Of all the questions I am asked, the question of discernment comes up the most. Discernment is a telltale sign of authenticity, but the very nature of human psychology makes it one of the most challenging facets of authenticity to learn. The good news is, it can be learned. I learned how, and I can help you learn how too.
Discernment is a quality of authenticity much in the way a scent is a quality of a flower. In the case of flowers, a stuffy nose impedes our ability to discern whether a particular flower’s scent serves our highest intention of an important upcoming event we are planning. Similarly, a “stuffy” head impedes our ability to discern whether a particular idea serves our highest potential.
So we are left with a seeming paradox: Discernment arises from authenticity, but without discernment, how can we unquestioningly recognize authenticity?
Discernment becomes far easier to exercise following a direct experience of authenticity, but that experience is not required in order to start experimenting with discernment. In fact, experiments with discernment will serve to accelerate the discovery of authenticity.
In truth, our authentic foundation is already in place even if we are not directly aware of it. The desire to discover it arises from the fact that it is there to be discovered.
Knowing that discernment arises from an intact authentic foundation lends us courage to start experimenting. Through some dedicated trial and error, our experiences will ultimately lead us to an unmistakable experience of authenticity. In other words: When we learn to discern, we discover authenticity.
Who hasn’t had this experience:
But then a day or two passes, and it starts to slip from your mind. Or maybe you’ve even taken some very preliminary steps towards researching it. But now when you think about it, all you can see are the obstacles rather than the possibilities. Just like that, the wind is gone beneath your wings. Probably for the best, right? After all, the last thing you want is another unfinished project to beat yourself up over.
The idea of expressing ourselves in new ways can be daunting. We are often quick to supply reasons why we can’t take a particular step. To compound the issue, we have a mountain of “failed” projects and “non-starters” that we eagerly cite whenever a new inspired project dances with our imagination.
Despite our efforts to ignore and dispel them, inspired ideas continue to surface. Discerning whether a project is a daydream, a distraction, a detriment, or an expression of authenticity, rests with our ability to clearly discern whether an idea is an expression of aspiration or inspiration.
Aspired ideas are most often (but not always) born of frustration, boredom, a false sense of lack, or an grandiose sense of self. Inspired ideas are always an expression of authenticity.
So how do we discern between aspiration and inspiration?
- Authentic insight (aka “inspiration”) comes prepackaged with an exhilarating fear. Okay, so does aspired insight. Next.
- Authentic insight comes prepackaged with a daunting array of obstacles. Yes, but so does aspired insight. Next.
- Authentic insight challenges us to reexamine priorities and shed certain routine activities in order to free up the necessary time, money, and energy necessary to transform it from an idea into a reality. Duh, so does aspired insight. Next.
- Authentic insight further challenges us to reexamine our conditioned thoughts and behavior so we can leverage our strengths as well as our “reluctant strengths”. As does aspired insight. Next.
- Authentic insight is the thing we can’t not do, despite all these (and many other) reasons why we simply shouldn’t even try. Bing! We have a winner!
What we have to remember in these crucial moments is that inspiration is not about the “thing” itself: Inspiration is entirely about an opportunity to explore, experience, and express authenticity.
Tomorrow we will continue our exploration into the subtle art of discernment, and discover ways to bring it out of theory and into reality.
“Discerning: The Big Idea”
Think back to a recent big idea you’ve had: An idea for a new product or service that you just knew you could be wildly successful if you only had all the right resources. Or perhaps it was something that you just deeply want to do because of the positive impact it would have in the world. Or perhaps it was something that you think would just be a ton of fun to do. If you’re reading this, then chances are you are the sort of person who won’t have to think too far back. You may have even had a big idea today!
These big ideas contain the seeds of our highest potential, but often these ideas never make it past the gate. Fear, self-doubt, or even just a full schedule is often all it takes for them to be lost and forgotten. Other times we take action towards making them a reality, only to be faced with mounting obstacles that drive us to abandon them.
There have even been some cases of people actually seeing their big ideas all the way through to success, but the stress and the strain of getting to that point has cost them more than they ever expected, and they end up wishing they had never begun.
But then there are some who have seen their big ideas through to success, and while they do report having put in some hard work along the way, mostly they report that everything they needed just seemed to show up exactly at the point they needed it. Their big idea is truly an expression of their authentic self, and they stand gratefully in their spotlight, sharing their wealth, and serving to inspire a whole new generation of visionaries.
I would say that this latter bunch either had some very connected friends and relatives, :) or (whether they know it or not) have mastered the art of discernment. Fortunately this form of art doesn’t rely on a deft hand, a strong sense of color, or an ability to see the sculpture in the block of marble. And while enlisting the help of a discernment “artist” can dramatically shorten the learning curve, almost anyone can learn to discern if they are willing to get inwardly still. You ready to give it a shot? Try this:
The next time you come up with a big idea, use it as an opportunity to hone your ability to discern inspiration from aspiration. First, get very still, and deeply feel the energy of that idea in your body. This step is key. Rate the feeling on a scale of 1-5 in terms of the degree of “clarity”: the degree to which you are sure of its alignment with the fullest possible expression of yourself. If it’s a really juicy idea, chances are it’s a “5”, but keep in mind that so many of our “non-starters” have been “5’s” as well. :)
Now, write the idea down somewhere safe, and then drop the idea . . . entirely. Smile. Breathe. Feel the wonderfully expansive freedom of weightlessness as the idea’s prepackaged complications are lifted off your shoulders. Recognize the gift of even having had the idea: after all, you now have a data point to compare future ideas to. You are on your way to honing your ability to discern!
If the idea arose from inspiration, it will eventually join you in that space created when you dropped it. The wonderful thing is that when it does join you, it won’t carry the same weight. Take it and enthusiastically run with it as far as you possibly can (or want to), making sure to make use of your rating scale for the big and little decisions along the way.
Inspired ideas will inform the other activities in your day, rather than the other way around. You will find resources you never knew you had. Most of all, you will serve as an inspiration for others to do the same.
Now as new ideas arise, feel the energy of those ideas in your body. How does it rank in terms of the degree of clarity compared to your established data point? Continue experimenting and collect more data points to compare to the others you have collected. Congratulations: you are learning to discern!
Tomorrow in Part 3, we will look at how we can use the little ideas in our everyday life to further hone the art of discernment.
“Discerning: Little Ideas”
How many thousands of decisions do we make in any given day? Most of the decisions we make scarcely resemble decisions at all because we do them without giving them so much as a thought. You know, stuff like opening the car door, turning on a light, walking up stairs, washing our hands, etc. Then there are the other decisions we make in our day that contain an element of consideration: What to wear, what to eat, whether to work out, and so on.
All of these decisions are, at their very core, a little idea. The idea bubbles up, is interpreted, and then gets acted upon with very little fanfare. For most of us, all these decisions seem so normal and easy that we can take them for granted. Other times these decisions can seem like a downright burden, such as figuring out what to make the family for dinner after having worked a full day and still having more work to do that night.
What does all this mean to our exploration of discernment? Basically it means we have thousands of opportunities every day to practice discerning aspiration versus inspiration!
Aspirations primarily arise from an intention of enhancing our experience of fulfillment in some area of our lives. Inspiration has no such motivation. If anything, inspiration arises in response to an experience of fulfillment as opposed to an effort to create fulfillment.
So for example, if you are washing your hands now in order to avoid getting sick later, or learning new skills that you believe will lead you to an experience of fulfillment that you perceive is lacking in your present situation, these activities are likely arising from aspiration. And that’s perfectly fine: aspirations can play a useful role in our lives. If our lives are made up entirely of aspirations, however, we can be left feeling less than fulfilled.
To play with this concept, take an activity from your everyday life that you do on a regular basis such as brushing your teeth, exercising, opening the refrigerator, getting a drink, or whatever else you can think of. Before you start that activity, get very still. With a gentle curiosity, imagine the sense of fulfillment you hope to experience once you have successfully finished that activity. Once you are grounded in that experience, let go of the need for that result, and simply watch what step you take next. Possible options include:
a) Doing the activity, but maintain some attention on your breath as you perform the activity
b) Doing the activity, but do it in a different way than you normally would
c) Doing the activity, but do it at a different time than you normally would
d) Not doing the activity at all
e) Something else entirely
Which course of action did you choose? What was your experience before, during, and after as compared to other times you have done the very same activity?
The point to notice is that when you let go of the need for a particular result, you create a space for inspiration to bubble up. As we do this more often, we get used to what inspiration feels like, and can more aptly distinguish inspiration from aspiration.
When we can tap into that space where we are grounded in fulfillment before we take a particular action, our experience of fulfillment is not threatened by whichever course of action we take. Inspiration then becomes our primary mode of operation, and we can now leverage aspirations in service to inspiration.