Many times we'll feel that we have "received" something -- a prompting, a nudge, an idea. However, we're not sure if it's inspired by God's wisdom, or if it's coming from our own personal thoughts. How do we tell the difference?
I feel that it's essential for each person to answer this question in a personally meaningful way. From the discussions I've had with people, there seem to be a vast number of discernment techniques.
Some people, for example, feel a "happy glow" around one choice, and an "empty feeling" around another choice. Other people talk about receiving one idea "from the head" and another "from the heart." Some feel a "pull" toward one direction rather than another. I believe that the process of discernment varies from person to person.
However, I would like to offer an important point on this matter from A Course in Miracles. The Course suggests that God's guidance will be peaceful, supportive, and respectful. It will not be critical, abusive, or controlling. We can use this as a "baseline" as we try to move in the right direction.
It may seem like common sense to say that God's guidance will be supportive rather than abusive. However, it's remarkable how many times people have said, "God is guiding me to hurt this person -- it must be for the best." Or, "God wants me to do this thing, even though it will cause me pain." Those, I believe, are distorted perceptions of God's guidance.
The Course teaches that God's wisdom will help everyone it touches. That is why it is so different from our usual lines of thought.
Win-Win Solutions for Everyone
Our ordinary "solutions" usually require someone to lose. We see ourselves as gaining at someone else's expense, or losing in order for him or her to be happy. God's guidance corrects our limited perceptions by offering a win-win solution for everyone.
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Let me offer a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean. Let's imagine that I'm having a conflict with a client. I try to release my thoughts about the situation to God, and open to His guidance. I say, "God, I give you my thoughts and plans. What would you have me do?"
While I'm sitting for a minute, the thought comes to mind that I should drag my client into court and sue him to meet my demands.
Although each of us needs to use our own discernment in these matters, this "guidance" doesn't strike me as being inspired by God. Instead, it seems to be motivated by anger. It involves an element of punishment. It is conflict-oriented. It doesn't take the other person's feelings into consideration.
Distress or Peace?
Let's say I decide that this initial "guidance" doesn't feel peaceful -- it actually increases my sense of distress.
Therefore, I continue to sit for a while. After a few minutes, another thought comes to mind: the thought that I should quit my business activities, and wash my hands of these conflicts.
Although that thought feels a little more peaceful than the first one, it has an element of self-sacrifice. It makes me feel depressed. Because this, too, doesn't feel peaceful, I continue to wait in receptivity for God's guidance.
Eventually a feeling of peace comes over me. An idea then comes to mind -- the idea to sit down with my client and discuss our situation. I receive another idea on how to communicate better, and an idea on how to address several business issues in a mutually supportive way. I decide to discuss these ideas with my client, and see how he feels about them.
Resolving Conflict and Reaching Peace
These final promptings -- which came from a sense of peace -- seem much more inspired. Are they the final "word of God"? Probably not. They may simply be the beginning trickle of a river of inspiration.
However, these final ideas seem legitimate because of several elements. They are respectful to myself and others.
They aim at resolving conflict. They are practical, and contribute to a sense of peace. Those are elements that I look for in the process of discerning guidance.
Does It Produce a Sense if Peace?
To use another example, let's imagine that I have been invited to a family gathering for the weekend. I'm somewhat interested in the gathering, but I'm also feeling that I could use some rest. I turn the decision over to God, and seek His guidance on the matter.
As I sit, exchanging my perspectives and plans for God's, an idea pops into my mind. It goes like this: I really should go to this gathering. I haven't seen my family in a while. They may get mad at me if I don't go.
That, in my opinion, probably isn't the purest form of guidance. There are a couple of questionable elements: there is an intellectual feeling of "I should do this," and there is a fear of people getting angry at me. Also, it doesn't produce a sense of peace.
Let's say that I continue to sit, seeking God's guidance. Another thought enters my mind: Forget about this gathering. I deserve to take time for myself. If people get mad at me, that's their problem.
That, too, has a few questionable elements. There is a sense of rigidity -- even defensiveness -- to it. It's built around a sense of separation. It doesn't take anyone else's feelings into consideration. It doesn't give me a sense of peace.
Gentle and Inspired Thoughts
If I continue to exchange my thoughts -- including these initial forms of "guidance" -- for God's peace, I may find that my thoughts gradually become more gentle and inspired.
Eventually, I may receive thoughts like: I am sure that it would be wonderful to see my family, but I do feel that I need some quiet time this weekend. Perhaps I can call my family and ask to see them in a few weeks.
That, in my opinion, is a more inspired idea than the other two. It is more gentle and sensitive to others. It contains a concrete solution that can be discussed with the people involved. It is self-respectful, but not at the expense of someone else. It does give me a sense of peace. Therefore, it is probably closer to the mark.
As I said above, I think that each of us needs to learn what works for us in matters of discernment. I feel that it's especially important to stay open to new promptings -- even if we think we've received something inspired.
God does not speak once, and then leave it to us to figure out how to put His suggestions in place. God speaks to us eternally. If He prompts us to do something, He will tell us how to accomplish it. He will correct the mistakes we make, and guide us around new difficulties.
However, it is essential that we stay open -- otherwise, we'll miss out on His new inspiration as we move along.
An Inner Search
So far, I've focused on identifying our "blocks" to receiving guidance, and offering those blocks to God to be removed. Although I find this approach to be effective, it may be helpful to add a more feeling-oriented component.
I'd like to present another exercise -- a guided meditation of sorts -- that incorporates our intuitive, feeling skills. I encourage you to read through this exercise and then adapt it for yourself in whatever way feels comfortable. There's nothing special about the actual words or images I use. If you are comfortable with the general approach, feel free to apply it as you see fit.
Step 1. To begin, choose an area of your life that is causing you some conflict. It could be a "big" issue or a "little" issue -- either one is fine.
Step 2. Let's become willing to give this issue over to God -- along with any thoughts about it. Let's say:
God, I want to open my mind to you.
I place this issue in your hands.
I give you all my thoughts about it.
My mind is open; I do not know what to think.
Step 3. Now let's close our eyes and begin to search our minds for a spark of warmth. We're looking for a feeling of comfort, or peace. If any anxious thoughts enter our minds, let's give them over to God and return to our search. We're seeking a sense of comforting warmth.
The Course promises that this warmth is somewhere in our minds. It is obscured only by our personal thoughts. As we quietly sit, let's continue to clear away our thoughts as if they were dusty cobwebs. We want God to take them, and lead us toward an inner sense of warmth.
We may get in touch with this sense of warmth very quickly. Or we may have to search around for quite some time, continuing to give over our personal thoughts to God. Either approach is fine; we're simply asked to make the search.
Once we do begin to feel a sense of warmth or comfort, let's move toward that place in our minds. As we approach the sense of warmth, let's let it grow in our awareness. It might feel like a lovely campfire that we've found after a cold journey through the woods. Or a beautiful sunrise that ends a long night.
Let's sit with this sense of comforting warmth and allow it to surround us. It is peaceful; it is kind. It fills us with a sense of gentleness. As we sit with it, let's realize that we don't want to return to our cold and dark wanderings. We don't want to enfold ourselves in our own darkened thoughts. We want to stay with this warm, gentle light.
After a minute or two, let's open our eyes -- and continue to feel the presence of this light. It does not go away when we return to our activities; it only seems to diminish when we place other thoughts before it. Let's try to spend the next few minutes engaging in our normal activities, but keeping this sense of warmth in the forefront of our awareness.
We may also wish to turn our attention to the original issue we held in mind, and allow the sense of warmth to enfold that issue. We're not seeing it through the darkness of our own thoughts anymore. We are seeing it through peace.
If any new perspectives on the original issue come to mind, let's make a note of them. If not, let's simply continue to maintain this sense of warmth in our awareness. The real goal of this exercise is to enter into a sense of God's comforting peace. That is what we're really seeking, regardless of what seem to be the outer details of our issue.
Seeking a State of Peace
This type of exercise takes a very different approach to "receiving guidance." Instead of trying to "get" insights, we're seeking a state of peace, and then extending that peace outward. This will very likely alter our perspectives on the original issue, and allow our minds to open more fully to God as we go forward.
This type of exercise draws on our capacity to be emotionally sensitive. In it, we are like explorers -- we allow ourselves to be gently, even intuitively, drawn toward a place of wisdom and light.
We follow this pull through our own little thoughts and feelings to the inspired thoughts and feelings of God. It can be a relaxing process, if we allow ourselves to be led.
I believe that our minds want to return to this place of comfort. If we unleash them from their habitual thought patterns, they will find their way home. We simply need to loosen our grasp on our normal ways of thinking.
The Power of Your Spirit: A Guide to Joyful Living
by Sonia Choquette. (2011)
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