Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Using Judgment Wisely

The state of non-judgment is such an open space in which to experience yourself and others. It seems, though, that we are designed to categorize people, events, signals, scenes, memories -- everything really -- and judge it all! We take a quick scope of whatever data seems relevant and stash it away in a category that helps us function. A good deal of the time we use judgment to make life and death decisions like crossing the road, health decisions like starting a juice fast or eating a third slice of pizza, relational decisions as to when and how to offer help or stay out of something, myriad intellectual decisions, financial decisions, career decisions. Honestly, is there any decision that doesn't involve judgment - even what to say and when to say it?

Yet as my yoga practice deepens, I find more and more often I urge my students to release judgment. How do we do this? It is sometimes so difficult to allow the mind to simply notice and accept, rather than judge and categorize. We can establish ourselves too firmly as having a particular problem, and perpetuate that problem by doing so, often shutting out alternate ways of understanding our situation. We so quickly estimate our abilities and then manage to function only within the parameters of what we estimate, rarely finding out what our true range might be.

As with nearly everything, the trick is in the balance: how do we use our ability to make judgments to help us remain open to the vastness of possibilities in a safe and conscious way.

Within the practice of any asana or sequence in a physical yoga practice, we can explore this balancing act. A big part of this is the process of developing witness consciousness, that aspect of your nature that observes you even as your mind chatters away and your body willfully places itself in a posture. Perhaps you have disappeared for a moment in resting Kapotasana, a prostrate pigeon pose; for a few seconds losing track of the acuteness of that one hip opening, even of the breath moving up and down the spine. It is as though you can see yourself folded on one side, extended on the other, your upper back releasing, belly soft against your opposite thigh, as the hips rest squarely, one leg lengthened infinitely behind you. Your mind may be speaking volumes about how you cannot stay in this one more minute, or about how different this side is from the other side, busy noticing, commenting, bringing feelings and experiences into the moment. Your breath may be shallow in your chest, or deeply soft in your belly, or perhaps awareness has brought the breath to your hip joints, encouraging their opening. The witness can let all of this go, just be there, watching how all this is happening, meanwhile simply being and resting in that open space that your own prana, life energy, can give you. It is in this space that you can observe the way you function: how you make choices, criticize, explain, act, feel.

Yet even as the witness develops, judgments are made. Should you use a folded blanket under that hip? Are you forcing too much stress into the lower back, or shoulders? Could you tuck your toes and extend that back leg a little more to increase the lift in the inner thigh? You can learn to make these choices, being the one who judges, using what the witness can see.

So it is as though there is a whole committee with you as you practice, some advising about the physicality of the pose, some clamoring for attention to the emotional matters brought up by the hip openings, some reacting to the way the teacher adjusted you. Let the witness help observe the committee, like a recording secretary, and let your true self determine the advice for that moment. Watch out for the competitor who wants to force you into going past what is safe for your joints! Watch out for the worrier who will caution you against trying something new that might be risky! Notice all the players at the table, all part of you, and allow the witness to help you use your judgment wisely.

Give yourself the entirety of experience without limiting it. Use your judgment to open the experience further. Try the prop, remove it if you don't find it squares your hips. Release into the teacher's adjustment and let go of the ego who wants to do everything for itself. Let the asana practice help you see how you make your choices on the mat, and you will find that you can understand yourself much better off the mat too!

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