Self-Judgement on the Path

Entering a new environment of any kind can bring up wonder, curiosity, fear, anxiety, joy. The experience was no different as I entered the zendo (Buddhist temple) at Upaya Zen Center for the first time. Although I had been studying Buddhism and practicing meditation for several years, each temple has its own chants, forms, and overall “way of doing things”. These forms are an important part of Zen practice, encouraging constant mindfulness while moving through the zendo.

The following stream of consciousness (can I call this a poem?) was written the first evening of my practice at Upaya. With a chuckle, I titled it “Self-judgement on the Path”.

Self-Judgement on the Path

Foot falling asleep
Moving toes
Walking meditation…
fall down?
Laugh at self
Not knowing chants…
how could I know?
Experience, Age
Sit up straighter
Open the pathways to the body
sensation returning to the leg, foot
Fully returning
returning to my body
The moment of noticing the body
IS body-mind-oneness
Rain falling
on the rooftop of the treehouse/loft
Let it all go
Let it all fall away
Join the journey
Your body is here…
let your mind be as well
Self judgement is natural
Is it helpful?
It depends.


The next day, my Chaplaincy cohort gathered to check in. So many people shared early feelings of self-doubt, overwhelm, and self-judgement. I was humbled to know I was not alone; this inspiring group had insecurities and fears and were willing to be vulnerable and share them. What a true gift. I realized I did not need to compare myself to anyone else and that I too could lay down my fears in the center of our circle, honor them, and let them go. This ritual helped me to renew a sense of agency over my own unique expertise and experiences that led me to this very moment. As I looked around the circle, I could see in the eyes of the group that we needed each other. That together, we would forge a stronger path to service.

I have always found self-judgement to be extremely insightful in improving how I show up in the world. But I learned during this week at Upaya that my approach on self-improvement was missing something: self-judgement’s loving parent, self-acceptance. Self-acceptance does not mean resigning to all the ways I’ve learned to harm myself or others, saying “that’s just the way I am”. No, self-acceptance actually means being inclusive of all of my thoughts and feelings as they arise in order to begin to approach my unskillfulness with compassion. Rooted in self-compassion, I can work diligently to transform my negative habits.

This new-to-me path of pairing self-judgement with self-acceptance allows judgement to be a tool toward healing, rather than a jail that has kept me locked away from intimately connecting with myself and others.

Bowing on the path,