1) The cacophony of inner voices
Discernment is a perceptional skill that helps you recognize and sort what is going on within you and in your outer world. Developing this skill greatly assists in making good decisions. Many a bad decision occurs because we do not discern all of the elements of a situation. Discernment is also necessary for deciding what thoughts, or inner voices, to follow. When awake, there is a constant flow of inner voices.
Within the temple of my consciousness,
Gathers the Crowd.
There’s one speaking softly in humility,
One ranting, Oh so proud.
There’s one quiet, broken-hearted, seeing our sins,
And one unrepentant, who sits and grins.
There’s one speaking compassion towards all,
And one taking no stock other than infatuation’s calls.
There’s one railing at the loneliness,
While another sings in solitude.
There’s one who loves being a child of God,
And one, who sees the money to be won.
There’s one looking on life as a pilgrimage,
And one, happily squatting in the sun.
The crowd speak their say.
All should be heard, that is the way.
But those I follow are carefully chosen.
In the same way, which voices of other people are best to follow? In this age of information, there can be a constant flow of other people’s voices. Sharpening discernment greatly helps get you into the right situations and places, and well away from the destructive ones. Listening and choosing is only one aspect of the skill of discernment.
Sometimes our inner voices interfere with the voices speaking to us. Only partial information gets through because we are distracted by our inner voices. Sometimes inner voices jump in and fill in words before another person even says them — which can lead to mishearing or misinterpreting what actually has been said. Thus, even before we can develop a skilled discernment of the voices around us, we must work on quieting the clamor of our inner voices so that we can really listen to others.
Inner voices can (and do) jump from one thought to the next, entirely unrelated to what we are supposed to be focusing on. Or they can grind us with obsessive fixation preventing us from effectively focusing.
Learning to immediately recognize destructive, negative, and impatient inner voices, and deal with them rather than follow them, is a great asset. Incessant thoughts (voices) of our urges and desires not only can drown out the softer and wiser voices, but can also lead to self-destructive behavior. If that isn’t enough, sometimes our inner voices berating a decision or action we have made can be more demeaning and continual than someone else who points out a mistake. If we are hurt by another there can be a ranting inner voice, increasingly more angry and hurt, as we let ourselves go over and over what was done. There are even inner voices that keep singing part of a tune over and again, that can create quite a clamor and disruption.
The most unfortunate of all inner voices, and the ones that do the most tragic damage, are the voices of sheer hate. Most people never let these voices begin. But unstable and mentally ill people do not have such barriers. They kill and maim as they protest they are only “following the voices within.” There can be such derangement that they pronounce, “I had to do what God told me to do.” Their situation is beyond discernment skills; they need and deserve much greater help.
Our inner voices are prone to be reactive, defensive, and even aggressive when we feel threatened. Quieting all the inner voices into a stillness of consciousness can be very difficult. If you think it is easy to quiet your mind, try to slowly count to 10 in your mind for 10 times without being distracted by any other thoughts. (You can use your fingers to keep track of how many times you have counted to ten).
Pheo Rose has produced music CDs to help you to listen for and discern musical voices, and use these as meditational foci. As each instrumental (musical) voice comes in, the listener incorporates that with the others. This trains the first aspect of discernment: picking up on voices as soon as they emerge. The second aspect of discernment is to train yourself not to let any one voice dominate; so that you can hear the softer musical voices. This develops the stillness within, from which the softer voices of the mind and soul can finally emerge. (The four cd deepening mind series is available through the store.)
If this topic of discernment as a skill is new to you, begin by being as self-observant as possible. Start by listening to which inner voices dominate. This is very significant. What is the proportion of negative voices to positive ones? How long can you focus your mind on something before an inner voice barges in with distractions? (Television advertising, it is said, often changes an image every three seconds because of research that has found a person’s attention span is only 3 seconds.) The second step is to begin training with the counting to ten, and using the music to sustain your focus. Discernment and quieting the inner voices is a natural lead-in to meditation; staying focused on one object of attention without waver.
2 Discernment is more than listening
Discerning relies on listening skills, but is much more. We listen to the words, but we derive their fullest meaning by the tone, body language, what we already may know about the person, and our own perceptual filters. Without apt listening skills, we lose much information that is necessary for skilled discernment.
Ease and fullness of developing listening skills seems to be different between men and women. Women, as natural communicators from the thousands of years of tending the very young as well as the infirm, for the most part, seem to have a natural ease for picking up on the words and tone, as well as the slightest change in body language and inflection. Women can often even finish a sentence or respond before the sentence is finished. At times, two intuitive women conversing can be somewhat like playing leap frog. One begins only needing a few words before the other can leap to the response; then with only a few words out, the other can leap, finishing the thought. If there is a man in the midst of that there can be a furrowed brow of being lost.
Men in general must work more at communication skills. And thus, have more work in developing discernment. It is not too difficult to understand why men can usually communicate and discern better with men, and women with women. As a teenager when I began noticing how many vehicles had the men in the front seats and the women in the back seats I was amusedly perplexed. The “men are from Mars and women from Venus” phenomenon may exist; and discernment can be somewhat different for men and women. Knowing yourself is essential to good discernment, and far more important than gender.
And this is where personal growth and discernment share a path in the “Land of Being.” Individuals must develop listening — constantly. Included in this is discovering why certain conversations all of the sudden enflame emotions, why you stop listening to someone for no apparent good reason, and even why you avoid any sort of meaningful conversation. Our life experiences and how we have dealt, or not dealt, with them; the people we associate with, and how much effort we put into listening has a definite affect on the skill of discernment. Any personal issues that block us from fully receiving another person’s words also inhibit our skill of discernment.
Meditation, and contemplation to an even greater extent, quiet the intellectual part of the mind. With this, you can more fully take in what is being said, as there is no perceptual interference. The following are quieted:
- presumptions filtering what is being said
- jumping to conclusions
- the psyche’s intrusion to see “what can be used” for manipulation, power, and even survival when necessary
- fragmented attention span in which you drop small portions of what is being said
The mind can discern the other person’s coherence, manipulation, and much more. Intuitives, male and female, tend to have very active minds, and they can make associations and judgments of what is being said too soon. Learning to quiet the mind so that what is being said can be fully held is where meditation/greatest depths and discernment share the same moments.
Modern organizations like the Center for Nonviolent Communication (http://www.cnvc.org/) focus on quieting activity of ego consciousness (ego consciousness will turn a conversation into “how does what is being said affect me?” or “How I can use this information to my advantage?”) in order to achieve compassionate listening. Discernment of what is between the lines can only come with full receptivity to the other person.
Ultimately discerning depends upon our developing meditational and contemplation skill. (The Land of Being is indeed one land.) In the common tenets, all three are involved:
- We set aside our desire to use another, realizing we are all one
- We develop our meditational capacity to clear and focus
- Our Greatest Depths contemplative being discerns that which meditation’s focus cannot completely grasp.
This teaching goes all the way back to the ancient wisdom. Here is one of the Buddha’s teaching on the subject:
As the fletcher whittles and makes straight in the arrows,
so the master directs straying thoughts.
Like a fish out of water, stranded on the shore,
thoughts thrash and quiver.
For how can they shake off desire?
They tremble, they are unsteady,
they wander at their will.
It is good to control them,
and to master them brings happiness.
But how subtle they are,
The task is to quiet them,
and by ruling them to find happiness.
The master quells these thoughts.
And ends their wandering.
Seated in the cave of the heart
one finds freedom.
How can a troubled mind understand the way?
If someone is disturbed,
they will never be filled with the knowledge.
An untroubled mind,
no longer seeking to consider
what is right and what is wrong —
a mind beyond judgments —
watches and understands.
Know that the body is a fragile jar,
and make a castle of your mind.
Let understanding fight for you
to defend what you have won.
For soon the body is discarded.
Then what does it feel?
A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground.
Then what does it know?
Your worst enemy cannot harm you
as much as your own thoughts unguarded.
But once mastered, no one can help you as much,
not even your father or your mother.