I am thinking that most of you, like me, have used these words at times in your life - "I misjudged him" or "I misjudged the situation" or something along these lines. What this tells us is that we are human, that we often go on first impressions, that we make judgements about others - whether consciously or unconsciously - many times a day.
I remember being part of a study a few years back that involved looking a pictures flashing on a screen and choosing a word or name at the bottom of the screen to match the image. Everything flashed quickly and the idea was to tap into our reflex response as opposed to giving us time to think out our decision. Based on the study, most of us found out that we were racists. What???? I'm not a racist??!!! Others in the study were as dumbfounded as I was in seeing the results. It didn't take us long to understand, though, how this was true. We went on to learn how we all carry what is called "unconscious bias" and we've been carrying it since childhood. Similar studies have been done to also measure our stereotypes about a variety of social groups including homosexuals, women, and the elderly. One study about unconscious bias, from 1998, was recently reviewed in Psychology Today. You can read the article HERE. The same technique can be used to measure stereotypes about many different social groups, such as homosexuals, women, and the elderly.
Recently, I took part in an online class with Pema Choudron, an American Buddhist teacher, where she talks about the concept of "shenpa." This Tibetan word is often translated into English as “attachment.” Pema suggests that the attachment might better be described as getting “hooked.” In an article in Lion's Roar from 2003, she says "at the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That’s the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us." You can read the full article HERE. Judgement is an inevitable result of shenpa, whether we judge a situation, another person or ourselves.
Both of these processes - unconscious bias and shenpa - are well-entrenched in the human psyche. They are working behind the scenes, under the radar, and without our conscious effort. Without acknowledging and becoming aware of their power, we are creating a life full of misunderstandings, assumptions, reactionary behaviour and judgements of everything and everyone around us. Each time that we feel a judgement arise we are being given an opportunity to go deeper and do some important inner work. Where is that judgement coming from? Is there any truth in this judgement or does it go against your beliefs? Notice how your body is feeling. Notice where your thoughts are going. Notice if you are experiencing fear, guilt, shame, regret, anger, jealousy - simply notice and try not to judge.
Choosing to live our lives consciously means we increase our capacity for compassion, acceptance, kindness and love for others and ourselves. Choosing to know and understand ourselves allows us to experience more peace, love and joy in our lives and as a result, be able to share it with others.
Soul in the World