Be Curious, Not Judgmental

Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park (left) and Chapel of the Holy Cross (right), Sedona, Arizona  Photos by Shawna Donaldson

Be Curious, Not Judgmental

Discussion date: Thu, Apr 20, 2023 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

In a recent episode of the television series (LINK)Ted Lasso, the main character captured our attention with the words, “Be curious, not judgmental.” Ted used this quote to point out that people who underestimated him his whole life were limited by their judgment that they had everything about him figured out. They weren’t curious and never asked him about his life. This was a poignant scene, because we have both often encountered the feeling of certainty that comes with judgment and the realization of how it limits understanding in our relationships for both the judger and the judged.

In the book Being Peace, our teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn, discusses this idea in the context of knowledge and understanding:

In Buddhism, knowledge is regarded as an obstacle to understanding, like a block of ice that obstructs water from flowing. It is said that if we take one thing to be the truth and cling to it, even if truth itself comes in person and knocks at our door, we won’t open it. For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.

Shawna: Over the Easter holiday, my oldest daughter and I met up with my youngest sister and her daughter in Sedona, Arizona, to spread my mom’s ashes. My sister and I have very different lifestyles and beliefs. I often have opinions and judgments about her life and where I fit into it. Over the last few years my meditation practice has allowed me to look deeply into my attitudes because I am aware that my judgment can cause suffering in our family. On this trip, it seemed we were both more accepting and respectful of each other’s spiritual paths and practices than in the past. On Easter Sunday I suggested that we visit the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park. There, my sister and my daughter walked around, saw everything, and were clearly ready to go before I was. But as I came out of a sitting meditation and moved to do walking meditation, I noticed they had found a bench in the shade and were patiently waiting for me to take my time. Later in the day, we went to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, and I could tell my sister was very happy to be in the chapel on Easter. Inside, there was a marked path that led to footprints at the base of the cross. Dozens of people were lined up waiting to stand in those footprints below the giant statue of Jesus looking down on them. My sister joined the line and my daughter and I waited outside, enjoying the view. It felt as though we were able to honor each other’s paths without judgment on that beautiful day. That day, I was able to become aware of my judgmental nature, let go of my opinions, and just enjoy the company of those I was with in that moment.

Eric: I really love the image of knowledge being the ice that blocks the flow of understanding. It feels to me like judgment is a solid form of knowledge that is standing in the way of understanding, truth, and compassion. Looking deeply at judgment in my practice, it occurred to me that I get a strong sense of certainty from being judgmental. I feel like my work is done and I can rest in the certainty of what I know without giving it any more energy or thought. Curiosity as a response to judgment is brilliant because it is so simple and easy to break the ice with someone by being curious.

This Thursday evening after our meditation, we will spend some time discussing curiosity and judgment and how we can use curiosity to let go of judgment. Here are some questions to help guide our conversation.

  • How has being judged or being judgmental caused discord in your relationships?
  • What has been your experience with curiosity in your practice?
  • How do you let go of knowledge to increase your understanding?

We hope you will be able to join us and we look forward to a wonderful discussion.

Warm regards,

Shawna and Eric Donaldson

“Deep Listening” from Fidelity: How to Create Loving Relations by Thich Nhat Hanh 

Deep listening is necessary in order to truly be there for the person we love. In the person we love, there is suffering we haven’t yet been able to see. Someone who can understand our suffering is our best friend. We want to be someone who can understand the suffering of others. To understand, we must listen deeply.

We could ask our partner, “Darling, I’d like it if you would speak to me of your childhood. What did you like to eat? What games did you play? What difficulties did you have?” If we’re truly curious, we’ll want to know and understand these things. When there is the curiosity and the desire to truly be there for the other person, she will tell us about her childhood. Simply by really listening to her about her early years—maybe she was happy, maybe she was tortured, and her suffering is still there after so many years, and nobody knew—we become her best friend.

“Let’s listen to each other.” “Let’s be there for each other.” We need to say these simple things. Otherwise, the union of two bodies becomes very monotonous after a time. Even when we’re with our partner, we continue to have the feeling of being alone. So we look for another person to be with. In this way, we’re always seeking. But don’t believe that you see all that’s contained in the depths of someone’s eyes. If you have the impression that you know your beloved inside and outside, and that’s why you’re bored or restless, you’re wrong. Are you sure that you know yourself?


Accepting Ourselves” from The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion

by Thich Nhat Hanh

Because we can get stuck in the notion of self, when we look at ourselves, we often see many things we don’t like and many behaviors we’re not satisfied with. In each of us there’s a judge and there’s the person being judged. There are many of us who disagree with ourselves, cannot accept ourselves, and feel we are so bad, we have so many shortcomings. We are judgmental toward ourselves. We have so many weaknesses, and we don’t want them. We want to transcend them, transform them, but we can’t. So we start to despise ourselves.

If we can’t accept ourselves, how can we accept others? How can we help change the world around us? We have to learn to accept ourselves first. The Buddha said that we will learn to accept ourselves by looking deeply at ourselves. We are made of elements that are not us. When we look deeply, we see the many elements that brought us into being. There are the many genetic elements we received from our parents, grandparents, and ancestors. There’s our society, our traditions, the nation we live in, the people around us, our economic situation, and our educational background. When we see all these things, we see the many non-us elements in us. So we feel less judgmental and won’t tend to criticize ourselves so much.


in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Apr 20, 2023


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Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Sun, December 10

Columbia Sunday Evening Practice

Mon, December 11

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

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Tue, December 12

Takoma Park Morning Meditation

Tuesday Evening Gaithersburg Group

Wed, December 13

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Spanish-Speaking Online Practice

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Thu, December 14

Takoma Park Morning Meditation

Fri, December 15

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Sat, December 16