a poet’s words, descriptive, humbling, sometimes harsh like a mirror they reflect the poet's inner world yet, the notion of reflection, often rejected by the poet look closely, poet, do you not see your reflection staring back at you scowl not, critic, for you too are reflected in your judgment
One of my greatest spiritual teachers is the mirror of judgment. The teaching is simple: what I judge in others exists within me. The lesson is not easy.
Now, to be clear, this teaching is not about making factual observations or discernment. There is a distinction, although subtle. It is the intention behind our judgment or criticism of another that serves as the distinction. But the bottom line is this – you know when you’re being critical. We all recognize our inner critic. We’ve turned our inner critic on ourselves often enough to recognize it when it emerges.
By way of example, let’s say you have a friend you think is a pompous ass. You’ve heard the cliché, “it takes one to know one”. That old saying holds a truth and a lesson. What you recognize in another and judge harshly, exists within you. Some of the most frustrating and difficult people in our lives serve as our best teachers.
You may find yourself resisting this teaching. I did. I confess, I was resistant to seeing myself in others. It’s much easier to see and judge the flaws, weaknesses, and shortcomings of others. Seeing our own reflection through the mirror of judgment requires awareness – presence.
Our resistance to such lessons stems from our ego’s inability to recognize itself. Our ego often stands in the way of spiritual growth. You can see your ego at work in the way you react to difficulties or criticism. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the ego falls away when you are truly present, focused in the here and now.
“To love is to recognize yourself in another” ~ Eckhart Tolle
If you’d like to try this lesson, pay attention as you go through the week. Stop and take notice when you hear yourself judging another or being critical. Take a deep breath and center yourself in the present moment. Then, hold your judgment up like a mirror and see what is reflected. Ask yourself, “What characteristic or quality exists in the other that exists in me?” This is difficult inner work but if you’re willing to step outside your ego, real spiritual growth begins.
As you begin your week, let me leave you with the wisdom of the ancient Mayans,
“I am you and you are another me.”
What do you see when you look in the mirror? A reflection of yourself? It is said that the greatest reflection of our true selves is in the judgment we make of others. Everyone is our mirror. That realization has been my greatest spiritual teacher.
We are reflected back to ourselves in the way we see the world, and the judgments we make of others. Stop and think about that for a moment. It can be a difficult teaching to grasp and yet, if practiced, you will see yourself in a different light.
Now, when I catch myself judging the actions or appearance of another, I stop myself. I center myself in the present moment and look again, through awakened eyes. Often, I am filled with empathy and compassion for the other person. A simple shift in my perception and the whole world changes.
Years ago, I attended a lecture on spirituality. We were pondering the age old questions, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” An older woman in the audience raised her hand and proclaimed, “I have added a third question to the queries of our existence.” She paused for emphasis and then asked, “So who the hell are all of you?”
The room erupted in laughter, and then silence. What a profound question! But she had an answer, at least the truth, as it had been revealed to her – we are each other’s teachers and students – fellow travelers on the path. That was an “ah-ha” moment for many in attendance that day, myself included. It is true that some of the most difficult people in our lives provide us with the greatest opportunity for spiritual growth.
They say that true awakening happens when you can see yourself in all of humanity. Consider being a light in this world, so that when others see their reflection in you, they see goodness, grace, compassion, and humility.
I want to leave you with a poem from an angel that lived among us for a short time. I spoke of this amazing young man in an earlier post, Mattie Stepanek. He wrote this poem for the world after 9/11. If you’d like to hear it read in his own words you may do so here. I have also provided the written version below.
For Our World
We need to stop.
Stop for a moment.
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Silent for a moment.
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.
We need to notice.
Notice for a moment.
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice.
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Be for a moment.
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.
~Mattie Stepanek 1990 – 2004