I teach the art and practice of Mindfulness. My favorite definition coming from Jon Kabat-Zinn who says that, “Mindfulness is being present moment to moment without judgment.” If you have ever tried to wrangle your mind into the here and now, you know that being present is hard enough, and when you factor in the “without judgment” piece, it gets even harder.

For the longest time, I thought of judgment as a problem. Maybe even the problem. As in, the enemy of humanity. Of close connections. Of a well-lived life. The very thing that needed to be dealt with and ultimately eradicated. A scourge deserving to be wiped out and wiped clean from our minds. I thought of it as an indictment against how we were doing as people whenever and wherever it showed up. A kind of relational, self-esteem and spiritual shame that needed to be concealed. Or even better, annihilated.

But after years and years of my own practice along with years and years of working with others, I have a different story these days around judgment, and it is one of growth, repair, inclusivity and forgiveness. It is an understanding that as humans we are always judging; for both good and ill, with the truth being that judgment is not just a wart on humanity, it is also an integral and essential aspect of the human experience.

At its best, judgment is a kind of discernment of the mind that is absolutely necessary for not only physical survival and where we put our precious attention and spend our time, but it is also a prerequisite for emotional and spiritual well-being to make the determination that something, or someone, is not in your best interest. Not worth your time or energy. And as judgy as that may seem, it is not. Instead, it is a crucial and necessary determination that speaks to, and supports, the preciousness of your one Life.

Right next to discernment is learning the signs of when judgment has gone south; turning us against ourselves and the world. This is where mindfulness, a kind of noticing and paying attention to our thoughts, comes in handy. For without a recognition that we are judging, we run the risk of letting something harmful, go unchecked.

So, while in certain circles, judgment has gotten a bad rap, the real question to ponder is, when is it life-giving, and when is it life-depleting? Where is it a necessary response, despite the judgment you may impose on yourself or have imposed on you? And when is it based in ignorance, prejudice, fear and unhealthy conditioning?

One way to move through this is to begin to pay attention to the thoughts you are having as you go through your day; particularly the ones that seem to elicit a big charge. The ones you ruminate over. The ones that make you angry or frustrated. The ones that put you at odds with yourself or another. And when you find that you are in a judgment that is not life-affirming, say to yourself “Oops, pardon me.” And then imagine withdrawing yourself from what you are focusing on.

When I do this, I see it as though I have inadvertently stepped on someone’s foot. Maybe even my own. And that as soon as I feel the weight of it, I withdraw the pressure, back off, and say “Sorry, I’m in the wrong place.”  No more and no less.