When Bubba and I met, we each had years of experience loading dishwashers. The thing is, we didn’t load them the same way. And since each of us was sure “our” way was the “right” way, we had to deal with some relationship hiccups as we figured things out.
Routine aspects of life give me regular opportunities to “figure things out.” That usually means trying to understand the inner voices that chirp away when, for instance, I see Bubba do something my Inner Judge insists is just not right.
Maybe he’s putting forks into the dishwasher tines-down.
“The tines won’t get properly washed!” The Judge says, absolute in her declaration.
The Judge wants things her way. She knows the rules and regulations and thinks they should be followed. She’s the voice of how things are “supposed” to be. She’s a strong, ego character.
Maybe she’s the voice of my grandfather. Or my mother. Or my teacher. She’s definitely a voice of authority.
She has gravitas in my assessment of myself and others because, hey!, she ensures things are done correctly and helps guide lost souls toward being “good” people. Right?
On one level, sure. Her obstinate attitude has prevented artichoke leaves from getting crammed down a garbage disposal.
But, unfortunately, she can get her rump rifled over some pretty inconsequential things. I’ve watched her get bent-out-of-shape over things like fork tine direction and eating the last of something.
I’m not terribly proud of this character. I have, ironically, judgement towards The Judge.
How can I get rid of her? I’ve asked myself. I’ve sought answers in self-help books. I’ve done therapy. I’ve gone to church, including “new age” ones. I’ve read about and done some informal study of Buddhism. I made unsuccessful attempts at meditating.
All were helpful and provided useful tools; none eradicated The Judge. I wanted the Judge gone. She might be good at fork-control, but she causes emotional distress in me and people I care about with her quick tendency to find things—and people—wrong.
Her attitude does not help create a peaceful or loving environment.
I want peace; she wants to be right.
I decided to give meditation another try. Three years ago, Bubba discovered an app developed by a Brit who had become a Buddhist monk. I love the themes—acceptance, patience, self-esteem—and the animated videos, which amusingly demonstrate mindfulness techniques.
Andy’s gentle voice, calm and reassuring, steadily reminds me to note thoughts and feelings as they come up, and then let them go. Thoughts and feelings aren’t good or bad, right or wrong; they’re just clouds passing through the blue sky. Thoughts may be pleasant or unpleasant and feelings may stir or calm me, but that’s it. The fact that thoughts and feelings come up is…normal.
I never feel judged that I’m meditating wrong. It’s a perfect counterweight to The Judge.
One concept that resonates for me is the idea of a beat following a thought; a space between a thought or feeling and my default response that instantly follows. I practice paying attention to that. Because in that space, with some iota of mindfulness, I’m able to recognize The Judge—and many of my characters—as automatic; they’re not a “given.” In that pause, that breath of awareness, I realize I have a choice in how to respond.
The Judge is suddenly akin to the Wizard of Oz; the wo/man behind the curtain who seems all-powerful, until you realize they’re just playing an all-powerful character. And once you know that, you realize they’re just one more form of ego trying to strut their stuff. An ego with doubts and insecurities, no different from the Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man or Dorothy.
I like the pause. I like knowing there’s choice.
And, like learning anything new, I’m clumsy and inconsistent in applying what I’m learning. Given I’ve got decades of having The Judge and other characters operate the controls with limited oversight, I gotta figure they’re going to stick around; and jump in with their automatic responses.
But now I stand at least a chance of co-existing in peace with these characters. I have a new muscle. Instead of resisting them, pushing them away and finding them wrong, I can note them. I can ponder: pleasant or unpleasant? Calm or activated?
And how, you ask, does this ensure the dishwasher is loaded correctly?
It doesn’t. Although it may increase the odds.
What it does do is help me pause and ask myself, what’s really important right now?
If it’s fork-tine-placement, I can approach the subject as a partner, not a judge.
And I may discover that, beyond forks and toilet paper, what I really want is a feeling of peace and love toward myself and my partner. And in that beat of mindful awareness, I stand a better chance of creating that.