I had an interesting insight the other day. I went through a period of about fifteen or so years (early eighties to late nineties) when I practiced a good deal of Vipassanna mediation. I meditated daily, was in a mediation group that met weekly, and attended quite a number of formal meditation retreats – six or seven ten day retreats, ten to twelve three and five day retreats and a number of one day or half day retreats. With that extent of involvement and time expenditure it is evident that I was certainly getting something out of it to keep me coming back.
About three years into it I became aware that I was often experiencing a higher degree of happiness in my day to day life. I gladly accepted and appreciated that change and allowed that was the main enticement which kept me coming back for more. I often wondered and reflected on what it was about the mediation practice which lead to an increase in the degree and frequency of feelings of well being and happiness. What was the connection? And therein lies the source of my insight of the other day.
Early on in my mediation retreat attendance I learned (as nearly all people who attend such retreats seem to learn) that I (we) often have remarkably little control of my own mind and am frequently unable to sustain a single minded focus on something as simple as keeping my awareness on my own breath. The meditation terminology calls it monkey mind – a good name for it – and I was blown away by how easily and frequently I am judgmental about others – [If she’s going to breathe so damned loud why do she have to sit near me! My god will they stop whispering and just shut up! We must be fifteen minutes past the lunch break – why haven’t we broken yet? Does he ever bathe? – Or outside the retreat environment – Where did he get his license to drive? Is it against the law to use directional signals in this state? Perhaps after that woman chats with the cashier for another twenty minutes we’ll make our purchase and move on.]
Upon reflection I concluded that I conducted about 98% of my judgmental fault finding as internal dialogue and relatively rarely expressed my verdicts aloud. (Good thing or I’d have had quite a hard time maintaining friendships.) I have since initiated a campaign to become much more consciously aware of when I’m engaging in judgmental thinking and strive to use it only when it is a necessary and useful tool for reaching a rational decision.
The connection I made, my interesting insight the other day, is that becoming aware of and intentionally restricting my running string of judgments about what’s going on around me in my immediate environment, my social milieu, and the larger world has lead directly to my experiencing a higher degree of happiness in my day to day life. My conclusion is that while judgmental thinking is a very useful tool in decision making, when used inappropriately and unnecessarily tends to sabotage joie de vivre. It seems that bringing it into my conscious awareness and reining it in has had a very positive pay off for me. Thank you Vipassanna mediation.