I had an interesting experience recently. A woman cut me off in traffic, and my immediate response was to imagine she had a good reason. This may seem small, but for me it was noteworthy, because I’ve not always been like this. Far from it in fact.
In truth, I’ve been quite judgemental most of my adult life—of myself and of other people. It’s led to a lot of suffering in my life and my judgments and criticisms have always gestured towards something bigger as if they were my chronic (and unconscious) way of pointing to how the world could be better.
When I automatically assumed this woman must have a good reason for her behavior, I realized I had somehow created a totally new habit.
I’m not going to claim I’m not judgemental anymore (that would be annoying!), but when I thought about it further, I realized I had actually (albeit somewhat unconsciously) trained myself to be less judgemental, towards myself and others, over the last several years. Another example is a podcast I did the other day: When I finished it I really wasn’t sure if it was any good, and, at the same time, my thoughts were not debilitating in the way they have been in the past.
I began to wonder: How had I trained myself to have a different response? And a few things became clear.
The first is through developing Neutral Mind.
Really positive people drive me nuts. I don’t believe life is conspiring for me, but neither do I believe that life is conspiring against me. I believe that life is neutral, and I can experience it positively. In order to do that, I must look for the good. Not fabricate it, but look for where it is already present, but may not be obvious. Part of my training has come from having children. They do all kinds of weird things that create chaos in my life, but because I love them, I see the way their positive intentions don’t always have a positive effect. Seeing this in them has helped me extrapolate out to others.
Another moment that really changed how I view people doing ‘stupid’ things was when my former husband was in a motorcycle accident. I was pregnant and I remember getting the call and it scaring the bejeezus out of me. His motorcycle had been left where the accident happened and I didn’t know how to move it. So I called a friend, who was out at dinner and I organized to get the keys to him. I was in such a state of panic that I double parked outside the restaurant for a minute to run in to get him the key. When I ran out, there were all these people honking and yelling, and it took me a minute before I realized they were yelling at me. I had not only double parked but also parked on the railed bus line and there was a bus that couldn’t get past me to the stop right at the end of the block – as well as a bunch of cars which were stuck behind the bus. I was flustered and drove away quickly, but that moment has stuck with me ever since. Now when I see someone do something stupid I think, what if their husband is in the hospital?
Sometimes we think that if we look for the good, it means we have to like everyone, or lose all discerning thought processes. I don’t believe that’s true. I can assume positive intentions while not really wanting to be around someone. I can understand where someone’s behavior comes from, while still knowing their behavior isn’t ok with me. Most people imagine they have to make the other person wrong in order to get what they need, or to have boundaries. I know that I can assume positive intent and still set boundaries – both can be true at the same time.
The second is learning to trust my intuition (without needing to be right).
When it comes to intuition, most of us have a tendency to make up stories to explain our feelings about people or situations. But anytime we find ourselves justifying why we’re right about how we feel, we are on shaky ground. My personal work & the work I teach, is more about learning to trust the part of yourself that knows (for yourself, of course, not for others), without needing justification for it. Needing justification for our feelings, wants & needs is ultimately an act of distrusting your intuition, and distrusting your intuition is a quick path to unhappiness.
Most people will try to take on the first part of this, in order to see the good in people, but leave themselves out of the equation. This only works as a path to fulfillment if you also include yourself, your experience & your own needs. Otherwise it’s just a recipe for ‘love & light’ bullshit spiritual bypassing.
I trust that people are good & have good reasons for what they do AND I trust myself when something doesn’t work for me. The two are not mutually exclusive.
As I go through life assuming the best about people’s weird choices, I also don’t ignore reality. I’m not turning away from my own pain or the suffering of the world, and I believe people’s actions – as the saying goes: “when people show you who they are, believe them” – I just don’t believe that I know something about them because of how they are behaving.
I choose to look for the good and I choose to trust what I feel & need in any given situation. Largely because of this, I feel pretty goddamn happy & fulfilled most of the time, and I believe we can all train ourselves to do this – if we want.
Watch the video below for more examples, practices & stories from my own life about how I have applied this.