Non-Judgmentalism and Christian Mindfulness

One of the key concepts involved in developing mindfulness practice is non-judgmentalism.  Why is this such an important aspect of mindfulness practice and is it compatible with Christian faith?

In Matthew 7:1-6 Jesus introduces us to his teaching on judging that has caused much debate throughout church history.  Here is the passage :

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Is it Jesus intention to give us a little bit of wriggle room so we can on occasion sit in judgment upon ourselves and upon others?  When you see another human being (Christian or not) behaving in a way that you think is “unbiblical” or in a way that is “unacceptable” to you, is it your responsibility to bring down your gavel in judgement and condemn that person in your heart?  Judgmentalism is perhaps one of the most unattractive qualities that any of us can possess as human beings. It causes relationships to break down, bitterness and unforgiveness to be harboured, anger to be stoked and jealousy to be inflamed.  Instead of being life-giving, judgmentalism is like a thief robbing us of kindness and compassion and leaving us beaten up at the side of the road.

Sitting in the place of judgement we can quickly assert our own self-righteousness and superiority above others.  Far from promoting Christ-likeness, judgmentalism looks more like the Pharisee who prays in Matthew 18:11 –

‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

Judgmentalism can involve that thought which very swiftly comes to a conclusion about yourself or someone else and positions you as the judge in the court room of your mind.  The impact is swift and only leads to spiritual atrophy.  Our “right to judge” is held up in our minds as a worthless idol leading us away from the compassionate and merciful face of Jesus.  Sadly, many forms of Christianity have actually promoted this way of thinking.  We point the finger at those who are not living the way we think they should or believing the right doctrines.  We appoint ourselves as the soul guardians of God’s truth.  And we assume that God is pleased with this way of living and being.

The psychological impact of judgmentalism is harsh and crushing, squeezing out forgiveness, kindness and self-compassion.  It’s that voice in your head described as the inner critic.  The internal consequences of living in this headspace can be low mood, negativity, anxiety or depression.  The crushing blows of judgement can rapidly lead to despair and hopelessness.  It’s in this context that mindfulness practice offers us a way out of endless cycles of “potentially destructive thoughts and feelings” (Symington).  We can experience a greater sense well-being and cultivate awareness of the peace and compassion of Christ.  And this practice of dialling down the inner critic is very much in keeping with Jesus teaching to not sit in judgment on ourselves or on others.

Today I have been sitting in my office pondering the value and importance of non-judgmentalism for mindfulness practice in a way that pleases God and shows the heart of Christ to others. I confess that I have a long way to go on this journey.  Not long ago the phone rang and I answered the call.  At the end of the line was a man calling from a call centre.  I don’t know what he wanted to discuss because I immediately hung up the phone.  

My knee jerk reaction was to put the phone down without any further discussion.  Afterwards I realised what I had just done.  Not many of us welcome unsolicited phone calls but if I stop to think now I am not proud of my behaviour.  Having worked in a call centre I know that this is not the way I would like to be treated myself.   This may seem like a trivial and even amusing example of how quickly we can make judgements and stop listening to others and ourselves.  Later this afternoon the same man called back.  I sought to be kind and listen to what he had to say.  But when he asked for my bank details I realised he was a scam caller.

Mindlessly we can behave in reactive and judgemental ways that diminish ourselves and others.  The invitation of Jesus is to become more aware of these reactive patterns which can increase the suffering in our own minds.  Through exercising the muscle of our attention we can gently, with kindness observe these tendencies within us.  The space created provides us with a moment of choice.  Instead of appointing ourselves as Judge and rushing into the court room we can gently observe the first thought come and go, and bring our focus back to a God given anchor – perhaps your breath, your body, or the presence of Christ with you and in you.  Of course this does not mean we are gullible and fail to use spiritual discernment.  Sometimes the motives of others are not kindness at all.  The spiritual source and motive can be discerned through Scripture and by the Holy Spirit.  And if necessary refused and resisted. Even at this point it’s not our task to sit in judgement and condemn.

The impact of practicing mindfulness with non-judgmentalism and kindness has been researched and explored scientifically, analysing how different areas of the brain are activated or deactivated by Ruminative Thinking v. Present Moment Awareness. Prof Mark Williams describes the practice of living on Autopilot with our reactive ways of thinking and behaving.  The consequence is to leave us “vulnerable to greater suffering” (Williams).  There is a place of “nourishment” (Williams) that we can experience from living in the present moment that is robbed from us through living on Autopilot.  In Christian terms this can be described as the Bread of the Presence (Exodus 25:30) and also involves the “sacrament of the present moment” (Causade) which feeds us within as we open our awareness to the presence of God with us and in us, in the here and now of life.

Carl Jung recognized the psychological impact of judgmentalism towards ourselves as Christians and the value of kindness and self-compassion –

"The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook upon life. That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness that I myself am the enemy who must be loved what then? As a rule, the Christian’s attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world; we refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves." (Brennan Manning Quoting Carl Jung)

The invitation of Christian Mindfulness is into a wide and spacious place in which you can experience awareness of the presence of God in increasingly expansive and all encompassing ways.  There is nowhere we can flee from His Spirit or Presence (Ps. 139:7).  His loving-kindness is vaster than any ocean and we are invited to wade out into the depths of this wonder.  Letting go of judgmentalism won’t take place overnight.  The invitation is to become progressively more aware of those negative patterns that can cause such damage to our own mental health.  Kindness and gentleness stoop down and show compassion to even our most broken parts inviting us to breathe in the oxygen of Perfect Love and know the living hope that we have in Christ.  This reality can encompass the whole of our lives.


© Richard H H Johnston, Director of Christian Mindfulness


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