The Moon Times

December 2017

a new letter published with the full moon
sharing thematic teachings, news & affirmations to
cultivate psycho-spiritual wellness, creativity & community
Dear reader,

I recently had an uncomfortable conflict with a dear friend while we were abroad...
We were in Amsterdam, a beautifully rich city that we had dreamed of visiting for years. We arrived ready to adventure, learn and explore together, and of course, visit the coffeeshops, notorious cafe-style establishments where people can legally and socially smoke cannabis. While I wanted to take in the ambiance of a few coffeeshops here and there, my friend was most excited to be free in smoking any and all times during our stay. We both had our own, grown ideas of fun.

When my friend decided to smoke a joint with both cannabis and tobacco, which hit the throat harder than pure pot, I felt the need to openly object, especially because she, like me, hadn't smoked tobacco much in the past, and she had asthma while traveling with an expired inhaler. When she assured me that she'll be fine and went ahead in smoking it, I still judged her decision as reckless and worrisome. Every time she'd light up the tobacco/pot joint, I'd be judging and distrusting her as I'd walk at a heightened speed away from her or looked away in annoyance. After a couple days of this, I felt the need to confront her.

With the culmination of opinions I had against her smoking behaviors, I was fired up and had a lot to say. Most of it was along the lines of "why would you want to smoke that when you have asthma?!" and "it feels reckless" and "we're not here to be blasted 24/7." I also had a negativity bias in my head of the couple times in our 10-year history when she went overboard at a party and had to be taken care of, as many of us have.

As we dialogued (and she had to defend herself against my confrontation), I realized two significant things that I had not previously considered in my stance: I saw more clearly that I was concerned for her health and well-being. I didn't want her to have an asthma attack while we were abroad or fall sick because of going hard on these new experiences. Rather than simply asking her questions about how she might be affected or how she feels, I assumed that I knew what was best for her based on my knowledge and acted like she should've ascribed to it. I also didn't trust her as a grown woman making her own decisions, and I assumed the role of trying to care-take and control; this was a role I assigned to myself as she did not need me to do either.

The second important realization was that my own boundary insecurities and dependence on cannabis affected my reaction to her. Seeing her smoke so boundlessly made me anxious and upset, as unbounded smoking is a behavior I condone in myself; when I saw this in her, I felt the need to condone it too. I was forgetting that we are individual people with different relationships to pot, and I projected my feelings onto her. Instead of seeking first to understand where my own feelings were coming from and soothing myself, I was focused on reacting to and trying to control my friend.

Talking through and listening to our respective feelings helped me see the veil of judgment that I put between us that made me averse to her choices of behavior. Our conversation and my self-reflection revealed to me the root of my judgments; this understanding prompted me to take better care of myself and refocus on having my idea of a good time while allowing her to do the same. We ended our trip on a positive and connected note, having intentionally forgiven one another for our separate contributions to the conflict.

A day after our conversation, I synchronistically heard the term "aversive judgment" on a Tara Brach podcast, and my self-reflective neurons perked up in relevant curiosity- this is when I chose the topic of this moon's cycle. Judgment is necessary, embedded in our nature, and sticky and complex. For me, certain streams of judgment make me avoidant and ill-feeling toward myself and others. I want to recognize when this type of judgment begins to drive my behavior and catch it before it removes me from freedom and connection.

I know I'm not the only one whose gotten into conflict due to false judgments, assumptions and aversions. I see it all around me; just read more news about how people are judged conclusively as "dangerous" based on their faith and banned from a country with lawmakers who want to avoid and remove the diversity that challenges their massive egos.

Anyway, the intentions for this newsletter are to reflect on judgment that is aversive and harmful to our interactions and presence, and begin a compilation of resources on unlearning ineffective judgment and practicing more compassionate.

aversive judgment

Psychologist & Buddhist meditation teacher, Tara Brach calls aversive judgment “an aggressive force that separates."

"Aversive" is used in psychology to describe a causal "avoidance of a thing, situation, or behavior." Aversive judgment describes the thoughts and feelings we have that make us strongly dislike or oppose aspects of ourselves, others, or situations in our lives.

To cope with the aversions caused by this type judgment, we avoid, divert from, or try to control or eliminate the things we hold judgments of.
Necessary Discernment vs. Aversive Judgment

Essentially, everything is a judgment when we're attributing value or labels. We make thousands of decisions a day using judgment on what to eat, where to go, whom to speak to, what to wear, say and do. Judgment is an essential part of thinking, moving and living. We need discernment, "the ability to judge well", to function in our world, to get things done, protect and advance ourselves. At the same time, we can distinguish between the judgments that serve us in connection, health and vitality from the judgments that take it away from us.

Aversive judgment is a specific flavor of judgement that blocks us from connection, empathy, joy, openness and presence. It causes us to build walls within and between us, and it limits our capacity to exist and allow others to exist freely in the world. In the micro-example of my friend and I in Amsterdam, some of my judgments made me feel disconnected from her, even superior to her and want to control her behavior.

It's warranted to say that having an aversive judgment to smoking pot all day can easily be considered a healthy discernment. Yet, my friend and I came to Amsterdam to indulge and experience a specific strain of the culture, and each of us were safe and thoughtful in the ways that we did. "Healthy discernment" varies per person; for me, it was moderation and for my friend, it was freedom. I became aversively judgmental when my thoughts and feelings of her took me, in various moments of the day, right out of Amsterdam's beauty and wonder and into a hyper-focus of all that was "wrong".

Why do we judge aversively?

Aversive judgment is an evolutionary artifact. Judging people as outsiders was especially crucial for the survival and production early ancestors; distinguishing, avoiding or defending against them meant protecting resources that were extremely sparse and few and far between. Often, survival was determined by knowing in a split second based on external judgments, whether to flight, flee or submit.

On the judgments of our 21st century brains, educator and vulnerability/shame researcher, Brené Brown writes:

“...research tells us that we judge people in areas where we're vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we're doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people's choices. If I feel good about my body, I don't go around making fun of other people's weight or appearance. We're hard on each other because we're using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived shaming deficiency.”

Homophobia and unexpressed homosexuality is clear example of this; when Ted Haggard, an evangelical leader preaches that homosexuality is a sin and then resigns after a scandal involving a former male prostitute. In his apology after the scandal over his anti-gay rhetoric, he said, “I think I was partially so vehement because of my own war.”

Another reason we might aversively judge today is to protect our egos. It's a lot easier to focus on the faults of others than the faults of our own. I felt on a high horse as I judged my moderation Taking a compassionate stance to understand another person is far stickier than simply distancing ourselves and labeling them conclusively "bad." Author, Tim Kreider wrote, "one reason we rush so quickly to the vulgar satisfactions of judgment, and love to revel in our righteous outrage, is that it spares us from the impotent pain of empathy, and the harder, messier work of understanding.”

Aversive Judgment and Mental Health

A 2010 study in Mindfulness Magazine found that the participants who rated highest on nonjudgmental also had lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress related symptoms. In the study both acting with awareness and nonjudgmental thinking were the most important facets in predicting psychological well-being. Acting with awareness was particularly relevant to helping depression.

Dr. Kristin Neff, compassion researcher and educator, includes self-kindness vs. self-judgment as a key element of self-compassion, and self-compassion as a key element to compassion for another.

"Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. To have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?"

Unlearning Aversive Judgment

Much of our judgments are learned, often based on standards that may or may not be aligned with our truest values. Many of our aversive judgments stem from what society tells us is wrong or right- which changes with culture and context (i.e. smoking cannabis at coffeeshops in Amsterdam versus smoking mostly anywhere else).

"Responding to events, thoughts and feelings non-judgmentally is not always an easy task. Many confuse non-judgmental thinking with trying to view events more positively. Non-judgmental is not about seeing the silver lining in difficult circumstances. Rather, it is about simply acknowledging the circumstances, feelings or sensations without engaging in opinions and evaluation. It is about accepting the reality of a situation and sticking to the facts in both your speech and thoughts."*

While aversive judgments can hinder our freedom and connection, it provides great feedback into our deepest self-work. The things that make us the most uncomfortable, the things we want to avoid or punish in ourselves or others are the very things that might reflect a deeper truth within us in need of kind exploration.


Some resonating teachings on aversive judgment:

  • Website: Self-compassion exercises by Kristin Neff, including meditations & writing prompts for self-reflection on self-judgment


Upcoming spaces to release judgment & practice self-compassion:
  • Crafting a Sensory Sacred Box: a workshop for anyone to create, craft and curate a box intended to bring reflection, gratitude, soothing and self-empowerment, coming up this week on Sunday, 12/10 at 10am in Berkeley.
  • Exploring Beauty & Shame w/ Song & Ecological Ceremony: as girls and women, we carry heavy burdens of sickening judgments against our own bodies, ways of being, and one another based on external standards of beauty and girl-/womanhood. My songstress and healer friend, Katherine Piedra and I will be a hosting space in Berkeley on Friday 1/19 at 6:45pm to explore our beauty, including some of the judgment and shame we all hold related to "beauty". We'll work in a safe and kind atmosphere with healing sound and natural elements.
Do you have related resources to add to this list? Have any questions, comments or suggestions to share?

I'd love to hear from you!

Stay tuned with the next & first full moon of the new year on January 1, 2018 for the third publication of
The Moon Times.
Copyright © 2017 mosaiceye, all rights reserved.

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