Thursday, August 19, 2010

Discernment: The Internal Authority Figure

“If your friends told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?” Did your parents ever ask you that question in relation to peer pressure? I definitely remember hearing it and thinking that my parents were unoriginal, to say the least. Nonetheless, this trite rhetorical question serves as a reminder to navigate life with our own compass. “If your GPS tells you to drive straight into the ocean, will you follow it?” There’s an updated version.

I have been interviewing a lot of advisers lately. I write a local column about spirituality, Spirit Beat. The column features a different spiritual perspective or practice each week. To write Spirit Beat, I have to connect with people who are on a spiritual path. Most of these people are in the business of helping others, so they have theories and advice to share. I truly enjoy listening to and writing about all of them. This process is helping me to connect with my community and to define my own spirituality.

While I love gathering various theosophical perspectives, I have to be careful to remain detached from the work. On a personal level, I have to exercise discernment. Discernment is defined as “keenness of insight and judgment.” I believe that discernment is personal to each one of us. Only we know what is going to work for us and what is not. Only I know what perspectives are enriching to me and will help me to make sense of my life and relationships.

As children, we are constantly bombarded by messages from authority figures. Everyone tells us how to be and what to do: our parents, school principals, teachers, counselors, aunts and uncles. As adults, we don’t necessarily think about being guided by authority figures, but we are. Many people relate to doctors as authority figures. “She wrote me a prescription for this medication, so I have to take it.” Accountants are financial authority figures. Lawyers, psychologists and real estate agents advise us. We may not think of following professional advice as an act of obedience, but any time we surrender control of our own will to comply with someone else’s opinion, we are giving our power away. Of course, we willingly cede to the advice of others when it benefits us and when we need help. This is obviously the right thing to do, for our own self-preservation.

In following the advice of other people, whether hired professionals or trusted friends, it is a good idea to check in with our inner guidance. If my doctor tells me to take a medication that I think I do not need, I am going to research it and decide for myself. I have done this in the past and found out later that I was improperly diagnosed. By contrast, on an interpersonal level, I find myself listening not only to the people I interview for my column, but to almost anyone who has an opinion to share with me. I really want to know what people think and more often than not, I will give a lot of thought to what they say. I internally give other people the same credence that I give myself. This tendency of mine can be a real handicap. I care too much about the opinions of others, to the point that I second guess my own choices. I know I am not alone in this predicament. So what is the solution?

When reacting to external information from any source, we need to become empowered internally. We need to access the authority figure within us. We can listen to the words. We can genuinely like the person who is talking. In most instances, if someone is advising you they are well-meaning. That’s why we don’t shoot Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even if we don’t like the missionary, we can respect the mission. That doesn’t mean that we have to comply with the advice or even take it seriously. This is where discernment comes in. Am I able to separate what someone is telling me from what I personally believe to be true? Can I hold their advice up to the light of my own truth? I am finding out that I can. I can respect you and me, and follow my own path all the same.

How am I applying this with respect to Spirit Beat? I listen to what people say. I generally admire the individual expertise of each person. When I am able to sort out the information I have gathered, I give myself some mental space. This space allows me the room to change my own mind if I want to. That way I can incorporate new things I learn. In this space, I can also interview myself. “How do you feel about this? How does this compare to what you believe?” It is a moment where I simultaneously open up and create a boundary. I don’t want to be closed, but my mind needs shelter. Within the structure of my internal wisdom, there is always room for an outside perspective.

We can call on our powers of discernment in every informational exchange. It is an ability we tend to forget we possess. We live in a culture where people read headlines and run for cover. We don’t have to be those people. You are at the center of your school, and you are your own guidance counselor. If you are confused about a class, knock on the counselor’s door and talk it out. You’ll be glad you did.

No comments:

Post a Comment