This week's practice is becoming aware of mental judgment. Throughout the week, as often and you can, see if you can notice when your mind is making making judgments such as good/bad, true/false, appropriate/inappropriate, and so on. No need to try to get rid of judgment, but only to notice and not judge your judgment. If the judgment is helpful, keep it. If it's just creating negativity, let go of it. But either way, see if you can feel yourself to be the awareness of the judgment, rather than get "drawn into" the judgment. This week's video/audio teaching will explore this more deeply. The chant, Hashem Elohekhem Emet, will also help remind you of the practice; you can sing it to yourself throughout the week whenever it's helpful.
Listen Below to Teaching, Chant and Meditation by clicking below on "Download File" to stream or download the MP3. (For Mac, download with control-click):
Watch Below Video Teaching, Chant and Meditation:
What does it mean to notice the judgments of your mind?
Some obvious examples of judgment are being critical of people, or getting angry when things don’t go your way. But judgment can also be a positive thing. When you choose to meditate, for example, that’s a great application of the mind’s ability to make a good judgment. So there’s nothing inherently wrong with judgment- in fact you can’t live without it. The problems start when you’re not aware that your mind is making a judgment, when you’re judging unconsciously. That’s because when you’re not conscious of your judgment, you identify with it. Your awareness gets absorbed and trapped by the judging mind, which creates stress and a felt sense of separateness or incompleteness. But when you notice the mental process of judging- not trying to suppress or stop the judging, but just noticing it- then even though your mind is judging, you are not judging. You are noticing the judging.
To understand this more deeply, it’s helpful to note that there are really two modes of perception that are always present within our experience. We could call these two modes, the relative and the absolute.
The relative mode is the perception of different degrees of something. For example, if you’re eating lunch, the food might be really good, or it might be just okay, or it might be terrible. Similarly, you might be really hungry, or a little bit hungry, or not at all hungry, and so on. These are all part of the relative aspect of experience, the perception of which is dependent on judgement, because your mind judges things in relation to past experience.
But there’s also an absolute aspect of experience. While the relative aspect has to do with different degrees of something, such as more or less, hotter or colder, better or worse and so on, the absolute has to do simply with the fact of something. Either something exists in your experience, or it doesn’t; it’s not about degree.
So your lunch might be good or bad in the relative sense, but in the absolute sense, your lunch simply is. This absolute aspect is the foundation upon which the relative aspect rests. After all, if your lunch ceases to be, then there is no relative aspect. Your lunch can’t be hot or cold or good or bad unless it first of all exists.
So why is this important?
Because these two aspects of your experience correspond to two different levels of your own being. Whenever you’re judging or discerning anything (which is what the thinking mind does), then you’re dealing with the relative aspect of your experience: “What do I have to do today, how do I accomplish this or that, let me pick up the toothbrush and not the chainsaw...” and so on.
That’s your thinking mind, and the more time we spend in our thinking minds and in the relative aspect of experience, the more we feel ourselves to be relative beings- we feel like we’re succeeding or failing, like we’re happy or sad, good or bad and so on. In other words, if you’re living primarily in the relative mode, judging the relative qualities of things, then you’re also going to be judging yourself. You’re going to be concerned with self-image, with self-worth, with your personal story and so on. In other words, you’re going to be living life through that sense of a separate “me” called the ego.
But, if you step back from all that judging of your relative experience and simply notice: "this moment is as it is."
Then, a much deeper level of your own being comes forward- what we might call the absolute level of experience, otherwise known as, awareness. Your awareness is totally beyond ego, because while your mind is busy preferring this or that, worrying about this or that, your awareness is simply noticing what is.
In order to understand the distinction between your thinking mind and your awareness, it’s helpful to notice that while your thinking mind can’t function without your awareness in the background, your awareness isn’t at all dependent on the movement of your mind. A nice metaphor for understanding this distinction is the ocean and the waves. The waves are completely dependent on the ocean, because the waves are nothing but the surface movement of the ocean. No more ocean, no more waves. But if the waves cease to be, the vast ocean with its great depths remain. In the same way, your awareness is actually the vast ocean of consciousness within which the waves of your thoughts rise and fall.
Now if you’re living mostly on the level of the waves, that’s the ego- the “me” with its problems, concerns, successes and failures. Of course that’s part of who you are on the surface of your consciousness, but the question is, is that where you want to live? Or, do you want to live in the vast depths of your consciousness, in the fullness of who you are, beneath those little waves of your mind-based identity.
This week’s Torah reading is Parshat Mishpatim. Mishpatim means, "judgments." It begins with God saying to Moses:
“V’eleh hamishpatim asher tasim lifneihem- And these are the judgments you will place before them.”
It then goes on to talk about various civil laws that Moses is to teach the Israelites. But in this first sentence there’s a special hint about how to connect with the vast ocean of consciousness that you are, rather than be trapped by the waves on the surface. It says that the mishpatim, the judgments, should be lifneihem- before them.
In other words, don’t get unconsciously absorbed into the judgements of your mind, but rather see your judgments as if they’re “before” you. That means, don’t try to stop your judgments or get rid of them, simply notice them and let them be. The more your practice noticing your judgments, without judging your judgments, the more you’ll begin to feel yourself as the noticing, rather than the judging. And that simple noticing is the vast ocean of consciousness beneath the waves of thinking. But in order to really keep your judgments lifanekha, before you, so that you don’t get trapped by them, you have to be willing to stay with the truth of whatever you’re perceiving, without imposing your own interpretation.
The Hassidic rebbe, the Seer of Lublin once said, “I prefer sinners who know that they are sinners, rather than righteous people who know they are righteous people.”
Now why would he say that? Because if you know that you’re a sinner, you’re probably seeing yourself truthfully- after all, most of us make at least a few mistakes once in a while. But if you see yourself as perfectly righteous, you’re probably interpreting things in a skewed way to satisfy a certain self-image. And self-image, otherwise known as ego, is on the level of the waves. Of course nowadays, there can be just as much ego in putting yourself down as in puffing yourself up, but the point is to let go of self-image, let go of needing things to be a certain way, and stay with your actual experience, because the part of you that knows your actual experience is that inner vast ocean of consciousness.
So in this week of Shabbat Mishpatim, the Sabbath of Judgment, let’s practice seeing whatever judgments arise in the mind, allowing them to come and go in the space of this moment, through the practice of Presence and meditation.
And to help us do that, let’s chant words, Hashem Eloheikhem Emet which come from the end of the third paragraph of the Sh’ma.
The first two words, Hashem Eloheikhem can be translated, "Being" or "Existence is your own Divinity." This refers to the inner vastness, that ocean of consciousness we were talking about. The third word, Emet means “Truth.”
So these three words together are reminding us: if we want to connect with that vast ocean of consciousness beneath the surface waves of the mind- Eloheikhem- your own Divinity- than simply be with the Emet- the Truth of how Hashem/Existence- is manifesting in this moment. Meaning: be present with whatever judgments or thoughts are arising in your mind, whatever feelings are arising in your body, whatever is happening in your situation, everything.
Hashem Eloheikhem Emet
Being is your own Divinity, Truth
Listen Below to chant only by clicking below on "Download File" to stream or download the MP3. (For Mac, download with control-click):
Watch video for chant only:
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks