Mark Coleman has been studying meditation practices since 1981, primarily within the Insight meditation (Buddhist) tradition. He has been teaching meditation retreats since 1997. His teaching is influenced by studies with many great teachers in the Buddhist tradition as well as from Advaita and Tibetan teachers in Asia and the West, and through his teacher training with Jack Kornfield. Mark primarily teaches at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, and teaches nationally, in Europe and India.
Find a comfortable posture. This will just be a short meditation. And in this meditation, we’ll be inviting in “judgment,” a little, as opposed to being afraid of it.
So in some of the traditions, there’s a practice of inviting in that which were troubled by, that which is challenging, difficult emotions, difficult habits.
So again, finding a sense of ease and well-being, whatever allows you to drop inside, and take a couple of outbreath. Relax on the outbreath.
And see if there’s any place inside right now where there is a sense of ease, calm, and well-being, relaxation. Sometimes, when we orient towards the quality, it brings us forward.
Feeling the peace in the stillness of the room.
And there’s a place you can sense into that everything’s okay at this moment. May not be perfect, may not be totally as you like, but it’s okay. And nothing needs to be different.
And just replacing the body where you are able to connect with that sense of well-being or ease.
Being attentive to your body, sensations of sitting. See it arriving, grounding in your body, aware of your posture, aware of your breath. Notice the quality of the breath this afternoon. Different than this morning, perhaps.
Bring your attention close to the breath, sensing, feeling, changing sensations of the inbreath and outbreath. Take this attention as close as you can to the breath. Come in one with the breath.
And then the attention wanders. Without judgment, noticing that, come back as you have the awareness of the breath.
And then when you play with this idea, step in back a little in awareness, settling back in awareness and noticing how the breath comes and goes in awareness, sensations of the body felt in awareness, sounds come and go in awareness. Let the sense of awareness be spacious, open, and receptive.
And noticing how everything comes and goes in awareness. Imagine this awareness as vast as the sky—open, spacious, and you’re present to everything that comes and goes within it—sounds, breath, sensations, feelings, thoughts. Anything excluded.
It’s awareness that’s your real home. It’s your refuge. It’s time that the attention wanders away from the present. As soon as you notice that you already returned to mindfulness. And as you settle back in this sense of awareness, spacious, like the sky, everything come and go, coming and going within it.
And then I would like you to recall one of your judgments. One of those thoughts that perhaps you worked today. And keeping this image of this sense of awareness like the sky, spacious. See the thought, the belief, as a cloud, you should do so and so. You’re not enough in some way. And staying, resting in awareness, to see this thought come and perhaps dissolve. If it dissolves, you can recall another judgment or the same judgment, and see how it feels to really abide in awareness. This, identified from the thought. See if the thought loses it and leave its grip.
Just staying aware of your body and your breath. Recalling different judgments, noticing if you get pulled into believing them. Noticing what happens when you believe them—do you collapse in some way, feel small? And just stepping back as it were in awareness. Simply passing thoughts.
If you’re getting too grabbed and pulled into the judgments, come back to sensing the sky, spacious awareness. Perhaps, sounds and silence.
So, we practice knowing this refuge of awareness. Like this, identifying this entangle from the grip of our judgments. Judgments are like this, feel like this, or we can just name them judging. Judging. Judging ourselves for judging. Judging ourselves for not doing this exercise right. Judging ourselves for not knowing what to do.
In the last couple of minutes, just sending ourselves some loving kindness. Just call some phrases to mind to wish yourself well from this spacious place. May I be free from judgment? May I be free from the suffering of my judgmental mind?
Maybe you can visualize yourself in a place where you feel that these judgments don’t have any impact. Maybe you’re lying in a hammock on the beach, something that gives you a bigger perspective.
Have you ever had the sense that you’re your own worst critic? It’s not uncommon to feel this way. In fact, many people judge themselves much more harshly than anyone else ever has — or ever will. We often place unreasonable expectations on ourselves, and the judge ourselves when we fail to meet those unachievable expectations.
When we judge ourselves, we cut ourselves off from the opportunity for self-growth. We also diminish our sense of self and take ourselves out of the present moment. Self-judgment tends to contribute to unpleasant feelings such as anxiety and depression, and it can also have the negative effect of cutting us off from the world around us and the people we love.
At the same time, we’re constantly judging the world around us. To some degree, this is normal: we have to determine what the safe course of action to take might be, or when it’s time to eat some food or have a drink of water. All too often, though, we find ourselves caught in an endless cycle of judgment. We see the world as imperfect and feel the need to constantly alter and change it.
In this mindfulness exercise on the inner critic, Mark Coleman walks us through how we can begin to unpack our tendency toward judgment and criticism.
To begin, you’ll close your eyes, relax, and begin to breathe deeply. Once you’ve found a place of stillness, you’ll ground yourself further into your body. After you’ve achieved deeper grounding, you’ll begin to examine some of your judgments. Do you feel caught up in them? Do your judgments pull you into belief? Or can you go to a place where those judgments no longer have any impact on you, any power over you?
If you’re interested in helping others access and grow from exercises like this, click here to learn more about our mindfulness teacher training program.
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Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]
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