Dear Donagh, I have been dipping into your website for years and I've gotten a lot of help from it. Maybe you can help me now with something that bothers me a little, or more than a little. I have a habit of making very unkind judgements about some people. Even when they do good things I'm right in there with my judgement - he’s just a hypocrite, or she’s just trying to look good. I hate myself for this and I just wish it wasn’t part of me…. Can you suggest a way of getting clear of this? Thank you…. Carol
Dear Carol, It’s a question that goes to the heart of the matter, I think. Jesus says, “Do not judge,” but we have some investment in judging one another. It goes on and on, even when we know it’s not right. Nor is it useful to us on the practical level. So it’s a real puzzle. This suggests that it has deeper roots, or at any rate that its roots go down elsewhere.
I'll go straight to what I think is the point: the ego is not capable of stopping itself from judging, because it exists on judging. Judging is its lifeline, its oxygen. Just as you cannot kill yourself by just deciding to stop breathing, the ego by itself cannot stop judging.
"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:1-2). How are we to read this text? Could God be as mean as we are? Could God's way of judging be as partial as ours? I think it means: the measure you give is the measure you are capable of receiving. We not only limit the other person by our judgments: we limit ourselves correspondingly. It has nothing to do with the great heart of God; it’s about the ego getting an egoful of the other person.
What is this ego, anyway? The ego is my image of who I am, the bag of experiences that define “me”. Starting at a very early age I made (and continue to make) this collection by selecting some things (and experiences and people…) that I identify with, and excluding others. This is what I mean by saying that judging is the ego’s lifeline. I become so used to this identification that I see it as my identity. So then, it’s not only to a police officer that I “show my identification”; I am doing it all the time to everyone! This identification is not rock solid; it’s a house built on sand, because experience is constantly changing, and so is one’s interpretation of experience.
Talking about the ego is not some modern psychological fad, as some writer claimed. The word ‘ego’ is just the Latin word for ‘I’. Henry Suso (14th century) distinguished five meanings of ‘I’ or ‘self’. The fifth, which, he said, “belongs to a person exclusively as his or her own, is one's individual human self,” and corresponds to what we now call ego. Then he added, “Now what is it that leads people astray and robs them of happiness? It is exclusively this last self.”
How are we to stop this ego from judging, since it has no capacity to do so itself? By making good judgments in place of bad? By saying that everything and everybody is wonderful? That would be dishonest, as well as being exhausting. And besides, it usually doesn’t work. If we were on a moving train, it wouldn’t matter much whether we walked towards the front or towards the back. If we wanted to stop moving, we would have to step off the train.
Meditation means stepping off the train. It means abandoning, as far as we are able at that moment, all our identifications. It’s not so heroic; our identifications are not our identity, and the more often we disown them the more clearly we see that. Gradually we lose interest in judging other people; it doesn’t make sense any more. Even Jesus doesn’t judge the world (“I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” John 12:47), so what grounds could we have for doing so?
God bless, Carol