“There is no path to peace. Peace is the path.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
We live in a world of ticker headlines, 24/7 news, and constantly updating Instagram and Facebook feeds. We are constantly making snap-decision judgment calls, categorizing what we see into “good,” “bad,” or “unimportant.”
In a second, we can see an image and believe we have all we need to form a fully realized opinion.
It’s in our biological wiring to judge everything we see—it's how we have survived for generations upon generations. We are in a constant state of scanning our environment for threats and attempting to efficiently neutralize them when we do come across them.
And yet, ironically, we seem to have gotten to a point in our evolution where our judgments are doing us more harm than good, keeping us more unsafe than safe, and keeping us more in fear than in love.
When we get down to it, fear and love are the only two emotions we really have. They are our roots, the seeds of our souls, our most base and primal instincts.
All others are just off-shoots and iterations of the same.
We fear what we judge as bad; we love what we judge as good.
When we are in a state of fear, our bodies and minds do whatever they need to keep us safe. That may mean avoiding it, destroying it, or simply making it as different from us in our minds as possible. This is where the roots of racism, sexism, homophobia, and all other fear-based rationalizations are planted and nurtured.
I, like all other humans, have lived much of my life in this place of fear.
Only I didn't call it fear.
I felt that I judged people fairly, that I saw in them things I would never be or do or feel in myself.
Though I have done deep work within myself to live in a place of love, forgiveness, and unconditional acceptance, I, like all people, still struggle with it from time to time.
It happened as recently as this morning.
I took my daughters to the grocery store for our weekly shopping trip and plunked them in a shopping cart shaped like a car. My eighteen month old daughter immediately ripped my list in half causing me to have to hold the two parts together every time I needed to check it.
I pushed the behemoth cart up and down the isles, cramming things in until I felt overwhelmed by both decision and physical fatigue.
My daughters were generally well-behaved but still did their part to act like kids: fighting over who got to hold the cereal, then both refusing to hold the cereal and throwing it on the floor in an attempt to throw it in the cart, pushing each other for more elbow room, asking to buy flowers and cookies and ice pops and a stuffed animal and tacos and pistachios and Finding Dora shaped Pirate's Booty.
By the time I got to the register, I was ready for the trip to be done. It was still early in the morning, so only a few lines were open. I chose what appeared to be the shortest line and began unloading my stuff onto the belt.
That's when I noticed that although I had chosen the shortest line, I had also chosen the one with the slowest cashier.
She and the woman in front of me were chatting and making small talk as if they were out on a coffee date, not in an increasingly crowded supermarket line with cranky kids and customers that were waiting to pay for their food and get on with their lives.
I did my best to surrender to the moment and keep it together. I reminded myself that I was waiting to pay for a cart full of healthy, nutritious food for my family—a position many women would do anything to be in. I smiled at my daughters and thought about how lucky I am to have them.
The clerk was really getting to me.
Finally, she started scanning my food and putting it into bags. And making small talk. And as she talked, she slowed down. Then she stopped and got out a roll of paper towels from under the register and started wiping down the belt where the frozen food had left a puddle of condensation.
I couldn't help it: I rolled my eyes. I didn't respond to her chatter. I refused to make eye contact.
Who the hell was this woman? She had a job to do and she was stubbornly refusing to do it in the efficient manor I know she had been trained to do it in.
I judged her. Harshly. And then I judged myself even more harshly for judging her.
As always, my judgments of her came from a place of fear:
- That I was going to lose control of my kids who were getting bored and cranky.
- That I might actually lose control of myself and say something I would later regret.
- That I never have enough time.
- That the situation could get worse and then it would feel even harder.
And then my frustration with her turned into frustration with myself and fear about myself:
- I'm not patient enough.
- I'm not kind enough.
- I'm too much of an introvert.
- I don't appreciate what I have.
People who are in a state of fear can be vicious.
So what is the answer?
Love means unconditional acceptance of the light and the dark that we all have as humans and understanding that one cannot exist without the other.
Sure, it’s fair to say that the clerk should have been fully present and doing her job in a way that was efficient and respectful of the customers’ time. But I was making her responsible for my fear-based reaction.
The clerk was chatty and slow, just like I’ve been many times. Therefore, I really couldn’t condemn her without automatically condemning the same qualities in myself. This was probably why I was judging myself even more harshly than her!
In reality, there is nothing positive or negative that exists in someone else that doesn’t also exist in us because we are all human.
Perhaps instead of giving the clerk dagger eyes, I needed to see the experience she was giving me with gratitude. Maybe she was there to remind me that when we allow others to hurt us, we hurt ourselves. This was clearly illustrated by the fact that I quickly turned my anger toward her into anger toward myself.
Luckily because of my mindset work, I was able to move from seeing the clerk as an opponent and source of frustration to seeing her as a teacher for me and myself as a teacher for her, and also for my daughters who were a captive audience in the car cart.
Teaching is done mainly by example, and what we teach others we are also re-learning ourselves. What we share is strengthened in us, and so I had the choice to allow peace and love to happen in a moment that felt very un-peaceful by being peace and love.
Love is the remembering of who we all are at our core. Looking at a situation with love reminds us that our “flaws” are universal and therefore irrelevant.
Peace in that moment meant recognizing that I was having a vulnerable, overwhelmed moment, which put me squarely in the category of being human just like everyone else.
I took the lesson of having compassion for myself and for others that the clerk was teaching me and began to see things differently.
I gave myself a lot of grace and told myself that a moment of being annoyed and an exasperated eye roll didn't make me a bad or ungrateful person. I reminded myself that both the clerk and I can do things imperfectly still be worthy of love anyway.
When you find yourself in a judgment/shame spiral, determine that you are willing to see things differently: with love.
Do this, and you will be guided by the most powerful force there is.