This is a hold-up

hold on to yourself

I have a friend who asks hard questions constructively. She’s a life coach, an explorer, and a challenging conversationalist. But I mean challenging of the “challenges you to succeed” type, rather than “challenges you not to end up yelling at her”. Her latest question to me was this:

“What’s beyond kindness? What would be created if you allowed ANY outcome without judging what’s inbound and what’s out of bounds? What if the path is not linear and you cannot see the final outcome? What contribution can you be to yourself and others by allowing any behavior without judgement?”

I had asserted that being kind and facilitating joy was a life goal of mine, which I am happy to say she’s not trying to talk me out of here! But I had admitted that failing to do those things brings self-judgment, or anyway, it made me sad which I’ll concede is a form of judgment and tied to some of the things I like less about the parts of me that aren’t as Buddhist as I like to think I am — expectations and attachment to outcome.

So, what would it look like if I didn’t have the negative self-judgment, if I just “was”: shit happens, and the shit that happens to me is rarely terrible, more like disappointing (“gee, I tried to be nice and it was mistaken as rude”). I’m not saying there is no place for righteous indignation when faced with some of the really intense things going down in the world — genocide, hate crimes, climate change — but perhaps I don’t need to be negative about my own actions? Let’s explore that.

As I mentioned, I’m talking more about my day-to-day, and less about “I caused someone physical injury” or “I became an evil dictator”. I think it’s probably still a useful thought experiment (perhaps the goal of her questioning) to imagine my world entirely without self-judgment with no reservations, but I’m not ready for that yet. I’m also not thinking about other people. I believe that without self-judgment, there are many situations in the world that would be worse — e.g. religion helps some people not be serial killers.

But for me — what if I let go of there being a good and bad outcome, and there was just an outcome? Note that this isn’t the same as ignoring the outcome — one can still learn from every situation, and it can inform the next iteration, so this isn’t a lack of standards or improvement. Just saving the energy that I might put into beating myself up for doing the next constructive thing, whatever that might be.

I’m thinking through this as I write it, but I think that would make it more challenging to grow — I think I do well with a little negative reinforcement, and I believe that is a lot more palatable coming from me (eg: to my standards) than from somewhere external. I have tremendous respect for a lot of people in my life — from the woman who asked me this question, to my parents and girlfriend, to people fighting a good fight politically — and I think I want to hear their advice on good decisions, but I think I’m not always ready to accept it when it’s offered happily. I would like to improve on that, but in the meantime, I can use a nudge on occasion and a frowning nudge is a little stronger.

But the thought experiment (and I may be completely off-base) is, what if I didn’t nudge myself negatively, but rather positively? I believe in doing X, so I am doing X. The end. That sounds a little simple to me, lacking nuance, but I think that is maybe just the result of my brain trying to distill this thought experiment rather than innate to the experiment. But there is the negative judgment again. It’s hard to escape! Perhaps I’d need to take a semantic side-trip to define “what is negative vs constructive” and “what is judgment” to really come up with an algorithm I could use to categorize my behaviors.

I guess this whole question just leads to more questions — but I can accept that, since it’s not good or bad — it’s just not easy, and fortunately, easy isn’t a goal in my life ;)

However, I still don’t think I’ve answered the main question in any substantial way:

What contribution can you be to yourself and others by allowing any behavior without judgement?”

I started off worried about lack of motivation, but after writing all this, I’m no longer convinced that I do *need* the negative reinforcement. I’m curious about the power boost that moving those units of thought energy from dwelling on outcomes I didn’t intend, to being in the moment and doing the next thing with more strength. I imagine it might be sloppy-looking, but I think it would also be more productive. I am trying to use less judgmental terms, but that might actually be the hardest part — how do I move from my (obvious) love of the descriptive, the adjectival — to a place of speaking and thinking in a manner of acceptance? That sounds like one of the biggest parts of this challenge.

I believe I could maybe fly if I let go of all of that? I’m not yet convinced I want to let go — but I’m pretty sure I want to fly!

In the now, I’ll aim for a little less judgment, because I think I could achieve “turning it down a notch” even if I don’t see today-Chris unplugging that judgment machine. Over time, maybe I’ll get a little lighter of step and overcome more obstacles, and be a better person (judgey!). I have always been one for measured improvement rather than all-out-sprinting, and I think that will probably serve me well on this journey. It might also allow me to forget the journey, which coin has two sides: it’s easy to stop traveling if you’re not mindful…but it’s also easy to pass the time on a journey if you don’t obsess about the fact that you’re nowhere near done yet.

What do you think?