How To Cultivate Discernment: Three tools for determining what to select and what to reject


Photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash

In the summer of 2018, I was walking through the departure terminal in Austin Bergstrom International Airport when I suddenly found myself surrounded by art — beautiful creations displayed in an exhibit in Moore’s Crossing Gallery. I felt particularly drawn to a stunning oil painting of the Earth. I stood staring at its rich hues of blue and green, feeling a strong sense of peace, bliss, and…could it be…love?


I immediately thought of a fascinating article I’d once read about mirror neurons, cells that fire in your brain whenever you observe someone else taking some action. Research shows that your brain actually sets off neurons that mirror those of the other person. The article gave the example that when you have a profound experience appreciating a piece of art, your brain fires the same neurons that were fired in the artist’s brain when they created the art, causing similar emotions and a similar feeling of inspiration in your brain.


I was fascinated by the idea that art is imprinted with the consciousness of its creator and the vibration held at the time the art was created — and that you can actually interact with it. From my response to the Mother Earth painting, it was clear I was picking up on the same strong feeling of love that inspired the artist’s creative process.


I boarded my flight a few hours later, but the experience I had with the art stayed with me. For several weeks afterward, I considered my visceral response to the painting. Something within me spoke so assuredly, so strong with profound knowingness. If art is imprinted with the consciousness of its creator, I realized, so too is all the information we take in; specifically, spiritual information presented from teachers, books, videos, talks, and retreats.


Thanks to the world of the internet, online communications, and televised media, it appears that almost everyone is talking. We encounter many voices, many opinions, and much information in this vortex of information. For those who are consciously following a spiritual path, the question becomes: How can we best sift through spiritual information to take in only what upholds a connection with truth and love?


The answer lies in using discernment.


The Importance of Discernment

Within the practice of discernment, you make the decision to connect with a Higher Intelligence, to acknowledge the divine Presence in all things. This practice is about finding Presence everywhere and in everyone, even in those people, places, and situations that may appear to be “godless”. When you use discernment, you seek to bypass what is false to go directly to truth — more specifically, to the recognition, awareness, and ability to be engaged and in tune with the essence of truth, the message behind the message that leads to a remembrance of love.


Like art, spiritual information is also imprinted with the consciousness of the presenter. The imprint can be that of love or fear, or a combination of something more elusive. But what happens when the distinction is not so obvious within the information?


For example, once while in my car I listened to a radio interview with an author. The speaker eloquently articulated his research evidence and conclusions. I was intrigued with his interpretations and could not wait to get home to look up more of his work online. However, when I watched this same person on video, I had a completely different visceral response.

The dissonance between listening to the speaker and observing the non-verbal communications in his facial expression, hand gestures, and posture registered in my body almost immediately. Unlike my experience with the Mother Earth painting, I was not being drawn into love, but instead into judgment.


Discernment may seem like judgment, but there is a critical difference between the two. When you use discernment, you are exhibiting keen insight and good perceptiveness. When you use egoic judgment, on the other hand, you are evaluating if what you see or believe fits into your prescribed value system.


In egoic judgment, you make the assumption that you have the power and right to determine what is good or bad in general, not just from your point of view. These judgments often stem from unconscious projections, misunderstandings, or knee-jerk reactions. The unconscious mind stores beliefs, patterns, feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of your conscious awareness. Most of them are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, trauma, or conflict, and these feelings can trigger automatic reactions like judgments.


Discernment, however, is a consciously refined approach to seeing things with insight, from the perspective of the authentic higher-connected Self. It operates in lieu of rigid standards, opinions, or judgments. It’s the cognitive and heart-centered ability to engage an ever-present intent to see, and know with clarity, by confirming the information that speaks to your heart. Information that is aligned with truth will always come from a place of love and neutrality.


Tools for Discernment

Here are three basic yet powerful tools for developing and using discernment:


1. Know thyself. This is the ongoing process of becoming more aware and conscious of the thoughts and feelings behind your actions. Personal observation through self-inquiry contributes to self-knowledge. It allows you to see yourself with greater fidelity, which includes the understanding of your own fallibility as well as your most loving attributes and qualities. From this awareness and knowingness of self, when you are drawn to spiritual information and notice what it brings out in you, you are better prepared to determine what takes place not only within your mind, but also within your body.


2. Use bodily awareness and intuition. Because our culture tends to favor reasoning in decision-making, not everyone is comfortable using their intuition to discern information. Of course, logic and reasoning have their place; I’m not suggesting you suspend critical thinking. However, intuition is a fundamental part of knowing. It accesses a wider range of information that you can use in tandem with mental acuities. When you allow your conscious awareness to be open through internal knowing, you feel personal power in your body. This personal power is much more than a mental concept. It’s a definitive element of knowing.


As you become more aware of where and how you feel truth within your body, you begin to trust yourself — and the more you trust yourself, the more you are able to discern truth in this way. When information comes into your awareness, bring your attention to the place in your body where you feel intuition the strongest. This is your soul center, where you feel your greatest connection to the presence of a Higher Intelligence.


Your body intuitively recognizes words, actions, sentiments, and deeds of truth. It will relay knowingness to you through a visceral response, just as I experienced when I viewed the painting and when I watched the video of the speaker. Your job is to determine which visceral response in your body signals truth.


When you focus on a message, prepare yourself to receive the wisdom brought to you through your connection to a Higher Intelligence. Trust your ability to feel, to sense. Is there a tightening sensation — maybe a heaviness, or a dull ache — in a specific part of your body? Or maybe you sense a loosening sensation, such as ease in the abdominal area, or bodily chills or “goosebumps”? Perhaps you sense a texture, such as sticky, rough, or silky. Assess and then determine what your body associates with the feeling of tightening and what it associates with the feeling of looseness. You can also pose the following questions and tune in for a response:


  • Is this information empowering? Is it a source of joy?

  • Is it fear-based?

  • Is the information integrating or disconnecting? Positive or negative? Manipulative or propaganda?

  • Is it coming from a place of love and neutrality?


3. Get centered. When you are centered, you can be with your emotions in a state of observation and awareness of what’s happening in the moment without judgment. When you’re not centered, you feel lost, out of touch with yourself, mentally scattered like something is not quite right.


One way you can center yourself is by slowing down your breathing by taking deep, conscious breaths. Taking a conscious breath — through the mouth — helps to create a dome of calm that allows you to be with yourself in the moment. Being centered is a way to pause, to allow clarity to seep through when you acknowledge how you feel and still find internal peace within external chaos.


Ongoing Growth

Developing discernment is an ongoing process of growth that must be continually honed and practiced. It requires courage to step outside of groupthink, to meticulously listen to how you feel and not allow external chaos to take refuge inside you. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “All the water in the world cannot drown you unless it gets inside of you.”

As a sovereign being with free will, you have the option to choose what you take into your mind, to determine if it’s opening your heart to love, truth, beauty, and goodwill. If these are virtues you seek to commune with, then you are on track to be with the essence of discernment.


Have the courage to hold the beacon of truth close to your heart and to remind yourself, I am the person who is aligned with truth. Let truth guide you and be the ultimate goal that connects you with the Divine. The Divine Presence is in and of all things, and it is in seeking truth that you shall find it.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Unity Magazine; www.unitymagazine.org.