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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

What is non-judgement?


I recently started teaching a new Mindfulness 6 week course, with a group of predominantly beginners. The subject of non-judgement arose when I explained that my own vipassana practice comes from the New Burmese Method. For those of you who know about Mindfulness you will know that non-judgement is fundamental to these practices and you are often asked to let go of your thoughts gently and in a non-judgmental way. It also guides you to see thoughts and simply thoughts and to drop the judgement of them being either good or bad. What makes the New Burmese method different from traditional practices is that you don't have to understand or follow the original Buddhist teachings to practice, as vipassana is the cultivation of mindfulness through paying close attention to your experience, thoughts, and body in the moment.


Another key difference is that it doesn't involve adhering to the strict ethical norms of the Buddhist monastic life such as the Eightfold path. It is this aspect that I have enjoyed, as it opens the practices to a much wider audience. The Noble Eightfold Path are as follows, Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. These are not meant to be interpreted as prescriptive, as in there is only one way, or a right way, to do things or live, but more do with ethical conduct, mental discipline and wisdom. What is different in the New Burmese method is that it does not adhere to a right way but more focuses on things being as they are in the moment and you must respond in that moment mindfully without judgement and for the good of all. You could argue that that is the same things in different words and perhaps it is but for me one thing stood out.

I can remember clearly when my meditation teacher, at the time, a former Buddhist nun, said 'there is no good or bad, there just is. This moment is neither good or bad and their is no 'right' way to respond there is only what is happening right now and what you are aware of'. In that moment a light when on in my mind. I had spent years reflecting on my experiences of trauma and how 'awful' it was and how difficult my life had been and how unfair but suddenly they weren't 'bad experiences' they were just experiences and what made them bad in my mind was how I viewed them and what society told us we should think about them.


No don't get me wrong, I am not saying that there aren't some horrible things that happen to people, believe me I know, I've had had more than my fair share. What I am saying is that as long as you hold on to the story of them being bad, they keep having hold over you and they stop you from living in the present moment. You can't live in this moment if you are tethered to the past.

I now believe that life is messy and filled with trauma, whether we like it or not. No one gets away without having some bad stuff happen to them. If we choose to live a life that is non-judgemental the we can help people of all walks of life whether we agree with, or like them, or not. It also has allowed me to let go of me need to be attached to my own trauma and view it from the perspective of post-traumatic growth and what benefits and growth it has given me, rather than what it may have taken away. This has been liberating and has allowed me to focus on now. It's helped me to practice vipassana, how I am in this moment and when the past shows up in my reactions or responses, has allowed me to choose how I can be in this moment. The story of who we are and how we got here can be stifling or freeing, I chose to be free and being non-judgemental allows me to do that.

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