non-judging, non-striving


catching raindrops

as quickly as my arm extends,
the rain eludes me.
no grasping hand
can capture what is to come.

R.E. Maley, 21 September 2019


Mindfulness is fundamentally non-doing. We don't meditate to achieve anything, or to add things to our life. Meditation is the practice of continually letting go of mindlessness. Leave the devices, quiet the noise; sitting with our own thoughts, what do we experience in the silence?

 A few weeks ago, I settled on a simple phrase for recognizing and letting go of my thoughts as they arose during meditation: "That thought is not about now." In the spirit of non-judging, Jon Kabat-Zinn's first attitude of mindfulness, this phrase simply observes. It concerns only truth, not opinions.

 Truth is not good or bad, and has no place to go. It is simply the universe unfolding as it does – not as it should, but as it does.

 When we judge anything – thoughts, events, the actions of others – we are reacting in terms of something's value to us. And trained as we are to be discontented, our judgment begets striving: a perpetual cycle of desire to change or move away from what is.

For example, if you sit down to meditate and you think, "I am going to get relaxed, or get enlightened, or control my pain, or become a better person," then you have introduced an idea into your mind of where you should be, and along with it comes the notion that you are not okay right now. "If only I were calmer, or more intelligent, or a harder worker, or more this or more that, if only my heart were healthier or my knee were better, then I would be okay. But right now, I am not okay."

 So many plans we make into the future: when everything in my life is different (working less, the weather is better, when I have more money), then things will be good (finish that project, fix my relationship). Said another way: my life is bad now, and when all these things around me change, it will be better.

So many thoughts we have into the past: because this happened then (they wronged me, I was hurt, I messed up), things are bad today.

 Perhaps the practice of non-judging is not so much a way of experiencing and analyzing things, but instead a practice of humility – realizing that the entire world is not happening to us, that in fact life simply occurs as it does. Not as it should, but as it does.

Striving, therefore, is not only fruitless, but also wholly unnecessary. All this achieving, improving, detoxing, self-help: what does it teach us? "Right now, I am not okay."

Remember, we are simply allowing anything and everything that we experience from moment to moment to be here, because it already is. The invitation is to simply embrace it and hold it in awareness. You do not have to do anything with it.


This is one in a series of reflections on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s seven attitudes of mindfulness: non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go (published in Full Catastrophe Living, Bantam/Random House 1990, 2013). Quotations are excerpted from Full Catastrophe Living.