Sit down and take yourself through these steps. You can use them any time judgment surfaces in your life.
Step 1: Judge Away
You've already done this earlier, in the contraction exercise. As you reprise it now, by focusing on someone or something that you find reprehensible, stay with the process until you can easily locate the resulting contraction in your body. Make sure it's palpable, discernibly unpleasant.
Step 2: Melt the Armor
Take your attention off the subject of your judgment and place it fully upon the contraction. Don't try to understand it, change it, or make it go away. Instead, simply keep your attention focused on the sensation of the contraction as it appears in your body. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back. See if you can approach the contraction with a sense of openness, genuine interest, and caring.
When you do this, the contraction always releases. It may take just a moment or a few minutes, but sooner than you imagine, the dissolving contraction brings you face to face with the emotion from which it's been trying to protect you.
Step 3: Feel Your Way Open
Notice what you're feeling right now in your body. Is it anger? Frustration? Powerlessness? Hurt? Where do you feel it? In the same place as the contraction, or elsewhere? Is it warm or cool? Sharp or diffuse? Is it possible to keep your attention on the emotion with the same openness, interest, and caring that you brought to the contraction?
If you're able to do this, even for a short while, the emotion will take your cue and begin to flow freely. At this point, a number of things may happen. For a time, it may become more intense. Or it may disappear. Or it may yield to a more primary emotion. If you began feeling angry, for example, that anger may become hurt, or grief, or humiliation.
No matter what happens in this particular instance, it will arise within a state of expansion. Even if the emotions are difficult to experience, the expanded state in which they occur, as we've seen, is preferable to remaining shut down.
Step 4: Revisit the Villain
After the most intense emotions have passed and you feel a resulting calm, bring your attention back to the subject of your previous judgment. Are you able to do so without re-experiencing the same intense contraction? If so, you've given yourself a great gift. You've come to know, firsthand, that what often fuels your biggest judgments is a wellspring of unfelt emotion. Once those emotions are felt, the judgment no longer has the same power to cut you off from life.
That's why our judgments of others can be so valuable for growth - they're like flashing neon signs pointing directly to our own stuck places.
If revisiting the "villain" makes you just as contracted as before, don't despair. You may just have a substantial backlog of unfelt emotion and need to repeat steps one through three. Since letting go of judgments can't be rushed, it's important to be patient and to avoid judging yourself for the amount of time it naturally takes. In addition, the remaining three steps may also help you get unstuck.
Before describing them, however, I'd like to spend a moment discussing a prevalent idea regarding judgment. You may often hear that your judgments of others are projections, and that they reflect some kind of similar transgression in yourself. If you're particularly contracted by people who are cruel, for example, there may be ways that you are unconsciously cruel. Or, perhaps, you have a hidden cruel streak just dying to get out.
Sometimes, just recognizing such a connection can be liberating, and can take the rebounding sting out of our judgments. In my experience, however, we're not usually able to experience the full benefit of such reflection as long as a reservoir of unfelt emotion still exists. Emotion is the key. That's why feeling it, which for many of us is a lost art, is the most direct route to a more expansive life.
If one or more of your judgments continues to linger, imagine that the offending party is right in front of you. Without any distance for either of you to hide behind, speak your complete truth about the situation. Scream your words if necessary, paying no mind to civility or political correctness. Keep coming back to your own feelings - I'm so furious! I feel betrayed! My heart is breaking! - so that rather than staying mired in the accusations, instead you're able to release your own pain.
Step 6: See the Child
To further encourage your expansion, picture the offending party as a newborn, as a toddler, as a student on the first day of school. Did he or she deserve your judgment then? What traumas would have been necessary to lead from childhood innocence to such depravity? Even if you believe in pure evil, that monsters are born rather than made, what must it be like to bear such a curse?
Most of the people we judge are clearly not monsters, and in fact are much like us. But whatever we hold against them usually stems from some experience or circumstance out of their original control. They're not so much acting in response to the present situation as re-acting to what happened long ago. Recognizing this doesn't make them less responsible, but it may make us a little more likely to soften.
Step 7: Trade Places
Finally, if you still need a little more help, step into the shoes of the person you judge. For just a minute or two, pretend that you are that person, and try to experience the situation from his or her perspective. It's not the person's beliefs or justifications that matter, but how it really feels to live that particular life.
If suddenly you're awash in a painful emotion such as hatred, negativity, or bitterness, see if you can touch the awful wounds that gave rise to it. If you encounter a complete lack of feeling, attempt to grasp whole stretches of time so frozen and vacant.
As we've explored, the greatest barrier to compassion is judgment. Yet some people in the world seem to have earned our judgment. Rapists, abusers, murderers, terrorists - no matter how wounded they may be, their misdeeds can be so heinous that it seems wrong to regard them with compassion.
But one of the best ways to understand compassion is as loving care. It doesn't mean that the recipients of our compassion haven't done wrong to themselves and others. Nor does it deny that they may have committed hideous crimes that deserve serious punishment, even death according to some. In other words, it's possible to condemn people's actions and still feel compassion toward them.
When that happens, your judgment becomes discernment. What's the difference? With discernment, you're able to remain in a fully expanded state while still possessing a specific opinion, belief, or value. Your point of view is no longer hurtful to you. In the expansiveness that follows, you're able to see the offending party, and indeed the whole world, with much greater clarity.
Whoever you've judged, whether as distant as a president or as close as your immediate family, imagine being able to wish this person healing, peace, and a heart as open as your own - and see how you feel.