Practice of the Week

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." --Yogi Berra
Discerning is different from deciding. Deciding can be a very rational process (carefully assessing pros and cons), or not rational (whimsical, impulsive). Either way, deciding doesn't put "who am I?" and "what is my highest purpose?" at the center of the process. Discernment draws upon intuition, but in a very careful and intentional way -- so it is neither primarily cognitive/rational nor whimsical or impulsive.

There is no foolproof way to definitely say that one thought is a trustworthy intuition and another is a delusion. There is, however, a process that can help separate true discernment from mental garbage.

First, before you present the question to your inner self, determine if you are willing to hear whatever answer you get. If you've already made up your mind about what's best for you to do in a particular situation, then you cannot enter a discernment process. Discernment requires openness to self-discovery, finding in self-awareness what you are called to do. Before venturing into such a process, I ask myself, "Is there any answer I might receive that I wouldn't be willing to listen to?" If there is, then I defer the process until I am open to hear any answer that might arise. I have made a "deal" with my higher self that just because I hear a particular answer doesn't mean I have to act on it. Knowing that I have this "safety valve" has helped me to be receptive to whatever answer arises.

Once I have surrendered to the possibility of any answer to my question, I take time to quiet my mind. I meditate or sit still listening some favorite music. Then I ask a specific question about a current concern for me. Generally, my question takes the form of, "What do I need to know or do to serve my highest purpose in relationship to _____ ?" Then I wait as receptively as possible. Whenever I notice my mind trying to "figure out" the answer, I take a deep breath and simply try to relax and let go. Discernment does not emerge from a rational thinking process.

People receive the voice of their deepest self in different ways. Some people actually hear a voice that sounds somehow unlike their normal inner dialog. Other people see images or symbols that indicate what they need to know. Most people simply get a strong sense of what "feels right." Often, this feeling of what is right seems to spontaneously arise from nowhere, yet there is a strong sense of certainty about it. It's like an "Ah-hah" experience. It's as if you knew the answer all along -- because you did, though you didn't know you knew it, and know you've discovered it within you.

Since people experience connecting with their intuition in different ways, it's helpful to remember how you've received intuitive information in the past. Think back to a specific time you felt like you received a trustworthy intuitive answer. What made you think that this was a true intuition? (Our intuitions are often wrong, after all.) Once you can identify how you were able to discern an answer in the past, you will know what to look for in the future. A trustworthy intuition usually comes not only with a strong feeling of "rightness," but often also with a feeling of openness or relaxation in the body and peacefulness in the mind. Like all skills, the more you practice, the more likely you'll notice subtle distinctions that differentiate discernment from normal thinking and feeling.

If you practice the discernment process and receive no answer -- or one that is unclear, there are a couple things you can do. First, you can ask that an answer become clear to you sometime during the next week. I've often had the experience of not getting an answer immediately, but spontaneously receiving an answer days later why walking my dog. When we are persistent in asking a question, the answer eventually comes. It may even come from an unexpected source, such as a friends conversation or a TV show. However the guidance arrives, there will likely be a familiar feeling of "rightness" -- a conviction that you now know what to do.

The second thing you can do when discernment is slow in coming, or you're not sure if what you've received is best for you, is to seek more information. You can pursue addition information in a linear, rational way by simply asking yourself, "Is there any person or resource that might know information relevant to my situation?" Once the rational mind is satisfied it has collected all the information it can, it is often easier to tune into your best intuition.

Some people make the mistake of asking for intuitive information merely because they're too lazy or afraid to research the relevant facts about their situation. For example, I had a client who kept asking his inner guide if he should buy a certain house. He secretly wanted to buy the house, and his desire was interfering with his ability to discern. I suggested he get the house inspected and appraised to see if it was a good deal. He initially resisted, but finally relented. The results from the inspection indicated that the house was on the verge of falling apart. You don't need discernment when rational decision-making yields a clear answer.

If, after trying these ideas and methods you're still not sure that the answer that arises is trustworthy, then set the question aside and focus on you primary spiritual practice for a few weeks. When you're better "aligned with your higher self" or "in touch with your true self," your discernment will be more clear.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

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