I've started reading Jon Kabat-Zinn's book on mindfulness, "Wherever You Go There You Are." He often ends a chapter with an exercise to try on your own. The one I read today asked that I truly see the people around me, rather than just my thoughts or judgements about them. I was struck by how difficult that may be immediately after I read it, and watched someone leave their Starbucks cup in the middle of the parking lot when there was a garbage can nearby. I was full of judgements and negative opinions right then!
This exercise seemed to be easier for me with strangers. I have formulated opinions about my regular patients, and all day today I had to remind myself to come back to the present moment and see them as they are, rather than my conceptualization of them. With a stranger, I have no past to color my thoughts, so I only have to watch out for my judgements. It was disconcerting to find out how often I made assumptions about people based on their appearance. I had always thought of myself as an open-minded (and hearted) individual, but I was pretty much pointing and labeling in my mind all day!
I was also on the receiving end of presumptive ideas today. As a psychiatrist, I try to present something of a "blank slate" to patients. They don't know a lot of details about my life or me as a person, this allows them to paint me into whatever role they need to for their treatment. Two patients I've seen for a while now made broad assumptions about me based on my appearance. One was discussing her weight and stated that clearly I had never had weight issues. While I've never had serious weight problems, I was 10-15 pounds overweight for a decade. Another woman assumed I spend a lot of time lifting weights, when it's all yoga, baby. I know a lot of my patients assume I live the perfect healthy life, and that I never struggle the way they do, but that simply isn't true. And I can't assume the person who left their coffee cup in the parking lot is an evil soul who hates the earth... When I jump to these conclusions, I see through the distortion of my thoughts and judgements, rather than seeing a person for who they truly are.
I am thankful for this exercise, and plan to continue to watch my thoughts. Mindfulness is a constant redirecting of the mind, for me at least. I tend to leap to the future, regret the past, and forget to enjoy the sunshine while I'm sitting in it. However, I never thought of it as applying to perceptions of people around me. I know I can't stop my mind from jumping from thought to thought, and I know my judging doesn't make me a terrible person. I can recognize the judgements and gently, kindly, bring myself back to the present. Only in this moment can I fully live, and that goes for everyone around me, too.
Book referenced: Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn