"Judge not, lest ye be judged." - Matthew 7.1, The Bible
"When there is no enemy within you, the enemies outside cannot hurt you." - African Proverb
"Wherever you go, there you are." - Jon Kabat-Zinn
The perils and lessons of judgment have been coming up a lot for me lately. Oh the joys of self-analysis! And the joys of blogging about such self-analysis.
In the realm of yoga (and psychology), judgment is something we are supposed to avoid or at least notice, in order to shed light and work through. There is a reason why (most) yoga studios do not have mirrors- in order to feel the postures and embody them, rather than focus on the physical shape's appearance. There is, of course, a certain blueprint for shapes, but it is not helpful in the practice to solely focus on what the shape looks like. This is directly juxtaposed in yoga publications such as Yoga Journal as well as the popularity of yoga videos, which focus on the beauty and look of the asanas, rather than the transformational and alchemical properties of the shapes when embodied. I am not saying asana cannot be beautiful-it often is! But when this beauty is the sole focus, ideas (and egos!) can become skewed. Especially when mixed with our perceptions of ourselves, our body image issues, and our self-confidence levels. While we are on that subject...
I have recently been engaged in some projects that require my yoga practice and teaching to be filmed. I've decided to embark on yoga videos, due to the request of long distance students, as well as students who live in rural areas and are unable to get to classes as often as they like. I also recently participated in a documentary about movement, in which yoga was a featured discipline. I noticed while fiming these pieces that I was often more worried (and yes, worried is the correct word!) on what the postures would look like (and more vainly, what I looked like doing the postures), rather than how I felt while practicing them or my breath, or transitions, or any of the other important things I emphasize in my teaching. In fact, often I wasn't breathing at all and more than once, I injured myself in an effort to make the asana look better on video. I was head to head with judgment of every single aspect of myself during this process. In class and even in teaching, I rarely worry about what I am wearing, what skin is or is not showing, how my hair looks, or the blisters on the bottoms of my feet. These things suddenly became important in filming. Should I wear more make-up? Is that grey strand of hair off-putting? Are those pants too tight? My sense of self was tested and I'm still not quite sure who won!
Other than just self judgement, this has also made me look closer at my judgment of others. Again, in yoga (as in many spiritual traditions), we are taught to refrain from judging others, as it reflects the judgment we have of ourselves. Exactly right! And really hard! See above statement about self judgment. This past month has been a realization of how much I judge other people, as a direct reflection of how much judgment I carry for myself. This often manifests as embarrassment and of making light of all things I find weird, cheesy, or just plain don't understand.
I remember as a kid involved in theatre and television, this was a big deal. I was continually embarrassed at the silly sketches we had to perform, and later, at the overly dramatic monologues my classmates and I did during acting class. My response was always (and maybe still is) nervous laughter. I distinctly remember my best friend hating me for a week, as I giggled during a very serious monologue she was practicing before an important audition. I was incredibly embarrassed by her full embodiment of the role and her complete lack of awareness of “the audience” -which at the time, was only me. I feel guilty for that discretion to this day, though said friend is now a very successful theatre director and probably does not even remember it the way I do.
Similar episodes have come up during my recent foray back into Improv comedy, which is 50% fun and 50% judgment (though I am certain that's not the intent)! And I am continually embarrassed at kirtan and those yoga festivals (yes, I'm admitting it!). Even though I also happily sway and dance and wear the flowing, white clothing at times, I am the first to make fun of it and laugh at the absurdity of “the hippie crowd” or the “yoga scene.” My laughter is a form of judgment and removal from embracing the identity of that group. Other things that embarrass me to a point of panicky laughter: fashion, people who are continually fasting, people who change their name to 'Rainbow Goddess," awkward silences on radio shows, confrontation, talent agents from NYC, David Brent on The Office (British version).
This may prove to be a very rambling post, as I obviously have a lot to say on the subject. The point of it is this: in my understanding of yoga, we work on ourselves to change how we react and interact with others. As above, so below. We must first extinguish judgment within ourselves to lessen judgment of others and of external situations. This is daunting, difficult work. And we will butt heads with all of our flaws, our attachments, desires, and criticisms. I, for one, am so looking forward to it. My strategies of avoidance/escape have not worked thus far in the game, so now I will try facing it head on, through all of the discomfort. So, from this day forward, I choose to purposely put myself into situations where the potential for embarrassment and failure is moderate to high (bring it on Modern dance and drawing lessons!). I'm also re-embracing my theatrical roots, in hopes for a better relationship this time around. I hope I still laugh and I hope I still stay true to who I really am. But I also hope I can let go of the judgment around whatever it is, both of myself and of the others involved.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Where do you notice judgment in your life? What are you doing about it? Do you avoid certain situations to avoid awkward or embarrassing moments? If nothing else, I like to know I am in good company. Thank you.