Discernment is the Path
The spiritual path, the journey home to ourselves, is the path of discernment: becoming discerning about every aspect of ourselves.
A fundamental aspect of becoming discerning is about becoming attuned to yourself, becoming aware of all the little ways in which we dismiss our own inner feelings in favour of what is expected of us, or out of the habit of conforming to societal norms.
Due to the power of conformity many of us lose our sense of ourselves, our sense of being “in our own skin”. As we say, we lose touch with ourselves.
The first step of discernment is getting back in touch with your own inner self, learning how to find a balance between conforming to societal norms without losing touch with your self.
I suspect that this is often more of a problem for women than men. I once met a woman who when I asked her what her favourite food was, said that she didn’t know because she always cooked what her husband and family liked.
When I was younger I often suffered from head colds that lingered for weeks. At the time I thought that was how my body was. As the children became more independent I learned that taking an afternoon in bed when I was feeling tired warded off the oncoming head cold. The tiredness was an indication from the body that it needed rest in order to fight the infection. Nowadays, I rarely get head colds because I pay heed to the bodies warning. Admittedly, my circumstances also allow me to do this now.
The point is that learning to notice the signals from the body or emotions is the first step in learning to pay heed to them and to act on those signals.
Learning to live in your own skin is the first step in taking back some of the energy that society steals from you and that you give away unwittingly in conforming. This is a balancing act and one that can easily be learned without anyone around you even noticing. It’s the beginning of taking responsibility for yourself, and for the quality of your life.
Learning to balance the meeting of your own needs along with meeting the needs of those around you is another aspect of living the discerning life. This can be articulated as finding a balance between inter-personal and intra-personal needs.
Women, I suspect again, are more likely to negate meeting their own needs in prioritising meeting the needs of their families or dependents than men, but men also, I see, often negate their own needs out of a sense of responsibility to their dependents, whether that be family or work or the wider community.
The fact is that everyone has needs. This is a given for being an organism in the world. Our needs are not just physical but emotional and intellectual and social too.
As the saying goes, “ all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. In modern society, work, the accumulation of wealth and being an upstanding member of society often takes precedence over taking care of our own individual needs. Society likes hard workers. But, as an individual, how well balanced is your life?
And maybe I could say “too much play makes Jack a silly fool!”, if you’ll tolerate my humour!
The point is that living a discerning life means becoming conscious of yourself as an individual and as a member of society and finding your own way to live with these competing needs in a balanced way – your way.
As we learn to pay heed to our intra-personal needs, we find there is more guidance available to us than we might have been previously aware of. People often speak of this inner guidance as intuition or subtle feelings. It’s really a question of learning to take into account every aspect of ourselves when making decisions, and every day decisions need to be made. Learning to accommodate the rational, emotional, imaginative, body sensations, and empathetic aspects of our natures into one whole requires a fair deal of discernment acquired through trial and error. It’s a learning process because this is a new dimension of ourselves. We are learning to live as a whole being as opposed to various competing fragments taking turns at getting the upper hand. We are learning to live an integrated life. We are learning to live as a whole, wholesomely.
Questions come up while we are doing this work on ourselves, wondering what to do in various situations. The Christian spiritual teachings speak of “not my will but Gods” or the Vedanta teachings tell us “you are not the doer”. The Buddhist teachings speak of “the ego” or “the false self” as the aspect of us that causes all our suffering and so we think that getting rid of it ( as if that was possible) is the solution. The question is how to balance activity versus passivity and what kinds of activities promote or hinder our growing integrity and movement towards healing our inner rift.
Sorting through these kinds of questions is the discerning path. Depending on what spiritual tradition you read from, they will speak of these questions using different metaphors, but it is the same question that is being addressed.
My very general guidance around this question is that as you become more inwardly discerning and aware you’ll find an inner authority developing in you.
You’ll come to know which activities and decisions lead you to peace and a sense of alignment with what is genuine and right for you. You could interpret this as an alignment between “my will” and “Thy Will” or between “self” and “Self” or “the doer” and “What is”.
Surrender is not passivity. Surrender is the active movement of doing what you can to facilitate this alignment.
The whole thrust of living a discerning life is to become yourself in the midst of whatever circumstances and social me-lieu you find yourself in. Becoming yourself in this sense means coming to know your “child of God” aspect as opposed to being fully identified with our “child of the world” aspect.
Everyone has circumstances and they need not be a hindrance to becoming who you really are, but you do have to find your own way inwards regardless of what your circumstances are. This is the path of discernment.
Photo by Bob Fergeson