses.  I can't fix it and it only makes matters worse if I try to "inspire" him (apparently it feels controlling and judgmental to him? Who knew?) to react differently.  How to hold my own peace even when he feels anything but that?
  • Judging Others: I've been working consciously the last several months to resist making judgments about others... it's amazing though how automatically those thoughts seem to jump into my head during first impressions or various conversations!  Ugh!  It's far too easy for me to attach a value to the statements and choices of others.  And as I judge them, I subconsciously feel they are judging me which moves me to try to impress them rather than just see them. An inner peace is hard to hold when we're judging and feeling judged!
  • Filtering Their Stories: Our default thinking process is to run the stories of others through our filter of "how does it make me feel?"  So their stories (i.e. their achievements, their break-ups, their stories about their kids, their insecurities) somehow start making us feel something about our lives.  It's so difficult to simply let their story be their story.  I find that I can start to feel intimidated, jealous, sad, fearful, and disappointed even when we're not talking about my life!  It's one thing to enter into their feelings, it's quite another to change how I feel about myself based on something about them! How's a girl to feel peace if every conversation risks her feelings changing?

How Others Can Grow My Inner Peace

Seeing the list above (and I could name so many more!) makes me understand why some people are tempted to go be in solitude in order to connect with their spirituality. Bumping into each other invariably pushes our buttons.  This is true whether we're talking about the people we live with, or the women we're meeting at a ConnectingCircle for the first time.

It's hard to hold our own peace around others.  They either aren't living up to our expectations or desires which disappoints or angers us.  Or they exceed our expectations and standards which triggers our insecurities and fears.  Hard for every person to stand on the little line we have for them, without falling into the ditch on either side! (Not to mention the remote possibility that we're not the best judges of where to draw the line!)

Clearly, we have to learn to hold our own peace and let others do their thing.

But Marianne takes it one step further, inviting us not to just tolerate others, but to be grown by them:

To the ego, a good relationship is one in which another person basically behaves the way we want them to and never presses our buttons, never violates our comfort zones.  But if a relationship exists to support our growth, then in many ways it exists to do just those things; force us out of our limited tolerance and inability to love unconditionally.

It's a concept I'm holding to.  I've been very mindful in recent months about trying not to attach judgements and values on the decisions of others, which does result in more inner peace.  But to actually show up, across from someone who annoys me or frustrates me, and see it as a way to grow me, expand me, teach me patience and deepen my ability to love?

It reminds me that even if we spend time at a monastery, an ashram, a church, in a sacred text, or on a quiet walk in nature for our spiritual centering-- those are only the classrooms for learning.  It is in our connections with others that we are on the practice field for personal growth. All my prayers are in vain if I'm not showcasing more patience for the people I meet.

So if you're annoying, bring it on!  :)  I have lots of room to grow!