One of my favorite things to do during this challenging time is to take a four mile walk with a friend of mine around the perimeter of the park at Hazeltine and Riverside. I wear a mask and stay socially distanced and it clears my head as I breathe the quasi fresh air, talk with my buddy, move my body and watch other people walking or playing soccer. Trainers are there, working out their students. People are taking in the sun rays and throwing the ball for their dogs. Children are running through the sprinklers, shrieking with joy and it makes me feel somewhat normal. But there are so many people not wearing masks, I can’t seem to stop myself from judging them. It’s partly about my health. I’m fortunate to have no pre-existing conditions but I’m not a child any more. And then, there’s the aspect of what I interpret as arrogance when someone chooses to endanger other people by not wearing a mask to demonstrate their right to do as they please.

Yes, that’s a judgment. Almost as soon as I get there and start walking along the path, I hear myself thinking, “Why aren’t you wearing a mask? Why do you think wearing it on your neck or under your nose is sufficient? Don’t rush past me and nearly topple me over. Why did you stop in the middle of the path, take out your phone, stare down at it and become oblivious that people are coming up behind you or walking toward you? Why are you playing basketball with no protection and sweating all over each other?” I add a few ripe cuss words under my breath as I walk and judge and I feel guilty about it but it doesn’t seem to stop me. So what do I do about it?

Yesterday during my walk, I decided to take responsibility for my judgmental thoughts and I realized a few things:

* I’m particularly irritable at this time of political and physical crisis. When I turn on the TV and watch the news, it affects my moods.

* I’ll never get other people to do what I think is right. We each have our own opinions and just like every other situation in life, I don’t get to change people. I just need to watch them and see if I can accept what’s going on. That’s evaluating which is different than judging.

* Fear is under the tirade of judgments that are looping around in my head. I do what I can to avoid living a fear-based life but there are some things to be aware of.

And the most important one:

* If I don’t like what’s going on, I can stop going to the park. It’s my choice.

The truth is that there are things about Covid-19 that we don’t know yet. When the AIDS epidemic terrorized us, starting in the 1980s, we were confused and scared. That virus was not airborne but we didn’t know that at first. When scientists determined that you couldn’t get it by touching or breathing someone else’s air, I decided to volunteer at an AIDS hospice. I remember arriving there for the first time and pausing at the front door, afraid to walk in. What if the findings weren’t right? Was I putting myself in danger? I gave myself permission to leave if I wanted to but I decided to go inside, take the prescribed precautions and 26 dying people became 26 teachers for me. I’m glad I listened to my heart because the things I learned about myself created an unshakeable foundation for compassion and loving kindness toward others and myself. I try to remember that when the tendency to judge arises.

It all comes down to choices. We have to have permission to leave if we want to stay. Do you find yourself judging? What do you do about it?