Q: I realize the older I get the harder it is for me to not judge others. I realize that it’s not my place but have difficulty not feeding the attitude of judgment. Any suggestions on having more compassion for myself and others? — S.H.

A: Dear S.H.,

Yes, judgment is certainly a problem but we all have it, so no use blaming yourself for it too much. Your question is an important one for us all then: How do I work with judgment? The best tool I know of is mindfulness: the simple practice of noticing what is going on, then feeling yourself in your body sitting or standing (or whatever your body is doing), and then taking a conscious breath and saying to yourself, “OK, this is judgment, here is how it feels, these are the thoughts associated with it.”

Without mindfulness, what usually happens is this: before you even know what you are doing, the judgment produces a whole range of thoughts: “Why is she always that way? She’s such a mean person. I never have liked her. I remember last year when she… ” and on and on. The mind is flooded with ungenerous thoughts and is therefore not very happy – and certainly not very grateful.

But with mindfulness something very different will take place: Before the mind rushes off in its usual way, the moment of mindfulness of body and breath interrupts it and notices “this is judgment.” The mind then stays with the feeling of judgment rather than rushing off headlong toward negativity. Of course it’s still not that pleasant to be in the middle of judgment. But when you see judgment as judgment, rather than going on acting out of judgment, the mind calms down a bit. You get over the feeling much more quickly. And if you practice this way diligently, little by little judgment will be less of a problem.

It’s important to remind yourself that judgment is really common. It’s not just your problem, so you shouldn’t blame yourself. So – roll up your sleeves and see what you can do. You can work with this problem. Judgment can turn to sympathy (people who are difficult usually have suffered a lot and are difficult as a coping mechanism), compassion, and even gratitude.

Zoketsu Norman Fischer, Zen Abbot