Issue #116, December 30 2022
Welcome to Insights and Implications!
What do our feelings and thoughts have to do with discernment? Read on to connect the dots!
Happy holidays to all and our best wishes for the new year,
All of us at Insight Principles
I’ve been thinking about discernment lately – what it means, what allows for it, and where it comes from. But first, a definition:
: the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure : skill in discerning
: the trait of judging wisely and objectively
“a person of discernment”
For the purposes of this month’s newsletter, when I’m talking about discernment, I mean how we know what to do in a given situation. What to say, what not to say, how to act, how not to act.
It seems to me that we all have a discerning inner voice. This voice is always accompanied by feelings for a powerful one-two punch of discernment assistance. I’m lately discovering a new power in paying attention to this little voice and its subsequent feelings.
For example, the other day a close friend texted me about something troubling. When I read her message, I was flooded with a bunch of grand ideas about what to say and immediately started responding with thumbs flying. However, halfway through this draft, I paused. For whatever reason, a little voice popped into my head, quietly at first. “This isn’t quite right,” I thought.
I took a breath and re-read my response. I also checked my feeling state. Lo and behold, both contained more than a hint of judgment/superiority.
“Don’t send this to her,” I thought. “It won’t help. It isn’t what she needs. You’re being judge-y and it will erode your connection.” This thought came from a deeper place. It felt more grounded, more balanced, more loving. Humbled, I deleted my first response and replaced it with something more discerning. My point was more or less the same, but my words were calmer, kinder, more compassionate.
I hit send. Two minutes later, her response pinged.
“Thank you for helping me reflect,” her text said. “That was helpful.” I smiled, grateful for that little voice and grateful that I can rely on my feeling state to let me know when my thinking is slightly off. And grateful that I didn’t alienate a hurting friend by saying something not-quite-right.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve overridden my feelings many times in recent history and I’m not always able to catch myself in the moment – the voice and its accompanying feelings can be super subtle and easy to ignore. But lately I’m noticing that they’re always there, even when they’re quiet. And when I override them, things don’t work out as well. My message doesn’t land. Or worse, someone’s feelings get hurt. Or simply doesn’t help.
As you learned in our program, we feel our thinking. This means our emotions provide a perfect feedback loop. If we pay attention, they’ll give us hints about what’s going on in our heads. It’s easy to see this with stronger, more charged feelings. Anger, for example, is obvious in ourselves and others. We feel angry when we have angry thoughts about a situation. The emotion is palpable because we usually really feel anger. It’s loud. Other feelings are quieter. Judgment, for example. Or procrastination.
This is not to say that certain feelings are good or bad, or that we should avoid having them. All forms of feeling are a normal (and beautiful) consequence of living life as a thinking human being. It is helpful, however, to remember that feelings are an integral part of the creative process we call thought that is shaping our experience in every moment. When we know and remember this, we see we don’t have to believe everything we think and feel.
As I remember to tune-in to my more subtle feelings, I’m seeing more and more about when it makes sense to act, when it makes sense to shut my mouth, when it makes sense to say things in a kinder, gentler way, and when it makes sense to speak up with conviction. In other words, I’m more discerning. And because the feeling feedback loop is so foolproof, it provides a perfect gut-check. This has been extra helpful during this holiday season full of social obligations with family, co-workers, and friends…the opportunities to remember this are endless.
When I catch myself feeling judge-y or pompous or urgent or all-knowing or any myriad of subtle feelings states, I try to shut up. When I’m feeling more balanced, compassionate, or grounded, I act. I know I can trust myself in the latter feeling states. And I know I’m not at my best in the former. This, to me, is discernment at its root.
Again, we feel our thinking. If that sounds simple, it’s because it is. The harder part (for me, too) is catching ourselves in the subtleties. When we do, the result is more discernment. More discernment equals more effectiveness, more connection, more wisdom, and more love. All for the bargain price of paying a little more attention.
Not a bad deal, eh?