Students who excel in academics are the ones that really listen to what the professor says. It is so easy to tweak or distort what the real message is. To stay true to it and work with it until you really know it from within yourself is not so simple. Commonly, you read it, ‘get it’, and then move on with your distorted version of it (a.k.a. “the I get it syndrome”).
Now enter the real world. Suddenly there are a multitude of diverse opinions pushing and pulling you in all different directions. The natural inclination is to pick and choose what you like from each and distort or reject what you do not like in each. This leaves the bulk of your distortions, biases, and limitations of thoughts and emotions perfectly intact.
Needless to say, weight loss guidance is a great example. Who do you listen to? Well, at least in that arena, you can try diverse approaches until you find what actually works. However, that too requires giving each approach a chance… which leads us back to the challenge of listening. Of course, then you only need to listen for a few weeks or so before you have definitive results.
Now enter the spiritual arena. Real spiritual progress is not as easy as weight loss. Real spiritual progress is more abstract and also takes more time. Of course, people cling to superficial things to try to convince themselves they are growing spiritually. But real spiritual growth is something much deeper and far more elusive than a sugar coating! Yet there are plenty of alleged spiritual leaders out there walking the sugar coated walk and encouraging you to do the same. There are plenty of alleged spiritual leaders out there offering limited, simplistic, or distorted spins on the knowledge. Even the writings of truly great Masters have been lost in translation or in your interpretation. For sure, the spiritual arena in this age is a real mess. Even more disconcerting, it seems most everybody from the atheist to the self-proclaimed spiritual scholar is certain that their understanding is the correct one!
So now, how hard is it to listen? Who do you even attempt to listen to? The process of determining that is called discernment. You may want to try it out on something easier than spirituality and see how you do. Explore for example, your convictions on diet. Every time I bring that topic up in a group, the passions and convictions run wild… so many strong opinions. Do not feel alone in this. I experience it also when I read something from a new diet or exercise guru. But I do my very best to discern.
Can you let go of your current indoctrinations? It is not so easy. Even when you think you are listening and decide that you ‘get it’, well, do you… do you really? Even when you think you are listening, even when you think you are being discerning, well, are you… are you really? Is what you are hearing resonating or conflicting with your bias or the truth that lies deep within you? The normal inclination is to believe that your bias is actually truth. But is it… really?
Discernment is not done with just the mind. It is certainly not done with just the emotions. It is not a matter of the mind rallying around the emotions to create a rationalization to justify your reactions. You need to start on steady ground… unbiased, unconditioned, open, refined in feelings, and free, while solid, balanced, reflective, rational, and willing to take a look, not just at the information, but even more importantly, how you receive and process that information… what it resonates with or clashes with inside you and why!! Are you reinforcing your biases or are you moving beyond them? Only as you explore this, will you begin to cultivate your ability to discern, will you begin to cultivate your ability to listen, to know how to listen, and what/who to listen to. As Adi Shankara said, the spiritual path is the path of discernment.
In the Does Your Life Have Context blog, I promised a handful of essential points. Discernment is point Number One.