Monday, 8 August 2011

Article: Judgment and Discernment

A question came up over the weekend that set me to thinking deeply.

I was leading a Relationship Healing Retreat and we’d done some processes to clear ourselves of the accumulated guilt and shame and blame that leaks out to poison our closest relationships.

A young woman raised the question ‘It’s all very well to clear my guilt and self-judgment, but what if I HAVE behaved badly in this relationship? What if I could have done things better? What about taking responsibility for MY part in the breakdown of the friendship?”

It was a terrific question and it touches so deeply into the heart of our human experience that I want to explore it a little here.

She was referring, I believe, to two different responses which in English are often lumped together under the one word: judgment. However they feel very different, and I will use the words judgment and discernment to clarify the difference.

The essence of spiritual growth and healing is restoring our vision of ourselves and of the world to wholeness – from fragmentation to unity. From seeing life as a series of haphazard events, to perceiving the underlying unity of all things.

In spiritual terms this is often called developing a unitive consciousness, or a heart- centred perspective. (Jesus referred to it as ‘seeing with a single eye’ Mark 9:47)

When the world is a series of connections, judgment of the sort I am talking about separates things that in essence are joined. When I decide that you are wrong and I am right I close a door in my heart that ultimately shuts us both out of the place of truth where true healing and restoration can occur.

Equally when I reject a part of myself that I don’t like or don’t approve of, the results are just as destructive. As one woman said to me when describing her inner resistance to letting go of her judgment: “I’ve created a barbed wire fence inside. And I see that the barbs point in both directions.”

When I respond to something or someone in judgment it feels like a door closing in my chest.  To feel it for yourself try this little exercise.

Spend a few minutes thinking about something that makes you feel open and loving – a little child, a favourite pet, even a beautiful landscape. Notice how relaxed and light you feel in your chest and around your heart.

Now think about something you did that you regret or are ashamed of.  Is there a shift in your chest?

If you can feel a door shutting or a tightness in any way – then you are judging yourself. You have shut out a part of yourself – and that part will continue to hurt (and to play out in unexpected ways in your life) until allowed back into consciousness.

Because everything is joined, it doesn’t matter whether I am closing my heart to you or to part of me – both create division and pain. Both ultimately are less than the Highest Good for ourselves and for others.

In terms of energy, this form of judgment really does limit the amount of love and joy I can experience in my life.

That is why bitterness leads ultimately to sickness.  Close your heart often enough in the course of a lifetime and you literally shut off the supply of life force in your system. You quite simply close down the body’s ability to renew itself and heal.

The good news is that this process can be reversed. When we decide to let go, to forgive, to open the door again, then life force automatically rushes back in to fill the part that was closed.  That is why every spiritual tradition stresses the need to forgive others and forgive ourselves.

But that is not the same as saying that anything goes. There are choices that are destructive and cause pain for ourselves and others. How are we to respond to  these?  How are we to decide on a course of action?

If judgment is not the best way to navigate our way through the world, how then are we to make decisions?

That is where discernment comes in. Discernment feels very different. Discernment comes more from the heart than the rational mind, it is intuitive rather than logical and is able to respond to subtle shifts and movements in a situation.

Judgment (in the sense I am referring to it) tends to make one decision and stick with it. Discernment can recognise that today is a new day and that yesterday’s decision may need to be adjusted subtly to fit today’s circumstances.

Judgment sits down with an old map to try to plan a way into tomorrow. Discernment reads the signs, sees that the sands have shifted and that the best route to where we want to go has moved.

Discernment can choose the path to Highest Good for ourselves and others, without closing energetically against the path not chosen. It says ‘I choose this’ and simply turns attention in that direction. Remaining open and free, discernment does not need to justify itself, nor push against another choice.

Judgment by its very nature is closed. Discernment remains alive and fluid and open.

Judgment keeps our ego self (the self that believes in separation) in control. Discernment requires that we walk forward in trust, that we learn from our mistakes,  that we keep growing and expanding in our awareness and our understanding.

Judgment is based in yesterday’s experience. Discernment is operating out of here and now.

The more we let go of our judgements – the more easily we can discern.

So coming back to the question at the retreat. We were clearing the baggage of conscious and unconscious judgments about ourselves and others which restrict the flow of life and love and joy in our most important relationships.

And once that is gone – once we can see ourselves clearly and with compassion – then we are in a place to discern where our actions need to be changed, where an apology is owing, or when we need to speak up about something that is troubling us.

When we clear the accumulated poison from our unconscious minds, then what we need to do and say can be done freely and openly – without the hidden agendas which cause such friction and unhappiness. And when  we are free and open, it is amazing how free and open others become in response.

And I’m discerning that this blog is quite long enough already – and it’s time for a cup of tea!

© Jasmine Sampson
8th August 2011


1 comment:

  1. It sounds like you are describing that judgment is dogmatic and narrow, and discernment considers the nuances by not putting sweeping decisions into one slot to remain there until violently removed.

    I like the reminder that we have this word, "discernment". We don't often use it, and its meaning is a refined way of making decisions for ourselves.

    Thanks for the post!


Popular Posts