Friday, August 14, 2009

Awareness of Others (Non Judgmental?)


Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Matt 12:33 (HCSB)

HS_Dove_Bible Image by nFriedly via FlickrOne of the contrasts between eastern mindfulness and Christian mindfulness becomes very apparent the area of our awareness of others.  In Eastern mindfulness (and DBT) the tradition is to approach this awareness the instruction is to be Non-Judgmental.  Christian mindfulness teaches a different type of awareness that involves discernment.  I believe that this distinction is very important and would be one of the key differences between the two.  Someone might suggest, "but doesn't the Bible teach us not to judge others."  People in this camp will often quote   Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, so that you won't be judged."  On the surface this seems like it is in agreement with the eastern tradition, but unfortunately it takes the verse out of context.  Looking at this passage will be useful in understanding Christian mindfulness and awareness of others. 

Why do you look at the sawdust in your brother's eye when you have a 2x4 sticking out of your own eye?  You Hypocrite first take the 2x4 out of your eye and then you will be able to help your brother take the sawdust out of his eye.  (My translation)

In this passage Jesus is saying not to judge others until you have become aware of your own faults and dealt with them first.  Interestingly "the other" in this passage has the same fault (sawdust) in a smaller degree than the one judging (plank of wood).  Awareness of others then proceeds from self-examination, awareness of self, effectively dealing with your own shortcomings.  Our own thoughts, ideas, feelings, prejudices tend to color our awareness of others.  After self-awareness, Other-awareness becomes clearer and more effective.  That is Jesus' central teaching of this passage.   

Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves.  You'll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit.  A good tree can't produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that doesn't produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So you'll recognize them by their fruit." Matt 7:15-20 (HCSB)

This teaching is in the same sermon as the statement "Don't Judge" giving further credence to the notion that Jesus was not teaching Eastern Non-Judgment.  We need to be aware of other's fruit.  This means looking beyond what they are saying to see what they are doing.  Listen to there actions over their words. 

Research has shown that 55% of communication is non-verbal and as high as 93% when examining the feeling state of a person.  Awareness of a persons non-verbal actions is a key to understanding others.  This fact points to the relative weakness of electronic communication to face to face communication.    It also points to the importance of being aware of others nonverbal cues. 

Awareness of others also requires an open mind.  It is possible to be "so discerning" (legalistic judgmentalism) as to close your awareness of others off.  This happens when our own thoughts, feelings, and opinions become priority over hearing and understanding others or awareness of God.  We must resist jumping to conclusions if we are to be aware of others.  Consider the Bible's definition of "open mindedness."

The people here were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men.  Acts 17:11-12 (HCSB)

Open-mindedness is three steps: willingness to listen, eagerness to understand the message, and then examine by the Spirit (using God's Word as the standard).   Often our awareness of others breaks down in one of these three steps.  This also is quite a bit different from the Eastern Non-Judgmental Open-mindedness that has come to dominate the definition of "having an open mind" in our culture. 

Listening requires that we are paying attention.  To be aware of others your attention must be directed toward that person.  This requires focus and elimination of distractions.  When we fail to focus or if there are too many distractions then awareness of others can be seriously inhibited. 

Eagerness to understand requires that we "get it."  I call it the "I get it" factor.  A question that I often ask myself is, "Does what this person just said (or doing) to me make sense?"  If I answer the question "no" then clearly I have not understood him/her.  My goal then is to spend more time listening actively and possibly asking a question or two to clear up my misunderstanding.  To be clear understanding someone is not the same as agreeing with them.  Discernment is the last step in open-mindedness.  You cannot test what you do not understand.  Nor can you be aware of what you do not understand.  Understanding is another key to other awareness. 

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God...  1 John 4:1 (HCSB)

Examine by the Spirit is much more difficult to describe.  I will talk more about the role of the Spirit in Mindfulness in a later post.  We often judge by our own standard and our own understanding.  This is a natural act of the will.   Spiritual discernment though requires engaging the Spirit of God in some manner.  Prayer, Bible Reading (as in this passage), meditation, setting your mind on the Spirit, and other spiritual disciplines are the ways to examine.  In short God's Spirit helps us to examine and God's word gives us the standard.

By practicing self-awareness proceeding other awareness, paying attention to fruit (listening to actions), and applying Biblical "open-mindedness" then we can greatly increase our awareness of others.