I am an expert at self-judgments. Almost nothing i do comes without that critical voice’s overlay that points out something that i am not doing right. As i try to live my life outside of social norms more and more, this voice becomes more painful often keeping me stuck. Aside from turning that into a theory of cultural trauma, i am also actively working on defusing those judgments. I work with the teachings of Donald Rothberg and Tara Brach. Donald teaches specifically about self-judgments. Tara calls it the trance of unworthiness.

I’ve adapted the “dropping down” exercise that Donald developed, adding some elements from Tara. In my experience, doing just the dropping down is too intense. By adding the elements that Tara suggests, i can let go of the judgment, realizing that it’s just another thought.

When i notice a judgment, either of myself or another, i consciously repeat it a few times, then i drop down into my body and feel what it’s like to be with this judgment in the body. What does holding this judgment feel like? Usually, it’s choking the life out of me, making it difficult to breathe. After i’ve explored that for a bit, i ask “is this judgment true?” And if the answer is “yes,” i ask “can i really know that it is true?” (these questions, suggested by Tara, are based on Byron Katie’s questions). Then i ask “what would my body feel like if i didn’t believe this thought?” And i sense what it’s like in my body without that judgment. I usually come back to the present through this, feel my breath and relish being alive.

Donald emphasizes to balance this work with some sort of heart practice: Metta/loving-kindness, joy, or being in nature. This reminds us that the self-judgments do not define us and that there is another way we can be with ourselves.

One thing that i stumbled on yesterday seems to bring me back from being lost in self-judgment in a surprisingly effective way. When i catch myself beating myself up – usually because i notice my slumped posture and a general feeling of funk – i remind myself “i decided to stop judging myself!” To my surprise, this is usually followed with an “oh, yeah, that’s right” and a smile – then i change my mental channel. Of course, the challenge is to catch myself judging myself. Usually those self-judgments are pretty subtle. Thanks to a meditation buddy, i’ve managed to start meditating regularly again, which seems to decrease the time it takes me to remember that i decided to stop judging myself. It’s probably not possible to ban the judgmental thoughts, so this decision is more the decision to notice when i am judging myself and then to consciously shift into mindfulness by taking a deep breath for example. Now, i’ve only tested this method for a couple of days. So far, it’s worked pretty well, which is a big relief for me since i feel more optimistic and happy! I am sure that’ll change…

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