I remember the advice my dad gave me after I moved to London in 2007 and started my first 'proper' long term job as a team assistant in a private equity firm.
"Don't get involved in gossip and office politics", he told me. "Do your work and be someone people can trust."
It's safe to say that over the years, I didn't exactly always manage to heed his advice. I was often and easily tempted into joining the gossip, whining and judgements that circulated around the offices I worked in.
The memory of my dad's advice came back to me recently as I turned over in my mind an idea from A Course In Miracles which, like so much of what I'm reading in the course, stunned me into reflective silence with its depth of Truth. The idea was this:
"As you teach so will you learn. If that is true, and it is true indeed, do not forget that what you teach is teaching you. And you project or extend what you believe...An idea that you share you must have."
Imagine I'm sitting down for coffee with you and I'm offloading with lots of judgement about someone. Perhaps they've done something I didn't like or I feel hurt or angered in some way by their behaviour.
In my judgement of them I probably feel some temporary relief. I think we've all experienced what it's like to get something off our chest in that way. But most of us will also have experienced just how temporary that relief is. And here's why it can only ever be temporary:
Because at some level, what we know, is that what we extend to another, we extend to ourselves.
If I'm extending judgement, I'm making judgement real. I cannot make judgement real for you without also making it real for me. And therein lies the real problem. Our deepest desire is to know complete peace and happiness, or said more accurately, to recognise the complete peace and happiness we already are. And yet that peace and happiness are what result from a recognition of wholeness, oneness or non-duality.
When I stand over here, extending my judgement to that person over there, I'm living in the belief of separation. I literally cannot have the experience of judging you and also experience true peace and happiness for myself.
So whilst I might feel or think that gossip, judgement or any form of attack to another might be justified in the moment, what I'm really doing is reinforcing my belief in judgement. And if I believe in judgement, I have to believe in it for myself as well as others. There's so much truth to the statement, I cannot attack you without attacking myself.
In saying all this, there are several things it feels so important to remember:
First, when we judge, attack or in any way speak badly of others, we're doing it in complete innocence. I like the phrase I've heard many times before in various circles, "We're always doing the best we can given our current level of thinking or understanding."
In the same way that extending judgement to others is to reinforce something ultimately false, turning that same judgement on ourselves is also false. Instead we need only recognise our innocent misunderstanding and choose differently in this moment and keep choosing differently as many times as necessary throughout our lives.
Second, not judging someone isn't the same as accepting their behaviour. One phrase that proves helpful to me time and again is this:
You can love the person and hate the behaviour.
It's about knowing and seeing and understanding that someone's behaviour is only that, their behaviour. It's not the truth who they are.
And third, there's a difference between offloading, judging and gossiping and talking through situations you're experiencing in a safe space with someone you trust. We all need somewhere we can safely explore things we're struggling with from time to time.
The Course in Miracles goes on to say:
"Teach only love, and learn that love is yours and you are love."
If we want love and peace and happiness for ourselves, we have to want and extend that to others too. If our commitment is to Truth we have to extend only Truth. And the only Truth is Love so let us extend, to the best of our ability in this moment and every moment, only that.
We'll no doubt make many more mistakes along the way, but all of that is ok too.
Love and courage,
P.S. Want more resources for the Awakening Heart? Download 17 of my favourite here.