Mormonism and 7 Attitudes of Mindfulness – Nonjudging


Judge not, that ye be not judged. (Matt. 7:1)

And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. (John 12:47&48)

As announced in the last post, I will dedicate several posts to exploring the relationship of Mormonism and mindfulness. As previously introduced, Jon Kabat-Zinn describes 7 attitudes of mindfulness: nonjudging, patience, beginner's mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go. This post will explore the first one of these attitudes: nonjudging.

Most people would not like to think of themselves as being judgmental. Nor would most of us appreciate being approached by others with a judgmental attitude. Being nonjudgmental is considered a virtue. By this, we typically mean not buying into social stereotypes, not "judging a book by its cover" or prematurely making up our mind regarding another person. Yet, how nonjudgmental can we truly be?

Judging is unavoidable
Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us of a much broader understanding of judging through which we experience and filter our experiences in this world: the virtually constant and mostly unconscious judging that is going on in our mind. These constant judgments do no have to be negative and are indeed often essential for navigating life and making reasonable choices. Some of our judging consists of conscious and deliberate conclusions. On many other occasions, it is a split-second impression derived in our mind through a variety of factors such as our emotional disposition, past experiences, goals and fears, and broader worldview. Trying to consciously fully analyze each of our judgments would be an impossible and paralyzing endeavor.

Upon some reflection, the number of decisions we make each minute of our life is mind-boggling. With each decision we make, we exclude an infinite number of alternatives. How we perceive and judge the world shapes our actions and our interpretations of our experiences, which in turn immensely impacts the future experiences we will make. Alas, while unavoidable, our constant judging can cause us to miss out on experiences and limit our perception. Jon Kabat-Zinn uses the metaphor of a veil through which we experience the world and that is created by our steady inner stream of wants, likes, dislikes, and opinions. When striving to be more mindful, we can learn to become more aware of this constant tendency to judge. The key is that we should not judge our judging, but simply learn to be more aware of these mental processes.

Judging in the Church
At first glance, as any social setting, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints can be a place for a lot of judging. We have fairly clearly defined values, quite specific commandments and standards, as well as social customs and implicit expectations that can lead to a sense of conformity. Through conference talks and temple recommend interviews, we have a fairly clear idea of what is involved in being a "worthy" member of the church. Someone who goes grocery shopping on a Sunday might easily be judged as a spiritual slacker not fully committed to the gospel.

Judgment also plays a significant role throughout the scriptures. We are awaiting a final judgment and we try to live our life in such a way that we will be judged favorably on the last day. While I prefer to understand this judgment as an internal state that we bring upon ourselves, the element of judging remains.

I believe even the most orthodox Mormons would typically acknowledge that judgmental attitudes are perversions of the gospel and unfortunate examples of church teachings gone wrong. At the same time, in the scriptures as well as in church meetings, we are commonly exhorted to avoid judging others and to develop a loving attitude towards everyone. After all, as spirit children we are all considered literal brothers and sisters of our heavenly parents. If God is our father in heaven who cares about us with the love of a perfect father, then it also is apparent that God would not want us to judge ourselves or each other in a negative or destructive way. Besides, if we trust in God and in the ultimate goodness of life, we can learn to accept and appreciate our life experiences more fully without a constant need to judge them. Through prayer and spirutual growth, we try to see ourselves, our fellow humans, and the world around us the way God sees it.

Judgment and the veil of forgetfulness
Returning to a broader understanding of the term judging, Kabat-Zinn's metaphor of our constant judging as a veil through which we see existence readily reminds of the symbolic veil referred to in Mormonism that shields the pre- and post-mortal worlds from our view. According to this understanding, when we came to the earth, we forgot the big picture and for the most part lost awareness of our eternal and divine nature. Some of us may be able to transcend this veil during rare spiritual experiences, and the veil may seem to "become thin" at times. Yet, ultimately this veil is an integral part of our mortal existence, and trying to remove it completely and permanently would be neither reasonable nor necessarily desirable, as expressed by Brigham Young at the funeral of an early church member:

It is right just as it is, that this veil should be closed down; that we do not see God, that we do not see angels, that we do not converse with them except through strict obedience to his requirements and faith in Jesus Christ.

If it was otherwise,

perhaps you would miss the very object of your pursuit of you had this privilege, there would not be the same trial of faith to exercise you, not so severe a part of affliction for you to walk in, not so great a battle to fight, not so great a victory to win.

Much of spiritual practice is aimed at increasing our awareness of what might lie beyond the veil. Becoming more conscious of the veil itself through increasing our mindfulness of it may help in this endeavor.

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