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What Does Non-Judgmental Awareness Really Mean?

restaurantcrpdWhether you’re new or old to mindfulness, you’ve likely heard the definition that it is a “intentional non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.” There’s a lot of confusion around the term non-judgment. Years ago, before I began being more intentional with a mindfulness practice I had a friend practicing meditation and he told me that he was practicing being completely detached from everything in a non-judgmental way. That didn’t seem too fun to me. Today, many of us can still be confused by this term, so what does it really mean?

A purer definition of mindfulness might be just “awareness.” But the problem with this is that it’s only a noun, so what about the verb of mindfulness? How is mindfulness as a meditation or applied in our everyday activities defined? Maybe we can call it awareness in action or awareness being applied, because on its own, awareness doesn’t have judgment in it. Judgment is a thought that arises within awareness.

If you are a food critic, are you allowed to have judgments while tasting the food and still be mindful? Of course, it’s the awareness of that discerning mind that is mindfulness itself. If the food tastes especially good, with mindfulness, you can have the choice to intentionally taste it again and allow for a savoring to take place.

If you are a parent, can you judge a child’s action as inappropriate or dangerous and set some boundaries. Absolutely! It’s this pure awareness that allows for clarity around what is healthy and unhealthy. It allows us as parents to even make the choice to apply self-compassion during some of the more difficult moments where we truly feel stuck or even to note that we aren’t the only ones in this mess.

If you’re getting depressed, it’s critical become aware of relapse signs and make the judgment to start doing things that are going to be supportive. The same goes for everyday stress, anxiety, addictive behaviors and trauma reactions.

As a therapist (not to mention a human being), my brain is constantly making judgments based on my experience about the best path toward healing for a particular person. I’m mindful to make the choice over and again toward being curious about a person’s experience and judging when something is a healthy or unhealthy action. I discern when it’s a good time to nurture someone’s insight or when it’s okay to give my interpretations.

The reason non-judgment is used is because left alone the brain will automatically judge things as good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair, important or unimportant, urgent or non-urgent and so on. This happens so fast that our experiences are automatically colored right when we get to them, so mindfulness is about being aware of that and taking a fresh perspective.

The key here is to bring awareness and intentionality to the moments of our lives. Be aware when the brain is automatically judging a situation or a person and we can pause and get some perspective. Was this judgment just something that popped in my mind? Is there another way I can see this? Is the checkout person in the checkout line just a checkout person or someone with their own history or triumphs, perceived failures, moments of adventure, and wanting the same thing I do, to be understood and cared about?

Bring mindfulness to life means being alive. It allows us to bring back the choice and wonder that is inherent in everyday life.

Now it’s you choice to STOP (a 2-minute practice) and drop in.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from  

At the restaurant photo available from Shutterstock

What Does Non-Judgmental Awareness Really Mean?

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is creator of the six month online program A Course in Mindful Living, author of the book Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind, the premier eCourse Basics of Mindfulness Meditation: A 28 Day Program, the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations. Join The Now Effect Community for free Daily Now Moments and a Weekly Newsletter. Dr. Goldstein is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.

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APA Reference
Goldstein, E. (2013). What Does Non-Judgmental Awareness Really Mean?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Mar 2013
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