I looked, and looked, and this I came to see:
That what I thought was you and you,
Was really me and me.
When I walk to work, if left to its own devices, my inner critic has a field day passing judgment on strangers: “How could you think it’s OK to wear so much Pepto Bismol pink?” “Thank god I don’t have cankles like her!” “No man carrying a backpack to work will ever be CEO!” And on it goes, as long as I let it run.
During my Jyotish (Vedic astrology) reading, Brent Becvar explained that when I pass judgment on others, I’m projecting onto them aspects of myself that I’m ashamed of – in other words, my “shadow” self. As Brent put it, in a memorable tough love phrase, “Lisa, if you can spot it, you’ve got it!”
Brent isn’t the first to observe this phenomenon. Jesus warned about the “shadow” self during the Sermon on the Mount (my personal favorite of his): “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” He explained that we should “remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” As Jesus suggests, two qualities emerge when we become more aware of the shadow self: (1) clarity of perception, and (2) a peaceful disposition that’s motivated to help and serve others rather than judge them.
In a short article called “Ten Keys to Happiness”, Deepak Chopra also discusses the tendency to project onto others what we deny in ourselves, and how moments of judgment can be transformed into learning opportunities:
“Know that the world ‘out there’ reflects your reality ‘in here.’ The people you react to most strongly, whether with love or hate, are projections of your inner world. What you most hate is what you most deny in yourself. What you most love is what you most wish for in yourself. Use the mirror of relationships to guide your evolution. The goal is total self-knowledge. When you achieve that, what you most want will automatically be there, and what you most dislike will disappear.”
Now back to Brent. He advised that when I catch myself being judgmental, I should hit the “pause” button. As long as I’m busy projecting onto someone else, I can’t access the truth about my own nature. Brent then said to ask myself these questions: Where is that (i.e., the quality I’m judging in the other person) in me? Is it possible that, under some condition, I could do that thing that bugs me so much when this person does it? Here’s an example of what the inner dialogue sounds like:
Inner Critic: “How could you possibly think it’s OK to wear so much Pepto Bismol pink?”
Conscious Observer: Stop!! You’re judging her. Is it possible that, in some circumstances, I might wear that color? Well, yes. There’s a side of me that loves that color. In fact, I have a Pepto Bismol pink cardigan, and luggage lock, and yoga tops, and …. Hmmm, now that’s interesting.
This isn’t easy work, especially for an “uber judger” like me. Nevertheless, Brent’s advice to engage in this mindfulness exercise is invaluable tough love. Asking and answering the questions he laid out enables me to:
- Detect, gently confront and integrate my “shadow” self (who, among other things, is apparently a closet fan of questionable colors);
- Let go of my mental habit of picking faults in others and replace it with compassion; and
- Have a much healthier and happier relationship with myself and the world at large.
Make no mistake: I’ll still see imperfections in others and myself. But if I continue to cultivate the mental awareness that “if I can spot it, I’ve got it”, I can minimize the amount of negativity I put into the universe and into my own mindstream.