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Over the weekend, I posted a video on Facebook which shared the message of a famous spiritual teacher. Many were touched by and shared the video, but a few wrote disparaging remarks about the video, claiming that the spiritual teacher couldn’t be trusted because he struggled with alcoholism, as if we could never trust anything we might learn about spirituality from an alcoholic.

I found myself reflecting back on the twelve step meetings I was required to sit in on as part of my medical training. Attending these meetings with active and recovering addicts touched me deeply. Before experiencing an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as a young student, I had been taught by my parents and my church to judge addicts- at least that was my interpretation as a child. I thought addicts simply lacked willpower. I deemed them to be lazy, sloppy, even immoral. Addicts were people we should steer clear of and judge harshly. They weren’t as “good” as people who were able to stay sober. They were somehow lesser humans, and certainly, you couldn’t learn any spiritual lessons from a drunk or a drug addict.

A Lesson In Humility

I was humbled to realize that these “drunks” had much to teach me about what spirituality really means. I hadn’t realized that, in my judgment, I was committing one of the greatest spiritual “crimes.” I had forgotten that perhaps compassion is the most spiritual of virtues, and compassion was what these AA attendees had in spades.

As one after the other shared their stories of human vulnerability, heads nodded around the circle from others who understood the pain being shared. They told stories of childhood sexual abuse, parental abandonment, foster homes, and alcoholic parents. They had been beaten with golf clubs. Their mothers had knocked out their teeth. Some had been moved from orphanage to orphanage, being forced to leave the only people they found to love in each home.

They hadn’t just been traumatized themselves. They had also become perpetrators of trauma. They shared stories of how they had hurt others- betraying those they loved, stealing money from parents, breaking laws and even violently harming other humans. They spoke of blackouts and seizures and waking up disoriented in pools of vomit. They spoke of suicide attempts and jail time and spousal and child abuse.

As they told their stories of trauma and humiliation, often through tears of shame and vulnerability, the others listened generously, often in tears themselves. Nobody judged these addicts as they told their stories. Instead, their very raw stories were held with pure, loving compassion. It was fucking holy.

Who Are We To Judge?

I found myself crying too, not just tears of empathy as I communed with fellow human travelers who had suffered, but tears of shame at how I had judged these addicts. I thought of the people who had taught me to judge addicts, and I realized that they just don’t understand that these people are doing the best they can, and sometimes life is brutal. I wished those who judge addicts could spend just an hour living the lives these people had endured and survived. The fact that they were even alive left me in awe.  I found myself thinking I simply couldn’t have made it. I was deeply moved by their resilience.

Nobody’s Perfect

These are the memories that flooded through me as I read these comments on Facebook, judging a spiritual teacher who struggled with alcoholism.  I get that we’re all a little jaded from trusting people who claim to spout wisdom when they hide from us the ways in which they struggle. We hear stories of spiritual teachers embezzling money or sleeping with underage students or getting caught high on cocaine.  We’re tired of having the wool pulled over our gullible eyes and getting disappointed by our teachers- again.

I get it. Really I do. But every time we climb into this place of judgment, we commit the most unspiritual of acts- condemning another human for their human frailties, when those flawed humans need compassion, not judgment. One of the reasons I share with all of you the ways in which I struggle on my own journey is because I never want you to put me on a pedestal and think that I don’t struggle with my own human frailties. Just ask anyone who knows me well, and they’ll happily fill you in on how very human I am!

Nobody Belongs On A Pedestal

We’re tired of getting disappointed by those who claim to be enlightened. But aren’t we just as culpable when we put others on pedestals? We want to believe that there are others we can model our lives after, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on any mere mortal. Isn’t it our responsibility to remember that nobody belongs on a pedestal, that we are all equal, we are all One, and nobody is “better than” or “less than” anyone else?

Every one of us is a teacher- we all have so much wisdom within. Yet who among us has it all figured out? Who isn’t screwed up in some way? These days, I live in a world full of famous spiritual teachers and self help authors. And so far (I haven’t yet met the Dalai Lama, so maybe he’s exempt), I’ve not yet met one free of human foible. But in spite of our imperfections, we’re all doing the best we can to make the world a better place, and we’re trying our damnedest to be good people in the process.

Trust The Message, Not The Messenger

Since when does someone have to be perfect before we can learn from the message they spread? We let ourselves enjoy music performed by highly imperfect musicians, and we enjoy movies made by imperfect movie stars. But somehow when it comes to spiritual teachers and self-help authors, we forget that nobody’s perfect. What if we could let ourselves learn from the messages these imperfect teachers preach without condemning them for their humanity? The minute we suggest that someone needs to be free of human flaws before we can trust a divine transmission that comes through, that’s the minute we are prone to the most unspiritual of traits- judgment. Would it not be better to open our hearts in compassion to those who are still struggling and veering astray on their spiritual paths? What if we can grant the same gift of non-judgment to other fellow humans?

Every single one of us is doing the best we can. None of us have it all figured out, even the ones you might be tempted to put on a pedestal. Do any of us want to be judged for our mistakes when we’re doing the best we can? The world doesn’t need more judgment. We need more COMPASSION, and every single one of us has the opportunity to grant this every day.

How Do You Want To Be Treated?

It sounds cliché, but perhaps we need only go back to the Golden Rule to remember how to behave. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” I’d put money on the fact that you have screwed up in your past, and I can pretty much guarantee that you will screw up at least one more time in your life.  When you do, do you want to be judged? Let he without sin cast the first stone. Or as Venies Moncrieffe said on Facebook,”Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you.”

So yes, in a perfect world, every spiritual teacher would be free of human flaws like arrogance, greed, cheating, sexual misconduct, and substance abuse. But show me one perfect person in this world. We don’t need more judgment in a world filled with it. What we desperately need is compassion for the little child within all of us that’s hurting because of past traumas, insecurities, limiting beliefs, self-sabotaging behaviors, and patterns we inherited from our imperfect childhoods. Maybe instead of judging the alcoholic spiritual teacher, we can find within ourselves a way to open our hearts to the little child within this man who never quite grew up. In doing so, maybe we can also open our hearts to the hurting little child within ourselves who needs and deserves just as much compassion.

Will You Practice Judgment Or Compassion?

Let me challenge you. Think of one person you’re judging today, one person who isn’t living up to your standards, one person who is disappointing you or doing something you don’t like. Would it be possible for you to tune into the part of that person that is hurting? Can you see that part as a little child who just needs love? Can you open your heart to that little child and reach out to that person with that kind of love?

When you do, you bless the world.

With compassion,

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31 Comments

  1. Tonya Ruanto

    Someone once told me that I should see those who have both hurt and loved me as children on a playground. Then imagine us all playing together as children. I told her that was absolute genius and I think it applies well here.

    Reply
  2. Tonya Ruanto

    One last thing. Hopefully those pointing out the flaws just wanted to feel heard in regard to what they knew of his past more than they wanted to judge. We all get a little showy sometimes. I’m guilty of that myself. I love this post. It is total sweetness and something I strive for most of the time. Sometimes I excuse myself when it feels too hard. At some point I realize that I have to stop making excuses and get back on track. Thanks for a great reminder.

    Reply
  3. Mathew Hart

    As always, I love your message, Lissa. Thank you so much for all you are and all you do! Interestingly, your post very much compliments a message I channeled a few days ago. I hope it’s okay that I share it here.

    Dear Ones,

    We are all one. We realize this is not something
    new for you to hear. But in the context of your current situation, we
    feel it is very much relevant for you to
    hear and to understand. Whether we are speaking about your children,
    your parents, anyone who has gone before, or anyone who will go after,
    we are all of us connected at a deep essential level. Said another way,
    what one does to another, one does to all. Does that make sense? We
    shall endeavor to explain further. When one hurts another, no matter how
    slight or how egregious, that hurt is to the all. All suffer from that
    slight or that crime. Similarly, when one feels alone in the world, one
    has made a decision to cut oneself off from the truth; the truth that
    there is no such thing as alone. Alone is an illusion of the mind. We
    are all one. All of us. Those we deem undeserving, and those we deem
    saintly. Those we deem otherworldly, and those we deem terrestrial.
    Those we deem angelic, and those we deem satanic. Together, all of us
    are traversing time and space on an eternal journey to oneness… to
    explore oneness… to explore all the facets of life and love… without
    exception. But how does that relate to the journey of souls on planet
    earth? We acknowledge that life on planet earth is filled with sadness,
    injury, peril and grief. And of course, the corollary… joy, happiness,
    bliss, exaltation …these things too… though certainly, the hardship
    makes it unique in many ways. You see, to suffer is a unique experience
    that only few localities offer. So, why then? Why suffer? Blessed
    child, to suffer is to attain a height of love that cannot be reached
    through any other means. To suffer is to plumb the deepest depths of
    pain, separation, and isolation… for the purpose of resolving one’s
    feelings through transcendence; to attain an understanding of
    forgiveness, acceptance, and compassion that was previously unimagined,
    and to never have to return to such depths again to attain that
    understanding of love. Do you see? It is not a karmic debt, or a
    punishment, or an evil deed, though it appears to be all such things on
    the surface. It is truly a great sacrifice, a great undertaking to learn
    the most sublime aspects of love. So, yes, a great sacrifice is made by
    each and everyone of you who come to this plane and suffer great
    indignities. Some of you walk the earth plane with your suffering inside
    and are unable to transmute that suffering into understanding over the
    course of a single lifetime. Most of you internalize your suffering and
    transfer it to your brothers and sisters, and to your children. Others
    transmute their suffering and are able to then pass on exalted truths
    about the transformative nature of love. Simply look at your heroes and
    know that all of them, bar none, transmuted their pain into love. All of
    them. For it is not possible to convey the truth of love without having
    first experienced great suffering, and then transmuting that suffering
    into understanding. And so it is with that in mind, we wish to convey
    our deepest feelings of love to you, and to encourage you to release
    yourself from feelings of aloneness, and to do all that you must do to
    release those who caused you pain in this lifetime and others… to
    release for the sake of your own progress, your own understanding, your
    own freedom, your own joy, and your own right to excel and thrive… not
    only so that you may enjoy your life to the fullest, but in order to
    radically love all those who come into contact with you and raise them
    up as well. Dear Ones, we know you, we see you, and we feel all that you
    feel. And we have great faith in your ability to transmute your pain
    and suffering in the here and now. There is no need to carry this pain
    and suffering into another lifetime. You are an old soul with wisdom
    beyond your imaginings. And as such, it is only a decision away to feel
    and experience this for yourself. It is only a decision away to move on
    with your life, free from any constraints that your past has until now
    imposed upon you. Dear Ones, we love you deeply no matter what you do,
    no matter what you suffer, no matter what your thoughts… we love you
    always, eternally, and forever.

    Blessings,

    The Guardians (through Mathew Hart)

    Reply
  4. Christina Haas

    What an exquisitely written post! You have a remarkable way of thinking and speaking in truth that is authentic and loving, but not condemning. I work in the area of abortion healing, around which there is much divisiveness. I hope I can come across as clear and compassionate in my posts and work as you have in this one. Beautiful!

    Reply
  5. Carol Williams

    A non judgemental view does NOT benefit the observed, but the observer.
    As someone who worked with recovering addicts, I have been benefited
    greatly by the wisdom I received from them! I think, as humans, we just
    want a perfect hero to reaffirm the belief that we have to be “good
    enough” in order to earn spiritual insights. I believe this is not
    gained by the addition of anything, but in the removal of faulty egoic
    beliefs and who has had their ego stripped more than some of these? With
    that being said, however, we shouldn’t “judge” ourselves or others for
    judging. We can’t NOT judge. That is how we have this human experience
    where everything is relative. It’s a set-up! lol

    Reply
    • Flawed but trying

      There is a difference between having a judgemental thought and posting hateful thoughts.

      Reply
      • Carol Williams

        Does that mean we should judge the hateful thought poster?

        Reply
        • Flawed but trying

          No, I’m not judging just sad that so many lack emapthy for others.

          Reply
          • Carol Williams

            I am not trying to be sarcastic with this; just trying to make my point. In order to feel sad, one must have had “judged” the happening as a “shouldn’t”. My point being- we can never totally escape this human characteristic. The other point being – that it is an illusion that the one being judged is somehow the victim of the judgement…the real victim is the judger because when in judgment we are unable to see the gift of the event. In this case the beautiful message of the video.

          • SkyeV

            Well said.

          • Sherril

            Very well said. Totally agree.

    • SkyeV

      I absolutely agree with you Carol. I just commented and addressed another side to this conversation. I strive to show compassion to everyone however, I am not a saint and under certain circumstances I will judge. And if anyone on this post can claim otherwise, they are not being truthful. All we can do bring awareness to our actions during times of judgment, attempt to tame the ego (because this is where it comes from) and then try and do better. https://sconnect.ning.com/page/ego

      Reply
      • Carol Williams

        Yes! And it’s not for the other person’s benefit, but my own….because like the video alluded to…I am the only one here! lol

        Reply
      • Carol Williams

        I just read your comment about having a history of trying to deal with addicts. That is super tough when one is wishing to grow in areas of forgiveness and compassion because there is such a fine line between supporting and enabling. Addicts will certainly take advantage of this, not because they are “bad”, but because they are sick. This is why it is sooo important to set your boundaries, and get support from others to help you maintain those boundaries and most importantly -NOT feel guilty about it. I used to be an addiction counselor for addicts and their families, so if there is any way I can help…treatment facilities, book recommendations… or anything, please let me know. My heart goes out to you…

        Reply
  6. Flawed but trying

    THANK YOU!!!! It hurts me and deeply saddens me that so many people are so hateful and judgemental. Sometimes, it makes me want to go to an island with like minded people and escape all the hatred.

    Reply
  7. Barb

    I’m thankfully not on Facebook, Twitter etc. so I can’t speak to specifics of the video but Lissa I love your message, it dovetails/resonates perfectly with where I’m at right now.

    I could be wrong but I suspect that harsh judgments towards others are most often triggered when we see an aspect in them we subconsciously recognize within, a “dark” part of us we find unlovable and unacceptable. The relative anonymity of the online world gives folks permission/courage to project insecurities outwards and call it “theirs” in a way most would never do face to face.

    It’s been my experience that when I own, love, accept and forgive that part of me (often with the help of tapping) I then have compassion when I witness it in others. It’s not an excuse for bad behavior but like you pointed to, it makes it easy to not take personal (thank you Miguel Ruiz) or react to when I realize the person is likely coming from a childhood trauma and/or a place of “I’m not enough…”.

    Reply
  8. SkyeV

    Thank you for this article. This is an area that I struggle with every day.
    I am not the addict, rather I have been hurt by the actions of a
    few addicts that were/are family members as well as who I thought was the
    love of my life.

    I do tend to judge sometimes, especially those who are still using and not
    acknowledging their problem and who manipulate and take advantage of those
    who show compassion.

    You stated “I thought addicts simply lacked willpower. I deemed them to be
    lazy, sloppy, even immoral”. Well some of them are all of those things. Some
    people who are not addicts are some of or all of those things.

    I think it’s important to address all sides of this complicated struggle and all the people involved because it’s not OK to be manipulated, it’s not OK to be deemed a “bad person” because you judge. It’s a struggle, and I do attempt to insert
    compassion but it’s hard sometimes. I’ll keep asking source for help in this
    area…it’s a journey on both sides.

    Reply
  9. Michelle

    Been there, judged that.

    Having a strong inner critic was role modeled and expected in my family so I honed mine to perfection to feel accepted and safe. The more my favorite coping skill bossed me around with freakishly high expectations, the more relief I felt by focusing on the “failings” of others in meeting them.

    When I notice the “failings” of others now, I know it’s a sign to re-focus on finding the area in my own life where I could use some peace and acceptance…some compassion. My inner critic is relentless, but I’m slowly deactivating her.

    I know I can’t offer peace when I don’t know what it feels like. Could well be that peace on earth depends on a global inner critic deactivation initiative…? 😉

    Reply
  10. Krista

    That’s fucking holy. Amen, sista!

    Reply
    • Kim

      Yes, Lissa hit it out of the park with this piece today…really, really touched me and I agree, “f***ing holy”!

      Reply
  11. Nancy Shields

    How synchronized we are – I just wrote a blog post on Compassion myself – you took a different spin than I did but the bottom line is to get to a place of compassion – I took the approach of self love first and then love for others comes through that…..in gratitude for you words!

    Reply
  12. Cathryn Wellner

    This one moves me deeply, Lissa. No one on the planet is without faults, but sometimes it is irresistible to overlook our own and pounce on someone else’s. We are all hurting. We all need love. Your call for compassion is sensitive and beautiful.

    Reply
  13. Jenni

    Hello Lissa,

    Todays blog profoundly disturbed me While I believe you are coming from a good place, I feel you miss the point – this isn’t about the tragedy of addiction, this is about integrity and credibility and if a teacher is not honest about his frailties, his students risk disillusionment, heartache and loss of faith. There is no glory in him being an inspiration to strangers but failing to respect and value those closest to him.

    And this is often the case with those wrestling substance addictions. The entrenched denial that is prevalent within people who are not in active recovery means that you have them misrepresenting themselves in their capacity as teachers and trainers ( not too mention as parents, wives, husbands, friends etc) and they do great harm to those they profess to love and care about.

    And whats wrong with having judgement? Not of the punitive nature, but a healthy awareness and acknowledgement of where we want to place ourselves within the world, of assessing who are the healthier individuals that reflect our values and want to be around and who it is better to avoid as they can cause us harm. One must be able to evaluate or “judge” these circumstances as part of determining who and what conditions serve us well, I’m somewhat tired of judgement being a dirty word. It is a necessary part of making our way in the world.

    I admire your work, your honesty and vulnerability in all you that share, and it is in that spirit I put this out to you.

    Reply
    • Joan Michaels

      This response post I could relate to the most. Judgement or the criticism of judgement is way over analyzied or maybe used to deflect responsibility for one’s own life. While I have empathy to a point with an addict, I have personally seen what addiction does to families and these families were not abusers in any way shape or form. The idea that someone becomes an addict because someone else did them wrong is also annoyingly tired and over used as an excuse. That is not to say that there are not individuals out there that have lived extremely challenging and horrific lives but in my experience with the addicts I have known, their loved ones would have done anything short of cutting off one of their own arms to help. Addiction is a selfish condition and it takes the addict down and everyone that loves them right along with them. To turn the addict and his addiction into a victim does nothing but say to the person that it was never his fault, that he is allowed to blame others for the condition he finds himself in today and he has a disease that was not of his choosing. I will never buy that. We live in a culture of victimhood and blame today. I don’t say all of this to be judgmental. I say it because my family has been propounding affected by the addition of a couple of loved ones. If they are not in denial, then they are experts at blaming everyone but themselves for the lifestyle they find themselves in. When I look at today’s culture of “it’s not my fault” and see that everything is labeled a disorder not of the person’s choosing, and everyone has a disease of the mind in some form or another, I just have to shake my head in wonder at how we got this way.

      Reply
    • Gretchen

      Thank you for adding a missing piece to Lissa’s original post. I agree that “healthy awareness” has its place. Some buddhist teachers call it “discernment” as a way of distinguishing from “judgement” I think in your comment you are describing discernment which I understand to mean that you accept a person for who they are and where they are, you offer them wise compassion, but you keep the necessary distance and boundaries so that their addictions/denials can not harm you. This is especially true when dealing with active addicts and anyone exhibiting behaviors that could endanger those around them.

      Reply
  14. Sharon Beck

    Lissa, incredible job scolding those that think they are better than “addicts” and bringing them to consider compassion. I have found that some recovering people have a better grasp on Spirituality than folks that have lived a “normal life”. The skills acquired when they spend their childhood and young adult life in survival mode benefit greatly when they grow and heal enough to cross the line into some what normalcy. They view and feel the world and spiritual realm more in depth and are more compassionate and usually take in careers as givers and helpers. Keep up the good work my dear.

    Reply
  15. Louise

    Love what some have pointed out about ‘judging’ and society’s (apparent) view of that as a ‘bad’ thing – whereas in fact our brain has evolved by always looking for the negative in situations, in order to protect us! What’s more important, in my opinion, is how we treat others. We can have all the judgemental thoughts in the world going on in our heads, but if we can manage to just acknowledge those, let them be, and then make a conscious choice to ACT with compassion, we manage to improve the world just that little bit. Without having to beat ourselves up for being ‘judgemental’. LOVE the reminder to actively foster more compassion.

    Reply
  16. lv2terp

    Absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!! Thank you Lissa!!! 🙂

    Reply
  17. Sherril

    This was so wonderful…an understanding I have held in my heart for a long time, but never able to articulate so well as you just did. Thank you. <3

    Reply
  18. Rebecca Stahl

    Thank you so much. You inspired me to write about compassion and the law. I’m a lawyer who represents children in the custody of child protective services. Compassion for the parents is something I (and others) struggle with a lot. I know it is necessary, and I’m a better lawyer when I find it, but days and weeks go by where I just get annoyed by people. So thank you for bringing me back. You sparked a conversation with my family and a public blog post. Now I just hope it sparks my ability to use it in my life.

    Reply
  19. Jude Price

    The flaws and deep shame, the struggle to get sober and/or clean is an immense batlle. For those who have never walked that journey – perhaps the judgement and fear (and observed damage addicts do to themselves and others) is a deep misunderstanding of the condition of life – how fortunate is the person who has not experienced it! So misunderstanding allows for judgement. If the teacher has disclosed his own struggle, and is like all of us imperfect, that does not diminish his message, rather enhances the veracity of a teaching if it is truly lived. Discernment is different from judging, discernment is a witnessing, everything we think comes through our own socialisation and filters and everything we say and do is an embodiment of some part of us (hidden or explicit) including judging others harshly. The challenge is to, paraphrase Lissa “discern with compassion” and see ourselves in others/others in ourselves.

    Reply

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