Suspending Judgment-Learning to Be Present
I have always been my worst critic. When I was in elementary school during recess instead of playing with the other kids, I used to find a quiet secluded little corner outside near the school building, going over my mistakes in my mind relentlessly berating myself for not being good enough tears silently falling down my cheeks. I’m not nearly that bad now, thank goodness, but today and most of this weekend, I found myself playing the should have could have game. You know, when you go over all the mistakes you made, all the words you would have said if you had just been more clever or less flustered. I played that game a lot this weekend, and I realized something; it takes me out of the moment and traps me in the past. Sitting in judgment of myself disconnects me from the moment, and I lose the precious time that I have been given.
So for me, being present means suspending judgment. Today was parent’s day at my daughter’s elementary school. I was interested to see how a Japanese elementary school classroom was organized and how her teacher would teach. The children were sectioned off in little groups. Their desks put together in little pods of four. Off to the side, next to the chalk board was a pair of students who seemed to act as leaders. Guided by the teacher, when it was time to answer questions, they called on students who were quietly raising their hands and not just calling out the answer. It was a great set up. The students were engaged in the lesson and encouraged to talk with each other about what they thought the answer was. When the teacher asked the groups to discuss a particular problem, the little ones would excitedly whisper to each other what they thought the answer was. Unfortunately, my little one was not included in this experience.
Next to her was a volunteer provided by the city to help her understand what was going on. Instead of the teacher or her peers helping her out, the volunteer helped her. She was in her own little world playing with her pencils and her markers. Sometimes she would have her head down. Other times she would be playing with her skirt. The volunteer would constantly but gently take her pencil away or encourage her to listen to the teacher. Occasionally, my beautiful brown eyed girl would turn to look at me, and I would smile encouraging her to look at her teacher and to engage in the class. However, I must admit, when she was chewing on her markers or not paying attention to her work, there would be a disappointed frown on my face instead of a sweet smile on the occasions that she turned to look at me. I was in turmoil because the part of me that believe in allowing your child to emerge and to handle their personality and their psyche lightly never imposing your will upon it was at war with the part of me that wanted a child who eagerly participated in her class. The judgemental part of me was dismayed and embarrassed by my child’s behavior, and I struggled to stay present as I observed the class.
In that moment, I was more concerned with how my child’s behavior reflected on me as a parent rather than on what role my child played in her classroom. Looking back, I would say that she is a bit ostracized. During a vocabulary activity in which all the children took turns making words using the last syllable of the previous word, my daughter was in her own little world. She was not included in the discussion, and the teacher seemed very nervous when it came time to call on her to add her word. The last syllable was, “go.” Rather than giving her the time to think about an answer, the volunteer and her peers spoon fed her an answer. Some of them whispered the word “go ma,” which means sesame in Japanese. Naomi wanted to say “go ri ra (which is a loan word from English for Gorilla). The game started with “go ri ra,” so she could not use that word. Confused by the different answers coming at her and her own desire to use the word “go ri ra,” she came up with a combination of the two answers being whispered to her,”Go ma ka go ri ra,” which is the equivalent of “Sesame Or Gorilla.” It was an awkward moment for her, and the teacher took the answer despite the fact that it was a nonsensical answer.
I wondered how the teacher would have responded if a Japanese child had given her that answer. At the same time, I sympathized with the teacher, as a teacher, you do not want to discourage your students by inadvertently humiliating them. I probably would have done the same thing in my own class. My memory of this moment is clouded by my sense of self criticism as a parent, and I do not believe that I have a clear picture of what was really going on in that moment. Would my memory of this have been clearer or at least different if in that moment I was not so critical of my own parenting. I regret that I did not have a clearer mind in that moment because I think there was a lot I could have learned from it if I had not been so embarrassed and disappointed. Perhaps, as an outsider, you might have a more objective perspective of my account of what happened. If so, I’d love to hear your ideas.
What I learned from my experience at parent’s day is that I spend entirely too much time inside my own head. I rarely experience anything in the moment. I move in and out of the moment and in the end I have no idea what really happened. Again, this is a form of self abandonment. When I am not present, I deny myself the opportunity to experience the richness of the moment. I could have learned so much from just observing my daughter in her classroom rather than judging my parenting style based on my daughter’s behavior in her classroom. So not only am I denying myself a rich experience, but I am also denying my child the chance to feel loved and accepted.
Being self critical makes me critical of others especially my daughter. It also causes me to emotionally abandon the people I am with. It is something of which I am not proud, and I would like to change. There’s that judgment again. Well, old habits die hard, so every day I will commit to suspending judgment, living in the moment, and being completely present with my emotions. Perhaps when I am present and I have trained myself to observe without judgment, I will have deeper and richer relationships with the people in my life, especially my daughter.
Until next time, I wish you all the best.